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Some Fragments of Russenorsk Grammar

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Some Fragments of Russenorsk Grammar

Vladimir Belikov

Institute of Russian Language, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow

0. Introduction

Russenorsk (RN) is a trade pidgin which has a history of at least a century and a half. It was used mainly in the easternmost part of Northern Norway for bartering between Russians and Norwegians1.

Russenorsk is an unusual pidgin, both in its structure and in the way linguists have mistreated it. Norwegian (N) and Russian (R) are almost equally responsible for its lexicon, but some important features of its grammar seem to contradict the Indo-European models of thinking.

This pidgin was widely used in the times of Hugo Schuchardt, but managed to be missed by the father of pidgin and creole studies. A few samples of the language were published at that time in Norwegian periodicals, mainly for amusement. Linguists began to pay attention to it only after it was functionally dead, and the small number of published texts can hardly be enlarged2. When all the texts of a language have been published, the language itself is likely soon to be described as fully as possible. Unfortunately, the two lexifier languages of Russenorsk are on the periphery of the interests of those involved in pidgin and creole studies, and many of the publications are neither accessible nor available to them. I am not an exception; though I knew about a thorough description by I. Broch and E. H. Jahr (1981), it was not available to me, and I had only indirect information about its content. But I have had texts at my disposal, and decided to have an unprejudiced look on them from the Russian point of view.

As with any pidgin, the most pronounced difference between speech varieties of Russenorsk (RN) can be found between its two ethnolects: the Russian ethnolect (RNr) and the Norwegian ethnolect (RNn). Unfortunately, the ethnolectal affinity of the sentences in many cases is far from being clear. Nearly all the texts were written down by Norwegians, which means that in analysing the part of the dialogues which is ascribed to Russians, we are dealing not with the way Russians were really speaking this language, but with the way Norwegians thought the Russians were speaking. Still, it is remarkable how much we can deduce about the pidgin from the incomplete and often inaccurate data.

Being a pidgin, Russenorsk is not as stable in its structure as Russian or Norwegian; in many cases the influence of the native languages on Russenorsk speech output is quite obvious. In the following description I try to depict the features of Russenorsk proper, i.e., either those which highly predominate among other possibilities, or those which are present in the language, notwithstanding the pressure of the conflicting features of the speaker’s native language. Unfortunately, the lack of available data makes some of these statements tentative and too subjective.

1. Phonetics and orthography

Being a phonetician, O. Broch tried to do his best in describing Russenorsk phonetics, but in the case of a pidgin little of great definition can be said on this subject.

The texts were written down by Norwegian amateurs, so they were inevitably influenced by Norwegian orthography (which is far from phonemic and has been the subject of several reforms, gradually diminishing the Danish influence). Thus the word for ‘girl’ is always written piga in Russenorsk; it corresponds to pike in modern Norwegian, but in Broch’s Norwegian translation one finds only pige, according to the former orthographic standard (cf. Danish pige). So it is not quite clear whether the letter g symbolizes a voiced sound, or whether it is just a reflection of the orthography. Broch tried to show the length and quality of the vowels with diacritics, but in his texts there are numerous examples of inconsistent orthography in different occurrences of the same words. Thus, the word for ‘wife’ (N kone [ku:nә]) is written as kŏnna ([o]), kŏ˛na ([¥]) and kaana ([¥:]) (1930:117, 120, 124), not to mention the orthographic change of aa to å, which influenced many texts. It is unlikely that we will ever determine the exact quality of the sound. So I suspect that it would be safer to leave the orthography of the published texts just as it is on the segmental level, ignoring all diacritic marking as doubtful and, perhaps, misleading.

Nevertheless, some features of Russenorsk phonetics can be asserted quite definitely. This is especially true for those which reflect Russian pronounciation habits, and which are found both in RNr and RNn. Among these are the elimination of front rounded vowels (cf. N dyrt > RNn djur ‘expansive’, N tønde [cf. Swedish tunna] > RN tunna ‘barrel’, N søndag > RN sondag ‘Sunday’), the replacement of the glottal [h] by [g] (cf. N halv > RN hal / gall ‘half’), and, less obviously, the devoicing of final voiced consonants (cf. N hav, RNr gaf, RNn gav / gaf ‘sea’).

It is highly probable that the Russians also simplified the phonetics of words of Russian origin, making their pronunciation closer to Norwegian standards (changing, in particular, [x] to [k]), but the data are not accurate enough to be decisive.

2. Lexicon

The lexical inventory of Russenorsk differs from that of many other pidgins in three related respects.

First, it is reasonable to speak of two lexifier languages. Half of the approximately 400 words attested in the texts have a Norwegian origin, and about a third go back to Russian3.

Second, RN has dozens of lexical doublets, i.e., words with identical semantics which differ in phonemic composition and origin; it is possible to analyse these words as complex units having two sound shapes for one semantic item. Examples can be found in all semantic fields: skasisprækam ‘speak, say, tell’, balduskakvejta ‘halibut’, musikman ‘man’, rasdag ‘day’, etaden ‘this’, njetikke ‘no’, tvojaju ‘you’ and so on. When quoting Russenorsk lexical items below, I use a dash to separate two semantic doublets; phonetic or orthographic variants of a doublet are divided by a slash (only the most disparate variants are given). There is a tendency to prefer Russian-based lexical elements in the Norwegian ethnolect and Norwegian-based elements in the Russian ethnolect, thus showing respect to the other party to the conversation. This may be the main source and reason for semantic doublets of different origin.

