How do hiccups help us to understand Russian punctuation?

6 Ноябрь 2011 Автор: Категория: Russian

russian folklore stories, russian folk, russian customs, russian traditions, russian culture traditions, russian old believers, starovery

How do you get rid of hiccups? Do you gulp down a glass of water? Maybe you prefer to eat something, don’t you? I know of a hiccupping girl who was a secretary. She asked her colleagues to scare her or to make her laugh, thought it would help stop her diaphragm from jerking. Well, while she was drinking a glass of water, the accountants were tickling her. Managers were showing off a “Dance of the Little Swans”, when her boss walked into the office nervously… That was the day when his giggling, hiccupping secretary has became a stutterer. I don’t wish you to be in a situation as such. So, I’d like to explore a very simple folk spell to get rid of hiccups.

First, take a look at the spell.

Икота, икота,

Иди на Федота.

С Федота – на Якова,

С Якова – на всякого.

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Икота (hiccup) = noun, feminine gender, 1 declination.

Иди (идти/to go) = verb; present, imperfective, imperative (2 personal); singular.

На (on) = preposition; Here we see uncommon usage of this pronoun because икота is not a “myoclonus of the diaphragm” only, but invisible demon living ON/IN a person. (You will read about it below). However, иди в Федота doesn’t sounds melodically (в+ ф). So, Slavic magicians decided to use “на”. Euphony is very important for the folklore texts, especially spells.

Федота = personal male name Федот in Genitive case, singular (this is a noun of 2 declination). Fedot (Greek Θεόδοτος) means God-given, surrendered, dedicated to the gods.

Якова = male name Яков in the Genitive singular (this is a noun of 2 declination–> a-ending). Яков, Иaков was a very popular name.  The similar names are Jacob, James, Jim , Giacomo, Jacob, Jacques.

Всякого = pronoun всякий (masculine, singular) in the Genitive case. Всякий means everyone, each person. Всякого sounds like [вс’кава].

The punctuation of this poem is very common for Russian sentences. I mean some verbs are omitted.  

Икота, икота,

Иди на Федота.

С Федота - на Якова,

С Якова - на всякого.

We write a comma after икота, because of the rule. “Use commas before or surrounding the name or title of a person directly addressed”. We don’t care, if it is a human, animal, or any fantastic creature.

Take a look at lines 3 and 4.  The m-dash is used to emphasize intonations that are caused by the emotionality of utterances. So, we don’t need to repeat the same verb иди/to go.

Well, this grammatical block is completed. It’s time for the mystical and cultural stuff. :) First of all, I have to admit that икота/hiccup has two different perceptions.

1. Funny sounds hic-hic-hic, synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (SDF).

2. A bifurcation of the linguistic identity also well known as demonic possession.

I am not sure that so many people know about the second variant, but I studied Russian folklore at University. So, I have some knowledge for a little investigation. Икота-2 is also called as икотка and икоточка. Икотница/Ikotnitsa is a woman who suffered from икота-2. Икотник is a male victim of this disease. I was thinking which gender I should use, speaking about икота-2. Grammatically, икота has the feminine gender. These “demons” call themselves only by male names. Metaphysically, they do not have the personality and gender. I suppose,  it’s better to use the feminine gender.

Why did hiccups become a demon? We could suggest that оbsessive hiccup and excessive yawning are caused by strong influense of the supernatural forces. People with a mythological/magical mindset truly believe it. We also could think that икота was personified like a hunger, cholera, war. We might think that nervous fits were started with the hiccup. Anyway, икота-2 is the subject of interest for neuroscientists, anthropologists, hypnologists and priests for some days. To learn more about this phenomenon they go to the places like this.

russian folklore stories, russian folk, russian customs, russian traditions, russian culture traditions, russian old believers, starovery

I read this book – Никитина С.Е. “Устная народная культура и языковое сознание» (М, 1993). It’s all about connections between folk culture and language consciousness. I’ve decided to translate some paragraphs about икота-2. 

Речь идет о так называемой икоте — заболевании, которое медики относят к разновидности истерии. Болеют им преимущественно женщины. Проявляется это заболевание в раздвоении языковой личности. В человеке начинает говорить чужой голос, иногда членораздельно, иногда междометиями. По поверьям, в виде икоты в человека вселяется бес. Нам приходилось бывать в деревнях в верховьях Камы, буквально “зараженных” икотой.

“This so-called hiccup is a variety of hysteria. Women sufferfrom it most of all. This disease is manifested as a bifurcation of linguistic identity. Some voice begin to speak in a person: sometimes distinctly, sometimes with interjections. According to legends, the hiccup is a small demon living in a person. We had visited villages in the upper reaches of Kama (*a river Kama/Кама)… Speaking literally, they were “infected” with hiccups.”

Author of this book writes that the verbal behavior of hiccups is similar to the behavior of the child who speaks as the third person. Sometimes икота is friendly to her owner. She likes when the person takes a bath, eats candy. Sometimes ikota doesn’t allow the owner to tell lie. For example, she can speak with a children’s voice, “No, you did it! Don’t tell a lie”.

