The universal character of WWII is shown among others by the fact that this was the first war in which the warring parties saw the need to prepare well in advance a large number of special dictionaries for the conversation with the enemy soldiers and with the civilian population in the territories to be occupied. We have already written about the Estonian-Russian military dictionary of 1940, the Russian-German military dictionaries of 1941 made by the Soviets for the occupation of Germany and by the Germans for the occupation of the Soviet Union, as well as the Russian primer made for German soldiers in 1942, and we will also soon write about the dictionary of the Soviet-Finn war of 1940 and even the Hungarian conversation manual distributed in the American army in 1943.

That the importance of the conversation with the enemy became well ingrained in public awareness, is well shown in this postcard by the leading Soviet cartoonist Genrikh Valk (1918-1998), illustrator of the magazine Krokodil and of the popular books of adventures of little Neznaika. This card probably belonged to a series made in 1955. The discarded munitions attest the proximity of the war, while the facial expressions the strong impact of Soviet war films.

I have caught a “language”, but she is not yet able to talk.

27 comentarios:

MOCKBA dijo...

Nice postcard but what does it have to do with languages LOL?

MOCKBA dijo...

Oh, and I also don't think that the words "discarded munitions" accurately describe Daddy's khaki hat and canvas bag? It occurred to me to check the date of posting but alas it wasn't the 1st of April.

Studiolum dijo...

“Language” ~ “язык”, as in the caption of the post card. After your comment, however, I’m not absolutely sure whether this equivalent also works in English just as in Russian or in Hungarian.

I’d be grateful for a better English word embracing not only khakis, but also the apparently once-working Kalashnikov. Were there toy Kalashnikovs around 1955?

Well, if any post contains too many ridiculous elements, just ascribe it to the proximity of the 1st of April (and after October, to the next one).

And finally a serious question that intrigues me: What flag might that be on the khaki hat?

MOCKBA dijo...

Sorry Studiolum, I thought that you wrote in jest but it was just a bit too far fetched ... it happens to myself too, that I see something funny in some association or conjecture, but alas, nobody gets the joke. Well, I still don't get yours, if that was a joke.

So what the heck, let me assume for the sake of an argument that you are serious. And to add a few serious comments.

Per wiki, Язык has a number of meanings. In the context of this postcard, Язык (пленный) — в жаргоне — наименование представителя вражеских сил, захваченного с целью его последующего допроса и, возможно, перевербовки. The kids in the picture are playing "voinushka", a then-universally popular preschoolers' war game. Their tender ages and the haphazard nature of the street game are underscored by several lovingly drawn details. The oversize "pilotka" hat and bag of the "commander", the toy half-size replica of PPSh submachinegun of his leutenant (that's no Kalashnikov BTW ... the period toy guns were almost always imitating PPSh's), and a wooden sword of the reconnaissance hero who just captured "a prisoner for interrogation" from the "enemy's" yard. Alas, the "yazyk" can't be interrogated because she is even younger and can't even speak properly.

It's kind of nostalgically and tenderly funny, and the card must have been quite popular even them, given that it's been printed in whopping 100 thousand copies. But any connection to "languages" or dictionaries, and to real wars or weapons, would have to be too superficial IMVHO.

Oh, and the cockade? It looks a bit like a Polish flag but I think that it's just a piece of red cloth tied with a white twine or bandage. The hat is the standard Soviet issue and it should have had an enamel red star for a cockade. The star would have been a desirable memento among the preschoolers, so probably it's been torn out, kept or traded by an older brother. Now there is just a red rag where the red star used to be - c'mon, that's a game of little kids, where anything make-belief goes.

MOCKBA dijo...

PS there is an obvious reason why PPSh rather than AK spawned all the toy guns. That's because "the war" of the fantasies of the kids has always been WWII. It was "the" war fought by pretty much every father. PPSh was the WWII-issue submachinegun, whereas AK has not been commissioned until 1947. So the Kalashnikov has never made it into the kids' legend.

Studiolum dijo...

All right, now I see your concern. Well, my point was this. “Language” in Hungarian, just like in Russian, means both spoken language and, metaphorically, this kind of captive, seized for the purpose of giving information. As this is the typical speech situation in the above quoted wartime conversation dictionaries, so when coming across this postcard, it spontaneously reminded me of those dictionaries composed ten to fifteen years earlier. This funny association was the subject of this post or – in this sense yes – this joke.

MOCKBA dijo...