The third prominent feature of the Russenorsk lexicon is that many of its items have a dual etymology; this refers not only to some widely known international elements (such as RN, R, N konsul ‘consul’; RN, R kajuta, N kahyt ‘cabin’; RN, N vin, R vino ‘wine’). It is equally true, for example, for RN po / paa / på, the only preposition in the language (cf. N , R po). In both Russian and Norwegian these prepositions are multifunctional, though they are not the most common ones (in different contexts the Norwegian preposition may be translated as ‘on, in, to, of’ and the Russian one as ‘along, by, on, in, to, according to’, etc.). The same convergence can be seen in RN kruski ‘mug’ (cf. N krus, R kružka), RN mangoli / mangeli ‘much’ (cf. N mange ‘much’ R mnogo li ‘how much?’), RNn lygom / ljugom, RNr ljugom / lugom / ligom (R lgat’, N lyve) ‘to tell lies’; RN kona, N kone ‘wife’ R kuna (or, more often, kunka), a dialectal euphemism for ‘vulva’; RN, N vog, R vaga4 ‘weight’, and in other examples as well.

Sometimes a Russenorsk item has an indisputable etymology in one language, but it simultaneously has etymological crutch support in the other one strong enough for a “solid” folk etymology. For example, this is the case with the two pairs of doublets: RN tovara — vara (cf. R tovar, N vare, Swedish vara) ‘wares, goods’ and dobra — bra, (cf. R dobra, N bra) ‘good, well’.

In some cases the analysis of a sentence in the two ethnolects may vary, and the exact semantics of a particular word may be understood differently by Norwegians and Russians. Sentence (1) was translated into Norwegian as (1n) (Broch 1930:122)5, but for a Russian the precise meaning of (1) would be slightly different, in accordance with the Russian translation (1r). The pragmatic sense of both the Russian and Norwegian interpretations, of course, does not differ.

(1) No davaj drinkom.

? JUSSIVE drink
(1n) Nu drikk!

now drink

‘Let’s drink now!’
(1r) Nu, davaj vyp’em!

well let’s drink

‘Well, let’s drink!’

3. Word classes

3.1. Verb

Some verbs are not marked, but many of them have an indivisible final marker  om /  um6.

From the syntactic point of view, the borderline between intransitive verbs, adjectives and sometimes even etymological nouns with a processual component in their meaning is not strict. Thus the word pæsna undoubtedly is a reflex of the Russian noun pesnja ‘song’, but as used in sentence (2), it should rather be treated as the verb ‘to sing’ in Russenorsk.

(2) Davai pæsna!


‘Let’s sing!’ or ‘Will you sing, please?’
The only verbal grammatical category which it is possible to speak about in Russenorsk is mood. There is an opposition of two forms: an unmarked general mood (which embraces both indicative and strict imperative, as in Gribi! ‘Row!’; Stan op! ‘Stand up!’) and a jussive mood, a mild imperative. The latter is marked by a doublet davaj — værsgå / vesagu7, placed at the beginning of a sentence:
(3) Davaj paa moja skib kjai drikkom.

JUSSIVE in I ship tea drink

‘Will you please (or: Let us) drink some tea on board my ship.’
(4) Davai paa moia malenka tabaska presentom.

JUSSIVE in I little tobacco present

‘Give me some tobacco without charge.’
(5) Vesagu fiska prezentom.

JUSSIVE fish present

‘Give me some fish without charge’8.
Sometimes the jussive marker is omitted, as in (6), which immediately follows (5) in the text, and this may be the reason for omitting vesagu.
(6) Lever prezentom.

(fish-)liver present

‘Give me some fish liver without charge.’
Tense, aspect, person and other verbal categories do not exist in Russenorsk, though some sentences might be interpreted as having future marking.

Two instances of moja ska si, translated into Norwegian as jeg skal sige (‘I shall say’) (Broch 1930:116, 117), are misinterpretations of otherwise correctly-treated skasi ‘tell, say, speak’ (from R skaži ‘say [imperative]’); on one occasion (p. 131) it is translated even by both present and past tenses: moja skasi, N: ‘jeg siger, sagde’. A few other instances of the ‘future marker’ ska are attested only in RNn and can be ascribed to the putative influence of the native language. Some cases of paa (ordinarily used as a preposition) before a verb (and other unexpected occurrences of paa) may be ascribed to the interference of the Russian morpheme po, thus, davaj paa slipom and davaj på proberom corresponds to R davaj po-spim, davaj po-probuem, where the aspect prefix po- simultaneously marks future9. In RN examples without this interference the future is not marked, as in RNr (7):

(7) Moja på konsul spræk. #120a

I in consul speak

‘I will complain to the consul.’

3.2. Nouns

The grammatical functions of a noun are expressed through its place in the sentence. The category of number does not exist in Russenorsk, and thus there is no marking for it. Unique instances that may superficially seem like number marking can easily be provided with alternative interpretations. Thus, Russman ‘a Russian’ and Russefolk ‘Russians or Russian people’ are clearly not a case of number distinction, and perhaps they are even not compounds, at least not in RNr (compounds of this type are alien to Russian). In the only case of Russenorsk materials written by a Russian, names of nationalities are treated as word combinations: rus man ‘Russian man’, norsk man ‘Norwegian man’ (Broch 1930:134)10.

