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Let's Talk German-Russian with Ernschtina un Hanswurscht

Book review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota

Marzolf, Arnold H. Let’s Talk German-Russian with Ernschtina un Hanswurscht. Bismarck, North Dakota: Germans from Russia Heritage Society, 1990.


Here is a wonderful book reflecting Prof. Arnold Marzolf's deep understanding of the special mix of words and dialects that was the language of the German-Russians. It is designed to be nibbled and savored, chuckled at, and disapproved of, with shaking of the head. To get the most out of it, it must be shared, with shouts of "Remember when Grandpa used to say this?" and "I can't believe he'd put this into a book." Prof. Marzolf says his book is "Dedicated to our German-Russian ancestors who suffered valiantly in Germany, in Russia, and on the prairies, but still knew how to smile, joke, and laugh."

Prof. Marzolf knows standard High German, having taught it at the university level. As a descendant of German-Russian immigrants who settled near Anamoose, North Dakota and minister to churches that contained substantial numbers of German-Russians, his ear was always tuned to the nuances of what they said, how they said it, and what it meant to them. Over years, he kept notes about the language. The brief verbal sketches in this book--one to four to a page--show the settings in which words, phrases, and sayings were used. When Prof. Marzolf ran out of steam, he put the leftovers into lists. I especially enjoyed his list of food words and the list of Russian words that became part of the German-Russian dialect.

Prof. Marzolf has performed such a valuable service, as he not only records the language as it was "talked" (spoken suggests too much formality for him), but the thought patterns and the way of life in which it flourished. At the end of the book, he gives an example of how the language worked in conversation, and, in a brief academic essay, teaches a lesson on the German language and its dialects. There may be too many "Lausbubageschichten" (mischievous stories) for some, but most of us who grew up with this dialect will love this book.

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