OK see, the image might have been a nice illustration to a series about "captive tongues" ( a tongue in cheek allusion so to speak ;) ) but the association simply remained far too opaque, for my eyes at least.

The confusion is probably compounded by the English tongue / language dualism (the "talking prisoner" of course firmly belongs inn the physical "tongue" category rather than with the abstract "language"); then also by my lack of understanding that out of multiple meanings of "tongue", this obscure meaning existed in Hungarian too; and lastly by my memories of the voinushka game, where foreign language did play a role, but only as a means of command rather than a tool for communication.

Did you play War or Cowboys-and-Indians or Cossacks-and-Outlaws as a kid? Who was the "good guys" and who was the enemy? Did you need any phrases in foreign language for the enemy? (Maybe it is discussed somewhere in the old entries of this blog already, but I can't find it)

Studiolum dijo...

Beautiful subtleties! As we had no civil wars since the Middle Ages, a “captive tongue” was always a “language” at once. For us it would be almost unimaginable to use this term for someone speaking Hungarian, in the simple meaning of a “captive informer”.

One of the most popular children books of not only my childhood but the whole century has been the “Stars of Eger” (1899) by Géza Gárdonyi, a romantic novel on the defense of the fortress of Eger in 1552 by 2000 Hungarian soldiers against a 200 thousand strong Turkish army. This novel (which also includes a visit of the main hero to Istanbul prior to the siege, described in detail and rich in conversations) is full of phrases in Turkish (with Hungarian translation in footnotes) and scenes with captive tongues where the use of Turkish is stressed. So we most frequently played Turkish wars, where the use of some proper Turkish (from Gárdonyi’s book and from the popular film made of it) was a must.

Araz dijo...

Nice discussion, gentlemen, let me solve the mystery of flag on the hat. It seems to me that is is just a red star, but because of some offset in red color printing (you can see it in other parts, too) it did not feel the black contours leaving some white area above.

Maybe it would be nice to include a sentence explaining that language/tongue has meaning in Russian indicating a captive for interrogation.

Effe dijo...

and, while playing "Cossacks-and-Outlaws", were Cossacks the good guys? Maybe not everyone think they were :-)

MOCKBA dijo...

Yup Effe, that's what I was interested in, how one childplay tradition's good guys were the other children group's bad guys. For example in Russia (and probably in most European countries?) the Injuns were the good guys, but in America they were the bad ones.

Of course your smile was probably about reallife Cossacks, not the ones from a street game :) I don't know if other nations had outdoor games where one team would be called Cossacks. But I wonder if the same game exists in other countries. Truth be said, it doesn't "really" have good or bad guys ... rather the two teams have very different roles: to seek vs. too hide, to leave clues vs. to decipher the clues, to tag to capture vs. to tag to free.

Cossacks-Outlaws isn't really a war game, it has no weapons and no parity of the teams. It just came to my mind in the context of "captive tongues" because it was heavy on capture and interrogation and interpretation (while unsophisticated voinushka was more about just running about and brandishing weapons)

Araz - thanks for your humbling discovery about the red splotches LOL! It takes a technology minded observer sometimes, huh?

Effe dijo...

In Italy we used to play above all Cops and Robbers (and we usually prefer to be the robbers…), or Cowboys and Indians (the influence of USA cinematography, I suppose). No Cossacks, and no foreign languages involved.

Language dijo...

Yeah, definitely "tongues" and not "languages." (I'm reading Russian WWII fiction these days and there are языки all over the place; after I finish Baklanov I'm moving on to Grossman and then Astafyev.)

MOCKBA dijo...

Effe, was it this Cops and Robbers essentially just tag with jailspace?) Or the Italian version is more like Cossacks and Outlaws (with hiding and chalk clues on the pavement)?

In Russia a touch of foreign language was needed in the proper War game, but it hardly ever used more than half dozen commands. Only one was truly essential - "хенде хох!"

@ Languagehat, isn't it even more commonly lips in English? As in "loose lips" vs. Russian "развязать язык" (untie a tongue) or болтун <= "dangling tongue"?

BTW have you read Viktor Nekrasov? (the "original" intellectual-on-the-frontlines narrative, and the one coming from an actual field commander rather than a journalist...)

Language dijo...

isn't it even more commonly lips in English?

I was referring specifically to the языки captured by front-line troops to give information.

BTW have you read Viktor Nekrasov? (the "original" intellectual-on-the-frontlines narrative, and the one coming from an actual field commander rather than a journalist...)