3.3. Adjectives and adverbs

There is no opposition of adjectives and adverbs in RN. The same forms are used as nominal and verbal preposed adjuncts: grot junka ‘big boy’, grot stoka ‘great storm’, grot vred ‘very angry’, grot rik ‘very rich’, grot robotom ‘(to) work a lot’, bra man ‘good man’, bra leve ‘(to) live well’. In Russian related adjectives and adverbs are distinguished through suffixes. Among words of Russian origin the adverb-like form is used as the Russenorsk adjective/adverb: korosjo rybak ‘good fisherman’ (cf. R xoroš-ij ‘good’, xoroš-o ‘well’).

A handful of words with semi-grammatical semantics can be considered pure adverbs; among them only mangeli — nogli ‘much, many’ needs special treatment. The final -li goes back to the Russian optional, but frequent, Yes-No question marker li11. Perhaps, this -li is to be analysed as a question marker in the Russian ethnolect, but definitely not in the Norwegian one, where it can be found in WH-questions (8) or in non-interrogative sentences (9).

(8) Kak vara ju prodatli?

what goods you sell

‘What goods are you selling?’
(9) Etta dorgli!

this expensive

‘That’s expensive!’
Some words have parallel forms with and without -li, such as prodaj / prodatli, dorgaa / dorgli (and dorglaa as a unique variant), but the words in question (mangeli — nogli) are always used in li-form, even when no question is intended:
(10) Mangoli år moja njet smotrom tvoja!

many year I not see you

‘I have not seen you for ages!’
Thus, mangeli should be basically interpreted not as a question word (cf. 3.6.), but as an ordinary adverb, and the literal meaning of questions like Mangeli kosta? would be not ‘How much does it cost?’, but rather ‘Does it cost much?’.

3.4. Numerals

Numerals are readily distinguished by their semantics (numerals both of Norwegian and Russian origin are used); they always precede the noun they modify:
(11) På moja kona, tri junka, to piga.

in I wife three boy two girl

‘I have a wife, three sons, two daughters.’

3.5. Pronouns

Only two personal pronouns are attested in the texts: moja / mi ‘1st sg.’ and tvoja / ju ‘2nd sg.’12, and it seems to me that only these two were present in the pidgin13. The level of redundancy in a trade pidgin is very low, so it is safer to repeat nouns instead of using anaphoric devices. The absence of first and second person plural pronouns (or, more accurately, the neutralization of number in pronouns) does not handicap communication much, for it is almost universal that in a bartering situation only two persons are communicating; when needed, singular pronouns can be used instead of plural ones, and the ambiguity can be resolved from the context.

I have found in the texts only one case where the usage of a first person plural pronoun would be natural, but a noun (unmarked for number) is used instead:

(12) Moja paa anner skip naakka vin drikkom, saa moja nokka lite pjan,

I in other ship a little wine drink and I little little drunk

saa moja spaserom paa lan paa Selskap anner Rusman, saa polisman

and I go in land in Selskab other Russian and policeman

grot vret paa Russman, saa Rusman paa Kastel slipom.

very angry in Russian and Russian in prison sleep

‘I drank some wine on board another ship and became a little bit tipsy, then some other Russians [I use the plural here in accordance with the Norwegian translation] and I went on the seashore, but police became angry with us, so we spent a night in gaol’.
The special subclass of possessive pronouns does not exist in Russenorsk (the possessive construction is treated below in 4.2.).

The demonstratives are den / eta ‘this, these; that, those’ and anner / andre / drogoj ‘other’14. They can be either preposed to a noun (27, 52), or used independently (9, 13, 53).

3.6. Question words

There are two question words in Russenorsk, which introduce WH-questions: kak and kor — kodi / koda15. Kak marks all questions, except those about locality; its use is illustrated in (13)-(16).
(13) Kak den?

what this/that

‘What is this/that?’
(14) Kak ju spræk?

what you say

‘What did you say?’
(15) Kak sort fiska på tvoja båt?

what kind fish in you boat

‘What kind of fish do you have on your boat?’
(16) Kak tvoja levom?

how you live

‘How do you live?’

Kor — kodi / koda usually introduces questions about place or direction:
(17) Kor ju stannom paa stara ras?

where you be[occupy a place] in old day

‘Where were you yesterday?’
(18) Kor ju stova?

where you house

‘Where is your house?’
(19) Kodi reisa?

where go

Where did [he] go?
(20) Koda tvoja stannop?

where you be [occupy a place]

‘Where are you [i.e., your ship]?’
There is only one example of inquiry about cause, and it is introduced by kor:
(21) Kor ju ikke paa moja mokka kladi?

why you not in I flour bring

‘Why haven’t you brought flour for me?’
Question words are also used conjunctively, introducing a subordinate clause, as in (22), (23), but this usage is not regular (27).
(22) Kak ju vina trinke, Kristus grot vre.

when you wine drink Christ big angry

‘When you drink wine, Christ becomes very angry.’
(23) Moja smottrom, kak ju pisat.

I see/look what you write

‘I am looking at what you are writing.’

or ‘I see what you are writing’16.

As it is stated previously, mangeli / nogli should be interpreted rather as an adverb ‘much, many’, than as a question word ‘how much? how many?’, but

3.7. Function words

There is only one preposition po / paa / på in RN, and it is used with a wide variety of meanings. There are a few unique occurrences of other prepositions, which represent interference from the native languages of the speakers17.

