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Why I want to speak my husband’s language

My husband and I met in a PhD program, where we spoke the same language: the international technical language of Anglo-American academic philosophy. In this language, we talked about the things that mattered to us the most, he with an accent so slight that I stopped hearing it. He told me about his Soviet childhood, with its dacha visits, mushroom-picking excursions, Pioneer camps, people who skied to work, and other exotica.  As it turned out, we’d both watched Winnie-the-Pooh cartoons, but I was shocked to find that his version was better. We’d both loved the Sonic Youth album Daydream Nation, but while I’d bought it on CD from some megastore, his copy was pirated, on vinyl, and had been released by something called the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Russia, Saint-Petersburg. He gave me one of his Auktyon cassettes on extended loan and I started studying Russian to understand what the songs were about. I learned what is still my favorite word in Russian: ptitsa, a bird. The word sounds like the rustling of wings, the precise peck of a beak. When he translated his favorite Russian anecdotes for me – some of the darkest, funniest humor I’ve heard – I had a glimpse into his mind, and I also felt a deep sympathy with what I met. At the same time, we were (and are) quite foreign to one another.

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