Suns, moons and sputniks

The Sun / Солнце

Earlier today I was thinking about how I might learn more Russian, and realised that I need to get to grips with the grammar – the verb conjugations, noun declensions and so on. Trying to memorise verb tables and noun declensions and other grammatical gubbins doesn’t appeal to me, so I thought about other ways I might approach this. I thought that one reason why I haven’t learnt these things very well so far, even though I’m halfway through the Russian course, is because I haven’t made a conscious effort to do so, and haven’t practised using them nearly enough. I think I need lots more examples of how they’re used then my course supplies, and need lots of practise using them.

I thought that one possible approach would be to choose a word or topic, then try and make sense of the Wikipedia page about it, with help from Google translate, which not only translates the text into English, but also has transliteration and text-to-speech functions, so I can listen and read the text. So today’s word is the sun, which in Russian is Солнце [‘solntse]. I can only understand some of the words on the Russian page about the sun on Wikipedia, but one that stood out for me was спутники [‘sputniki], which means satellites or moons and is familiar because it’s similar to the name of the the first artificial satellite, Спутник-1 (Sputnik-1), which was launched in 1957. I knew this name, but didn’t know what it meant, until now.

The word sputnik also means ‘fellow traveller’ or ‘travelling companion’ and was short for спутник Земли (sputnik zemlyi – ‘traveling companion of the Earth’). It comes from the Russian с (with, together) and пут (path, way), from the Old Church Slavonic poti, from the Proto-Indo-European root *pent- (to tread/go; path, road), according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. *pent- is also the root of the English word find and the Latin pōns/pontis (bridge).

I had no idea I’d find all that out when I started writing this post. I haven’t learned much Russian, but I have learned other things.

This entry was posted in English, Etymology, Language, Language learning, Russian, Words and phrases.

5 Responses to Suns, moons and sputniks

  1. IronMike says:

    I think you mean [‘solntse] and not [‘slontse]. 😉

    Russian cases (padezhi or падежи) are no big deal. Learn them for reading, get a fair idea of their use in speaking, but then just speak. Sure, Russian syntax is free, but it’s still basically (basically!) SVO. Russians will understand you even if you come up with the wrong genitive plural for government! (It’s государств, к стати!)

    Russian is fun, even with the cases. Now motion verbs (глаголы движения) that’s another thing all together!

  2. Lev says:

    Actually, it’s [‘sontse], the л is silent.

  3. joe mock says:

    Russian nouns are no problems. It’s the verbs – first aspect and then the motion verbs. I much prefer a language with a verbal system that is complex but in which the functions of the various forms are fairly straightforward, like Latin, than a deceptively simple system like Russian which you sense from the get go you will never fully master

  4. IronMike says:

    The л is not silent, it’s a soft л.

    The verbs are no problem (excepting the motion verbs). There really is only past and present conjugations. Future is by use of a form of быт (I can’t find the soft sign on my keyboard) or simply conjugating the perfective verb.

    it’s those damn motion verbs and genitive plural. yuck.

    But then you’ve got the wonderful variety of Russian swearing to enjoy! Incredibly creative.

  5. Guillaume says:

    Sorry but I have to agree with joe mock, the л is silent in the word солнце. I just asked three Russian speakers around me to confirm and they all agree. 🙂


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