The coordinating conjunctions are i — aa / og ‘and’ (24), (25), saa ‘and, and then’ (12),(26), and men ‘but’ (27)18:

(24) Prinsipal grot pjan i paa kaana kludi.

captain big drunk and in wife beat

‘The captain is drunk and is beating his wife.’
(25) Fire voga treska aa en voga mokka.

four weight cod and one weight flour

‘Four weights of cod for one weight of flour.’
(26) No, davaj på kajut sitte ned, så nokalite tjai drinkom, ikke skade.

well JUSSIVE in cabin sit and a little tea drink not harm

‘Well, will you come to my cabin and drink some tea, there is no harm in that.’
(27) Omer, njet paa Kristus, men drogoj plass ju kom.

die not in Christ but other place you go

‘When you die, you will go not to Christ, but to the other place.’
There is an additional rather peculiar conjunction: jes, meaning ‘and’, which represents the contamination of English yes with Russian da. This Russian word is actually a pair of homonyms: one is the always stressed , the affirmation ‘yes’, and the other is the clitic conjunction da, ‘and’. Strange as it may seem, it was used in both ethnolects; the following example comes from RNr:
(28) Gak [= kak] du vil skaffum jes drikke tsjai, davaj paa skip liggne.

when you want eat and drink tea JUSSIVE in ship be [occupy a place]

‘When you want to eat and drink tea, come to my ship.’
There are no subordinating conjunctions, though, as has already been mentioned, question words are sometimes used in this function.

4. Syntax

4.1. Heads and dependents

The most general syntactic rule of Russenorsk is that dependents precede their heads, as was seen with adjectives/adverbs earlier in 3.3.

There is only one example of an adjective postposed to the noun, and this calls for further explanations:

(29) Saika grot paa gaf spasirom. p 124

pollack big in sea go

‘There is a lot of pollack in the sea.’
It seems obvious that grot saika would mean ‘a large pollack’, but it is not clear why saika grot should mean ‘a lot of pollack’. The adjective grot could be treated here as having a substantival meaning ‘a large quantity of’, and the preceding noun could be considered its attribute. However, there are two objections to this.

First, when two nouns are juxtaposed and one of them signifies a container, measurement or quantity of the other one, the former precedes the latter (just as numerals do), e.g., meska gropa ‘a sack of groats’, glass tsjai ‘a glass of tea’, to voga treska ‘two weights of cod’.

Second, there are examples of adjective + noun combinations with a meaning similar to that of (29), but with the opposite word order, as in (30):
(30) Mala penge på lomma.

little money in pocket

‘There is little money in [my] pocket.’

4.2. The syntax of possession

The possessive construction is well attested only for pronominal possessors; in these cases a personal pronoun precedes the possessed object without any additional marker: moja stova ‘my house’, ju far ‘your father’. But if a possessed object has attributes before it, the pronominal posessor is postposed, and is marked by the preposition po / paa / på:
(31) gammel go ven på moja

old good friend in I

‘old good friend of mine’
It can be assumed that the same rules were applied to nominal possessors, but evidence is lacking, except for a few examples like (32), where the semantics does not fit quite well into the notion of ‘possession’.
(32) dag paa Kristus

day in Christ [day of Christ? day for Christ?]

‘a Christian holiday’
The two lexifier languages differ greatly in the way they predicate possessive relations. In Norwegian, the structure of sentences of this kind resembles the English:
SUBJ [possessor] + verb ‘to have’ + OBJ [possessed]
In Russian, the (semantically) possessed object is formally the subject (in the nominative case), and the possessor (in the genitive case with the locative preposition u) is linked to it with the verb ‘to be’ (often omitted in the present tense). The whole structure looks like:
preposition u + POSSESSOR [genitive] + (verb ‘to be’) + POSSESSED [subject]
(33) U menja (est’) zena i tri syna.

at I[genitive] is wife and three sons

‘I have a wife and three sons.’
In both ethnolects of Russenorsk sentences of this type are similar in structure to Russian; the possessor may be marked by the preposition po / paa / på, as in the question in (34) and its answer (11), representing different ethnolects, but more often the preposition is absent, as in (35)-(37).
(34) På tvoja kona?

in you wife

‘Do you have a wife?’
(35) Måja prasnik, ikke robotom.

I holiday not work

‘I have a holiday and am not working.’
(36) Moja lita penga.

I little money

‘I have little money.’
(37) Moja fol maga.

I full stomach

‘I have a full stomach.’
The structures underlying sentences (35)-(37) may differ in the two ethnolects. The only way a Russian can interpret them is that the initial preposition po / paa / på is omitted. For a Norwegian, it may be instead be the omission of the predicate ha ‘to have’, and a few ‘Norwegianized’ examples of the type in (38) exist in the data.
(38) Tvoja har konna?

you have wife

‘Do you have a wife?’
I nevertheless maintain that the structure manifested in sentences (34) and (11) is basic for Russenorsk, since it is found in both ethnolects.

4.3. The position of the verbal predicate

The standard word order in Russenorsk is SOV, but SVO sentences are also not infrequent (the latter is the predominant word order in both Russian and Norwegian)19. The most usual composition of a sentence with a transitive verb as its predicate is as follows:


Of course, most of these constituents are optional, and, as is natural for a pidgin, sentences are normally short, containing usually not more than four constituents. It is not rare to omit even the subject or direct object; in the case of the ‘jussive mood’ the subject is omitted regularly, as in (3)-(6).

The ambiguity inherent in the preposition po / paa / på sometimes does not permit the distinguishing of constituents of different types, as, e.g., dative and locative in (39).

(39) Moja paa dumosna grot djengi plati.