I presume you're referring to V okopakh Stalingrada, and no, I haven't; is it worth it? (I mean, is it more than a "historical document"?) I've read Baklanov's Iyul' '41 and Simonov's Zhivye i myortvye, and I'm now in the middle of Baklanov's Pyad' zemli. As for actually serving rather than being a journalist, both Baklanov and Astafyev were seriously wounded fighting the Germans.

I'm interested in further recommendations; have you by any chance read Ales Adamovich's Partizany, Kondratiev's Sashka, Vorobyov's Eto my, Gospodi!, Vladimov's General i ego armiya, or Vladimir But's Oryol-reshka?

Language dijo...

I should add that I favor "tongue" merely as an ad hoc equivalent; there does not appear to be a standard term in English. The Oxford Russian-English Dictionary gives an explanation rather than an equivalent word: "(mil., coll.) prisoner who will talk (will provide information when interrogated)".

francesca dijo...

I dare to intervene with a small poem by Federico Tavan. No wonder if you don't know him (yet). How could you? He writes in the variant of Friulan language spoken in his tiny village, Andreis.


Cuan' ch'e matiâve
sul prât
ai indians
al capu tribù a no'l era content de me.
Alora je scjampave
e zîve sui cjuchi
a fâje segnai de fum.
AUGH! Federico sta atent
ch'a riva al coubò.
AUGH! e rivave jo
a cjaval de un toc de legn.
me faseve personeir
e me liave a un arbal
po i rinfuarz 'e clamave.
AUGH! Federico!
E rivave jo int'un nuval de fum
sunant la carica cun un flour.
AUGH! al era al strion
AUGH! al era la squaw,
AUGH! al gjeneral Caster,
AUGH! al era al fortin,
AUGH! al '55
AUGH! ere content
AUGH! al era biel al mont
AUGH! 'e sperave mitant.

(When I played (cowboys and) Indians alone, on the grass, the leader of the tribe wasn't proud of me. Then I run away and went on the hill to send him smoke signals. HOW! Federico, be careful that the cowboy is coming. HOW! And I came on a horse made of a piece of wood. I took myself prisoner and I tied myself to a tree, then I called for help. HOW! Federico! And I came in a cloud of smoke sounding the charge with a flower. HOW! And there was the medicine man, HOW! And there was the squaw, HOW! General Custer, HOW! And there was the blockhouse, HOW! The '55, HOW! I was happy, HOW! the world was beautiful, HOW! I hoped so much.)

MOCKBA dijo...

Language, of course we may be straying too far offtopic here ... yes I like The Trenches of Stalingrad, read it dozens times and even visited the location ... so I'm kind of partial :) In the latter-days USSR, the book has been banned from discussion and removed from the public libraries, but other authors knew that Stalin inexplicably approved of it, which made the sub-genre sort of safe and the slate sort of clean. Hence many followed. I think of Bondarev's Горячий снег as of one of the successes in its vein.

Has Nekrasov's novel become a mere historic curiosity? I don't think so. True, it doesn't pit grand concepts against each other, it doesn't depict sex or hallucinations, and it's written in grammatically correct sentences, so in any of these senses, it isn't modern. But it's good read IMO, thick with substance and action and wry smile, and also finely attuned to dialects which you might appreciate.

Back to tongues and lips :) Yes, I realized that there is no one-word English equivalent to the narrow military meaning of the Russian word. I just wanted to point out that the family of meanings is much wider, encompassing all sorts of situations where one means "speech" but says, instead, "a body part producing the sounds of speech". Mostly "tongue" in Russian vs. mostly "lips" in English.

Effe dijo...


in Italy, as far as I know, Cops and Robbers was (is? nomore?) just a tag game. It was just the exhilaration of feeling "guilty" and the trill of escaping towards our liberty (the bad guys beeing the cops...).

Chalk signs on pavement were used for other kind of street games: Poisoned Ball, The Week (aka The Bell) etc

Francesca, very nice poem, memories from a childhood that never ends.

Language dijo...

OK, I'll look for the Nekrasov -- thanks! (I just finished Beevor's magnificent book on Stalingrad, which I recommend to anyone interested in the battle.)

Language dijo...

(And I hope our good host has the same tolerance about off-topic ramblings as I do at LH!)

Studiolum dijo...

Certainly! Río Wang is but one large off-topic rambling in itself, so you’re welcome to add new paths to the trodden ones.