Нам удалось зафиксировать на магнитофоне речевое поведение икотницы. Икота говорила в ней сдавленным голосом высокого регистра. Себя она называла икоточкой. Замечательно, что икота не употребляла местоимения “я”. По христианскому учению только человек имеет образ и подобие Божие, т.е. личность. Каждая личность имеет свое “я”. Бес личности не имеет, стало быть, не имеет “я”. Икота, говорящая от лица другого человека, может употреблять местоимение “я”, но, говоря от себя, употребляет только местоимение третьего лица.

“We had a chance to record the verbal behavior of the ikotnitsa. Hiccup was speaking with a strangled voice of a high register. The hiccup called herself Ikotochka (diminutive of икота). Remarkably, the hiccup didn’t use the pronoun “I”. According to Christian  believes, only a human being has the personality, image and likeness of God. This is why each person has “I-identity”. Demon has no personality. So, it has no “I” (*it can not speak in 1 personal. because there is no “I-identity”). Hiccups can use the pronoun “I”, speaking on behalf of another person. However, speaking for itself, ikota uses only the third person pronoun”.

Sometimes ikota can tell who stole a cow, car, or money. So, people could ask an owner to help them. By the way, it reminds me a story about one artist. He created  unusual pictures because of some helminths toxins in his body. I am not sure, is it a good price to pay for popularity. :) So, people try to delete “demons” with special manipulation and tinctures with some wild herbs. There are also some stories, that икотники and икотницы can be treated by modern medicine, especially, and hypnosis.

russian folklore stories, russian folk, russian customs, russian traditions, russian culture traditions, russian old believers, starovery

I have to say that this strange phenomenon exists only in the distant villages of the Russian North, in the villages of Old Believers. For example, in the Arkhangelsk region, near the Pinega (Пинега) settlement. Here you can read   some stories and see photographies from the book “Дивная Пинега” by Ludmila Egorova (Егорова Л.В. Дивная Пинега. Избранное. – Архангельск: ОАО «ИПП “Правда Севера”», 2008. – 544 е.: ил.). She is a very well known photographer and writer in Arkhangelsk. Her book has an amazing collection of mysterious events, memories and beliefs. Many thanks to for extracts from her book and photos.

Here you can see this place, Pinega.

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Комментариев (10)

  • Svetlana пишет:

    А я-то думала, что икота, это спазмы! Неужели правда появляется другой голос? И пошла читать страшные сказки. Люблю их.

  • Джоди пишет:

    Восемь * четыре = тридцать два :)

    I thought, for sure we would catch a glimpse of икота looking for the perfect host to torment in the video with the eerie music and especially on the slow zoom in the beginning :) But anyways, a wonderful writing entry, very informative and fun to read :) Спасибо.

    У меня вопрос. So can one use this dash outside of poems? For example: Татьяна бегала к магазину. Пётр-к магазину тоже. Правильно? (That is, assuming the sentences are correct otherwise.)

    Well, if I ever meet one of the poor souls that have been hiccuping for years and just have to live with it every waking hour, I will try to remember this spell for them.

    • Anastasia пишет:

      Thank you Джоди :)
      Yes, you can use this dash, but be careful. It’s m-dash, not n-dash. We use n-dash in such words as кое-что, что-то, кое-кто, кто-то (anything/something, anybody/somebody, etc) We use m-dash for sentences.
      Yes, we can write, “Петр – к магазину тоже”. However, it’s more common to say “Пётр тоже” (without dash). We must pay attention to a context, expression of utterance. I truly believe that m-dash is mostly emotional than rational/logical punctuation mark. :)
      By the way, that is interesting example – about Татьяна :))

      • Джоди пишет:

        один – один = ноль :)


        so m dash = слово – слово
        n dash= cлово-слов

        or is this dash a special character altogether different? It seems a bit longer…

        • Anastasia пишет:

          Yes, you are right! :)
          m-dash = long like m character. = also well know as dash = слово – слово
          n-dash = short like n character. = also well known as hyphen. = часть слова-часть слова
          However, my keyboard doesn’t allow me to write true loooong dash. So, I use n-dash with two omissions/gap/space characters (I mean знак пробела).
          Like this: Кое-кто – в магазин.

          • Daniel пишет:

            Okay, “икоте — заболевании”, we use a long-dash or m-dash simply to indicate the verb (to go).
            If I look at “Я студент”. Will it then also be correct to say “Таня — студент”? Of course Tanya doesn’t know I am a student, therefore I cannot say “тоже”.

  • Если бы хоть чуточку понял что тут написано )))))

    • Anastasia пишет:

      Это жесть – про староверок-икотниц. Кликните на последнюю ссылку – это скан книжки “Дивная Пинега”, автор собирала фольклор. Там очень редкие и немного страшные истории.
      Пока читала, подумала, что хочу такой сценарий писать: чтобы северный колорит и локальные типажи, и ужасы немножко. Еще норвежский фильм про троллей на ум пришел. Тот, что а ля псеводокументалистика…
      Может, Вашему брату интересно будет? Это ведь не очень известный пласт нашего фольклора.

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