I in customs big money pay

‘I paid a lot of money at/to customs.’
Russenorsk sentence structure may sometimes deviate from the standard given above in two respects. First, the temporal or locative constituent may be moved closer to the verb, as in (40), which is very frequently used as a threat (though, presumably, not a literal one), or may even appear after the verb, as in (41).
(40) Moja tvoja paa vater kastom.

I you in water throw

‘I’ll throw you into the water!’
(41) Tvoja treska kopom paa den dag?

you cod buy in this day

‘Will you buy cod today?’
Second, the direct object may follow the verb. As has been mentioned in note 18, such sentences are far from rare. But in contrast to the majority of Russenorsk examples, they reflect the word order of the speaker’s native languages. Thus, this word order can be explained as interference.

There is only one example of OSV structure (42). Here the reason for object-initial structure seems to be emphasis.

(42) Njet, den pris moja ikke betalom.

no/not this/that price I not pay

‘No, this price, I won’t pay it.’
Both in Russian and Norwegian verbs of motion, like transitive verbs, precede their objects, but in Russenorsk these verbs often also occupy the final position in a sentence, with the destination phrase (marked by po / paa / på) placed before them:
(43) Ju spræk, paa moja kantor kom.

you speak/say/tell in I office come

‘You said that you would come to my office.’
(44) Sajka kupom i po Arxangelsk spaserom.

pollack buy and in Archangel go

‘We’ll buy pollack and go to Archangel.’
The opposite word order seems to be less frequent, though not rare:
(45) Davaj spaserom moja datsja

JUSSIVE go I country house

‘Let’s go to my country house.’
Russenorsk lacks the analog of the verb ‘to be’ in many of its functions. The expression of location and, perhaps, of the existence of a subject is accomplished through the desemantization of semantically autonomous verbs, mainly stannom / stannop ‘stand, stand up’ and liggene / ligga ned ‘lie down’.
(46) Moja paa stova paa Kristus spræk stannom.

I in house in Christ speak “be”

‘[Yesterday] I was in church (‘the talking-to-Christ house’)’.
These semi-auxiliary verbs may be omitted:
(47) Mala penge på lomma [*stannom? *liggene?].

little money in pocket [“be”]

‘There is little money in [my] pocket.’20
In this function the two verbs in question (and perhaps also slipom ‘sleep’ ) seem to be in free variation; in one place (Broch 1930:123), the sentence ‘Where were you yesterday?’ is translated in two ways: (48) and (48a). Broch also mentions the interchangeability of stannom, liggene and slipom (1930:138).
(48) Kor ju stan om paa gammel ras?
(48a) Kor ju ligga ned paa gammel dag?

where you “be” in old day

‘Where were you yesterday?’

4.4. Nonverbal predicates

Nominal and adjectival/adverbial predicates generally occupy the final position in a sentence and no copula is used. Thus, sentences (49)-(53) are not distinguished formally from those with intransitive verbal predicates (54):
(49) Russmann bra mann.

Russian good man

‘Russians are good people.’

(50) Tvoja starik.

you old man

‘You are an old man.’

(51) Moja grot krank.

I big ill

‘I am very ill.’
(52) Den junka njet dobra.

this/that boy not good

‘This boy is bad.’
(53) Eta mala.

this little

‘This is (too) little.’
(54) Burman grot robotom.

fisherman big work

‘Fishermen work a lot.’ or: ‘A fisherman works a lot.’
A handful of examples with deviant word order like (55), where the adjectival predicate precedes the noun, can not be described unequivocally because of their uniqueness.
(55) På Russlann på den år lita pris.

in Russia in this/that year little price

‘Prices in Russia are low this year.’

4.5. The Syntax of Negation

A doublet njet — ikke is used in Russenorsk as the negative marker. In one function, as a full sentence signifying negation, denial, refusal, etc., of what was said in the previous sentence, only Njet is used. But both words are used freely as markers of partial negation. When the position of the negative particle coincides in Russian and Norwegian, Russenorsk follows that model:
Russenorsk: njet paa Kristus ikke sanfaerdi njet dobra

Russian: ne ko Xristu ne pravdivo n’e dobryj

Norwegian: ikke til Kristus ikke sandt ikke bra

‘not to Christ’ ‘not truthfully’ ‘not good’

The most essential difference between the lexifier languages in the treatment of negation lies in the domain of the verb. In Russian the negative particle precedes the verb, while in Norwegian it follows it, and in both languages no other word can intrude between the negative particle and the finite form of the verb. In Russenorsk, the negator precedes the verb, but can be separated from it by direct and indirect objects, as in (21), or by a subject, as in (56).
(56) Paa den dag ikke Russefolk arbej.

in this/that day not Russians work

‘Russians do not work on this day.’
It is difficult to find the direct source of this peculiarity, but it may be significant that this type of syntax is not uncommon in Finnish, cf. (21a) and (56a), which are the Finnish translations of the corresponding Russenorsk examples (the morphological details of Finnish are omitted from the literal translations)21.
(21a) Miksi et minulle jauhoja tuonut?

why neg. 2 sg. pres. to me flour bring

(56a) Tänä päivänä eivät venäläiset tee työtä.

in this in day neg. 3 pl. pres. Russians do of work

4.6. Interrogative sentences

Yes-No questions usually strictly follow the structure of the corresponding declarative sentences without any special marker22:
(57) Ju paa morradag paa moja treski njem?

you in tomorrow in I cod bring

‘Will you bring me cod tomorrow?’
(58) Ju konna bra leve?

you wife good live

‘Is your wife O.K.?’
Interrogative sentences with WH-questions were illustrated in full above in 3.6. The question word always stands first in the sentence, which means that the constituent being questioned moves to the beginning of the sentence. Thus, the object may precede the subject, as in (8), but there are no instances of inversion of subject and verb, which is characteristic for Norwegian, but not for Russian.