I’m listening to the rambling with great enjoyment, but was prevented from actively taking part in it by the great juggler of off-topics, Umberto Eco, whose recent book I have finished to translate the day before yesterday, and right before sending it to the editor I received a totally new version of the manuscrip from the master… so for four days I have been working day and night on the revision, as the book should appear for the Day of the Book.

A beautiful and nostalgic poem, Francesca, just as the post card which has launched this thread. Even with the eternal bitterness lingering in it – “al capu tribù a no’l era content de me” – ma questi maledetti capu tribù sono sempre così, che c’è da fare a parte di sperare (ed in vano) che noi saremo più contenti dei nostri piccoli indiani o almeno loro di noi, and it makes the remembrance even more authentic.

And once we are here, let me open a byroad between childhood plays and Nekrasov’s book by confessing that this novel of Nekrasov in the Hungarian translation belonged to my childhood readings so I even remember to have summed it up in an elementary comics designed by me. Peculiar that Stalin loved it so much, which I did not know, and nevertheless he openly protested against the return of Stalinism after Khruschev’s fall.

Tongue/language: while understanding the correct English usage, to me it is effectively hard to use “tongue” for this kind of captive informer, and not only because in the Hungarian martial tradition a “captive tongue” always has to speak a different “language”, but also because ad hoc interpreters were also called by the same word (so I would have never translated the undistinguished Hungarian язык in this meaning as “tongue”, for a tongue has everybody, but a language only the knowledgeable ones). “Call a [language]!” István Dobó, captain of Eger shouts after seizing the janissary who slipped into the fortress through a secret tunnel, to understand what he must confess about the composition of the Turkish army (and it belongs to the beauties of the story that it turns out that the janissary had been kidnapped from Hungary in his childhood so he still fairly speaks the language).

And finally another curious childhood memory of the same book from the other end of the world: my friend Péter, who was a Hungarian cultural attaché in Socialist Vietnam, and learned the language and spent most of his time with the inhabitants, told me that the most popular children book was in the 70’s and 80’s the Hungarian “Stars of Eger”! It was translated as an obligatory quota from another Socialist country, and it was immediately adopted by the Vietnamese who saw in the resistance of the 2000 against the 200 thousand their own heroic resistance in the Vietnam War. So much, Péter recounted, that children on the street played “the siege of Eger” just like us, shouting in English instead of Turkish, and preferably assuming the role of the brave captains István Dobó and Gergely Bornemissza, whose name I doubt they were able to pronounce.

Jesús dijo...

"Certainly! Río Wang is but one large off-topic rambling in itself"

Taking up Studiolum's invitation, I might add that "lenguas" were a usual form to name indigenous interpreters, from Spanish to indigenous languages and back, in post-Conquest Mexico (they were also called "indios nahuatlos"). When I read the caption, I immediately thought of it.

MOCKBA dijo...

And, Jesús, it is lengua rather than idioma. In Russian or Hungarian the distinction sort of fades, but with so many other metaphors using tongue to mean "ability to speak", I'm sure this one, too, means "a person who will speak when captured".

Studioulum, you've already mentioned that prisoners would be expected to speak a foreign language, but I'm still at loss why would it matter. It's not like the Hungarians or the Russians don't have a language? Foe's language or friend's, still remains a language? There isn't even a simple Russian noun to designated a speaker of other language; certainly "yazyk" doesn't imply "otherness".

A few other curious tidbits about the concept of "captive tongue" in Russian. Firstly the noun differs from either "tongue" or "language: in that it is animate. Thus the Genitive (as in the postcard) is "yazyka" rather than inanimate G. "yazyk"

2ndly wikipedia claims that it's been used for centuries, the earliest known use being in 1606 when the Impostor lay siege on Trinity St. Sergius. I wasn't able to corroborate that but I find it unexpected.

Language dijo...

Thus the Genitive (as in the postcard) is "yazyka" rather than inanimate G. "yazyk"

Good point, but you mean "accusative" rather than "genitive."

MOCKBA dijo...

Accusative :) Talk about typing under influence LOL ... even when your Cabernet partner is a professional Russian teacher!

BTW the same wikipedia entry attributes the use of "tongue" for "talking prisoners" to the Strategikon of Maurice, a VIIth century Byzantian treatise on wars. No quotes given either from the Trinity Siege chronicles or from the Strategikon, so I strongly suspect that it is a sort of a "Third Rome" hogwash. But I'd love someone to check the matter!

Webb dijo...

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