5. Conclusions

When I began to make a thorough analysis of the Russenorsk data, I had in mind the idea of confirming two points which seemed obvious to me before: that Russenorsk is not a jargon, but a normal pidgin with its own rather stable structure; and that Russenorsk did not develop directly from Russian-Norwegian contacts, it must be a continuation of some other Russian-Finnic or Norwegian-Finnic pidgin. Both points were based on one fact which seemed evident from my previous very shallow acquaintance with the Russenorsk texts: the word order in this pidgin is SOV. If Russenorsk really were just ‘a set of pragmatic fixed phrases’ (D’jachkov 1987:50), it would be rather strange for those who use these phrases to fix them in a way which contradicts the natural word order of their native tongues.

It is also obvious that the principles of structural organization of any contact idiom, however inadequate or expanded it may be regarding its functional possibilities, cannot contradict those of the native languages of the peoples who have created it. Those Russians and Norwegians who shaped this pidgin may have known and used another pidgin or pidgins. This hypothetical pidgin presumably had grammatical features contrary to those found in Indo-European languages. Since the area surrounding the territory on which Russenorsk arose had an underlying Finnic population, it is reasonable to suppose that Finnic traits were present in it.

Much more investigation is still needed in order to formulate a positive statement on the prehistory of Russenorsk23.


Broch I., Jahr E. H. 1981: Russenorsk — et pidginspråk i Norge (Tromsø-studier i språkviteskap, III), Oslo: Novus Forlag.

Broch O. 1927: Russenorsk, Archiv für slawische Philologie, 41.

Broch O. 1930: Russenorsk tekstmateriale, Maal og minne, Heft 4.

Dal’ V. I. 1984: Poslovicy russkogo naroda [Sayings of Russian people], vol.1, Moscow: Khudozhestvennaja literatura.

Davydov A. N., Ponomarenko V. N., Kuratova A. A. 1987: Russenorsk — arkticheskij pidzhin Evropy [Russenorsk: a Pidgin in Arctic Europe], in: Vardul’ I. F., Belikov V. I. (eds.) 1987.

D’jachkov M. V. 1987: Osnovnye podkhody k izucheniju kreol’skikh jazykov [Main Approaches to the Study of Creole Languages], in: Vardul’ I. F., Belikov V. I. (eds.) 1987.

Kozinskij I. Sh. 1973: K voprosu o proiskhozhdenii kjakhtinskogo (russko-kitajskogo) jazyka. [On the Origin of Kyakhta (Russian-Chinese) language] Geneticheskie i areal’nye svjazi jazykov Azii i Afriki. Tezisy dokladov. (Diskussija na rasshirennom zasedanii filologicheskoj sekcii Uchenogo Soveta Instituta vostokovedenija. Dekabr’ 1973.), Moscow: Nauka.

Lunden S. S., 1978a: Russenorsk revisited, Meddelelser, no.15.

Lunden S. S., 1978b: Tracing the ancestry of Russenorsk, Slavia Orientalis, vol. 27.

Neumann G. 1966: Zur chinesisch-russischen Behelfssprache von Kjachta, Sprache, 12.

Vardul’ I. F., Belikov V. I. (eds.) 1987: Vozniknovenie i funkcionirovanie kontaktnykh jazykov. Materialy rabochego soveshchanija [The Emergence and Life Cycle of Contact Languages. Materials from a Workshop], Moscow: Nauka.

The following sample of a Russenorsk dialogue has been taken from notes made by a Tromsø customs official, A. Andreassen, published in Broch’s collection of texts (1930:121). The Norwegian translation has been taken from the same source and the Russian translation has been added by myself. The English version of this text runs approximately as follows:

Hallo, my old good friend!

How many days did it take you to come here from Archangel?

Three weeks, there was a big storm.

There was a big storm at sea. Where did you stop [during the storm]?

I was at madam Klerk’s [at Elvenes, Varanger fjord] for three days.

Will you buy fish?


What is [your] price?

One weight of flour for two weights of cod.

That’s [too] little.

O.K., one and a half weights of cod for one weight of flour.

That’s very expensive.

Well, let’s go sit in my cabin and drink some tea, there’s no harm in that.




Здравствуй, мой старый хороший друг!

Drasvi, gammel go ven på moja!

Goddag, min gamle gode ven!

Сколько дней ты шёл сюда из Архангельска?

Nogoli dag tvoja reisa på Arkangel otsuda?

Hvor mange dage har du brukt på reisen fra Arkangel hertil?

Три недели, был сильный шторм.

Tri vegel, grot storm.

Tre uker, meget storm.

Сильный шторм на море. Где ты останавливался?

Grot stoka på gaf. Koda tvoja stan-op?

Sterk storm på sjøen. Hvor har du stoppet op?

Я три дня пробыл у мадам Клерк [в Элвенесе].

Ja på madam Klerk tri daga ligge ne.

Jeg har ligget pо Elvenes i Sydvaranger (fru Klerks eiendom) i tre dage.

Ты купишь рыбу?

Tvoja fisk kopom?

Kjøper du fisk?




Какая твоя цена?

Kak pris?

Hvilken pris?

Один вес муки за два веса трески.

En voga mokka, så to voga treska.

En vog mel, så to vog torsk.

Это мало.

Eta mala.

Det er litet.

Ладно, полтора веса трески за вес муки.

Slik slag, en å en hal voga treska, så en voga mokka.

Slik slag (det er det samme), en og en halv vog torsk, sо en vog mel.

Это очень дорого.

Eta grot djur.

Det er meget dyrt.

Ну, давай посидим в каюте, и маленько чайку попьем, не повредит.

No davaj på kajut sitte ne, så nokka lite tjai drinkom, ikke skade.

Kom og sit ned i kahytten og drik litt te, det skader ikke.

1. This bartering began at least as early as the end of the 18th century and was most intensive during the last decades of the 19th century. Every summer Vardø and Vadsø, the two ports nearest to the border, were each visited by about a thousand Russians; the population of these two towns was 1,300 and 1,800 respectively (Davydov et al. 1987:46-47). At that time the pidgin was spread from Tromsø to the east, presumably including the Russian coast. Russenorsk was in use until the early 1920s, when contacts across the border became difficult or impossible.

2. In 1927 the Norwegian linguist Olaf Broch wrote the first description of the language (Broch 1927), and three years later he published all the texts known to him, including those previously unpublished (Broch 1930). S. S. Lunden managed to get some extra data from 34 informants in 1967; these and some other new materials were appended to his 1978a publication. Later Ingvild Broch and Ernst H. Jahr included still more material in their book on Russenorsk (Broch, Jahr 1981). Unfortunately, “the information without exception hails not from the speakers of RN, but from outside observers, usually people with a more bookish background” (Lunden 1978a, 7).

3. The rest come either from English and Low German dialects (through nautical jargons) or originate in other languages of the area: Swedish, Finnish, Lapp.

4. Russian vaga is an old borrowing from German (through Polish); it is now used only in substandard Russian, but a derivative važnyj ‘important’ is widespread.

5. All the sentence cited here are from Broch (1930); the page is indicated only when it is of some specific interest.

6. This element is not a real suffix, since forms with it are not opposed to forms without it in the language. Both the Swedish hortative suffix -om and the Russian 1st pl. present tense ending -Vm are usually proposed as a source for it, but it is also possible that it was influenced by the transitivity marker of many English-based pidgins, though there is no correlation between this “suffix” and transitivity in Russenorsk.

7. RN davaj comes from R davaj, the imperative of davat’ ‘to give’, which is used in several other grammatical functions, including jussive. Værsgå / vesagu goes back to a Norwegian polite formula vær så god ‘please’.

8. This sentence is one of a small number written down in Cyrillic script (here transliterated into Latin) by a Russian, Ivan Jakovlevich, in Tromsø in 1926; the original translation of this sentence into (dialectal) Russian was Daj rybu na varju (Broch 1930:133), i.e., Give [me some] fish for cooking. The original translation of (6) was Vojuksy na varju, i.e., [Give me some] fish liver for cooking.

9. Cf. also RN paa minder prodaj ‘sell it cheaper’ and R po-deševle prodaj.

10. The form Rusmanjunka (Russian-man-boy) appears to contradict this statement, but it is given without context (Broch 1930:125) and its ethnolect status is not clear; Russians could readily understand it, but would hardly have produced it.

11. Roughly speaking, Russian -li is optionally postposed to the word, which is questioned:
Ty ideš domoj. Ideš (li ty) domoj?

‘You are going home.’ ‘Are you going home?’

Dorogo prodaes! Dorogo (li) prodaeš?

‘You are selling it dear!’ ‘Are you selling it dear?’

U tebja mnogo deneg. Mnogo (li) u tebja deneg?

‘You have much money.’ ‘Have you much money?’

In Russian, this marker is never used outside Yes-No questions; thus, the Russian translation of (8) will be:
Kakoj tovar ty prodaeš?

which goods you sell

12. Moja and tvoja are identical in form to Russian nominative case possessive pronouns used with possessed objects of feminine gender; mi can be traced to the Norwegian feminine possessive, but an English origin (as in the case of ju) is more likely. There is a 1st sg. pronoun ja which is found not infrequently, but it should be considered a case of interference from the homonymous Russian pronoun, since it is always used only in the Russian ethnolect. Correspondingly, a few cases of du (2nd sg.) are traces of the influence of the homonymous Norwegian pronoun.

13. There are a few examples of han ‘he’ in the Norwegian ethnolect, but there are no cases of its use in the Russian ethnolect. One of Broch’s texts (1930:136-7) contains Norwegian sentences translated into Russenorsk and Russian (the latter has minor mistakes). There are three cases of the pronoun han in Norwegian (always translated by the correct Russian pronoun on), but there are no corresponding pronouns in RN, e.g.:
N: Han spiser brød. R: On kusjet klaeb. RN: Klaeba skafum.

he eat bread he eat bread bread eat

‘He is eating bread.’

14. RN den < N den ‘this’, eta < R èta ‘this (feminine)’; anner / andre < N annen / andre ‘other’, drogoj < R drugoj ‘other’.

15. Kak < R kak ‘how?’; koda / kodi goes back to R kuda (and its colloquial variant kudy) ‘[to] where?, in what direction?’. Kor is connected with N hvor (phonetically [vor]) ‘where?’, but its initial consonant is, perhaps, the result of contamination with Russian question words beginning with k-.

16. But not ‘I see that you are writing’, which would have a zero-marking, as in the following sentences:
Moja smottrom, ju kralom.

I see/look you steal

‘I saw that you stole.’ [The object is not specified.]


Ju spræk, paa moja kantor kom.

you speak/say/tell in I office come

‘You said that you would come to my office.’

17. There are three such instances:

RNr: Grut stoka na gaf.

(Cf. R: Sil’nyj storm na more.)

big storm on sea

‘There is a big storm on the sea.’
RNr: U moja mala.

(Cf. R: U men’a malo )

at I little

‘I have only a little.’

RNn: Kak tvoja betalom for seika?

what you pay for pollack

(Cf. N: Hvad betaler De for Seien?)

what pay you for pollack

‘How much will you pay for pollack?’

18. RN i < R i ‘and’; the other conjunctions correspond to N og ‘and’, saa ‘and, and then’, and men ‘but’.

19. As far as I know, Broch and Jahr (1981:38) consider SVO to be the standard word order in Russenorsk. Davydov et al. (1987:44), state that Russenorsk word order is free. In this connection it might be instructive to examine some statistics to support my SOV treatment of the pidgin.

The subject often is not marked, and its occurrence in initial position has not been challenged seriously, so I have counted the (S)OV and (S)VO sentences in Broch’s texts (1930), including those in which the subject is omitted. Six texts were analysed: nos. 1-3 and 7-9 (texts 4-6 contain combinations of different parts of other texts which are already included in the data, and texts 10-13 for various reasons are not informative enough in this respect). A few unclear cases were excluded from the count, e.g., davaj paa fiska dragom ‘let’s draw the fish [i.e. the net]’, where semantically direct object is introduced with a preposition (cf. English let’s drag [sea] for fish). (45), where a verb of motion spaserom ‘to go’ looks as if it is a transitive verb, though in other occurrences of this verb, the place of its destination is marked by a preposition.

(S)VO order predominates only in text 7 (7:3). In the other texts the total ratio of (S)OV to (S)VO sentences is 17:7. Text 7 is the only one written by a Russian, and it is hard to base any definite conclusions about the Russian ethnolect in general on it. Taking into account all the texts analysed, a preference for the verb in final position is evident (20:14).

20. This can be also interpreted as a possessive sentence, with the possessor omitted:

(*På moja) mala penge på lomma.

in I little money in pocket

‘(I have) little money in [my] pocket.’

21. I am grateful to Prof. Aleksandr Volodin of the St.Petersburg Institute of Linguistic Studies, for the Finnish translation of these sentences.


. There is one instance of what could be considered a Yes-No question marker (Broch 1930:118); judging from the context, it belongs to the Norwegian ethnolect:

Jestli kapitan paa skib?

is it captain in ship

‘Is the captain on board the ship?

The uniqueness of this example precludes interpreting its structure. The otherwise unattested jestli corresponds to the Russian est’ li, l i being an interrogative clitic discussed earlier in note 10, and est’ is a form of the verb byt’, ‘to be’. Without going into the details of Russian grammar I will just mention that in any transformation of the corresponding Russian sentence the occurrence of est’ li would be grammatical, but awkward.


. Perhaps a comparison of different varieties of pidginized Russian would be most productive on this regard. Neumann (1966:243) was the first to notice the identity of the pronouns moja ‘I’ and tvoja ‘you’ in Russenorsk and Chinese Pidgin Russian. Isaac Kozinsky in his unfortunately little known short article (Kozinskij 1973) draw in to this context the data from an undescribed Turkic Pidgin Russian of the Caucasus, cited in 19th century fiction. This pidgin coincides with the two mentioned above with respect to the form of personal pronouns and SOV word order. This latter syntactic feature is alien to Russian, Norwegian, and Chinese, but is common in Altaic and Uralic languages. These facts have led Kozinsky to the following statement (Kozinskij 1973:38):

Taking into account the geographical separation of these languages [Russenorsk, Chinese Pidgin Russian and the Caucasian Pidgin] and the difference of their substratum languages, the only way to explain their structural and material similarity is to presume their common origin from some old Russian-Turkic or Russian-Uralic contact language, the emergence of which considerably predates the beginning of Russian-Chinese contacts, and perhaps took place even in the time of the Golden Horde”.

Lunden (1978a; 1978b) has interpreted the coincidence of pronouns in Russenorsk and Chinese Pidgin Russian in a different way (1978a:15):

the use of moja/tvoja as pers. pronouns to many merchants [from Central Russia] represented a constituent part of ‘the way natives speak’ and could be introduced in their conversation with Norwegians, together with other elements (above all lexical) of ‘foreign languages’”.

I would prefer to call both the use of moja/tvoja as personal pronouns and SOV word order elements of Russian foreigner talk. These features are illustrated by a well known expression in Russian

Moja tvoja ne ponimaj.

I you not understand

‘I do not understand you.’

This expression is an item of Russian phraseological vocabulary, known and used by millions of Russians. But it is ‘broken Russian’: only the negative particle ne is correct here, and therefore the puristic tradition of Russian lexicology does not permit this item to be included in published collections of proverbs and sayings. The only exception which I know of is the collection by Vladimir Dahl (first published 1862) which includes a similar expression, characterising a person who speaks bad Russian (Dal’ 1984:272):

Moja tvoja — tvoja moja — da i tol′ko.

I you you I and only

‘I you, you me, and that’s all’

(or, if interpret this sentence in standard Russian: ‘My — your, your — my, and that’s all’).

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