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In A.A. Istomin's article Проблема участия Антипатра Баранова в экспедиции на «Иль­мене» у калифорнийских берегов в 1814-1815 гг.:

О том, что Волков - "креол", к тому же плохо знающий русский язык ("малое сведение его в рос­сийском языке"), сообщает Л.А.Гагемейстер, непосредственно раз­говаривавший с ним во время визита в Сан-Франциско в 1817г.

I understand that Gagemeister criticized Volkov's language skills, but was the implication that Volkov was still learning Russian, that he never spoke Russian, that he was out of practice in Russian, that he spoke a low register of Russian, or what?

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    This is the first time I've heard "сведение" used in this aspect. I think the closest translation would be "competence" (or knowledge). So the phrase translates to "little competence in Russian language". This does not give me the information needed to answer your question.
    – Ark-kun
    Dec 15 '17 at 8:19
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The only information which was said to us is that Volkov had bad skills in the Russian. "Сведение" is a synonym for "знание" here. There is no other implication.

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You can read what is "Creole" or "креол" here. In 19th century people who had both Alaska and Russian roots were called Creole people.

So probably Volkov could speak Russian because one of his parents was Russian. But his language was not truly correct or full. This is my understanding.

He was not learning Russian. May be he spoke Russian better in his childhood and forgot the language in the time which the author describes.

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The passage may be translated as

whose mastery of Russian was poor/who spoke Russian poorly (spoke little Russian)

That's about as detailed as it gets, explanation of reasons for his poor Russian lies beyond the scope of the statement and probably needs to be sought elsewhere.

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The fact that von Hagemeister was a Baltic German born into a gentry family and composed his diaries in German, Russian, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese doesn't tell much about validity of his language skills evalutaion targeted at other Russian speakers.

Volkoff and von Hagemeister met in 1817, while Khlebnikoff's reference to Volkoff as to an interpreter is dated by 1820, which means that Volkoff's skills were at least still passable for his interpreting services and a conversation with Khlebnikoff in 1820.

However, the language Khlebnikov uses is filled with misspellings and many a calque from Western European languages, which was 'an aristocratic Russian', a form of the language with numerous grammatical and/or orthographical mistakes, but still understandable and recognisible as a legitimate form of Russian throughout the Empire.

Not that Hagemeister could use much better form of Russian himself (a German accent is still regardered as a 'legitimate mockery' by many native Russian speakers), but while Volkoff had spent decades within the Spanish-speaking community, his Russian, just like Khlebnikoff's, mihgt undergo the same noticeable changes under the Spanish influence during his hispanophonic days.

Hence, both Khlebnikov and Volkoff could speak more or less equally 'creolised' form of Russian (not necessary with any distortion, but rather with equal level of 'illegitimate mockery' of the language).

If we take as a starting point for our conclusion an idea that in those days a Russian nationality was defined mainly by a language mastering, this possibly could explain why Volkoff was described as a 'creole with a low language competence' by von Hagemeister, another person who perhaps spoke equally 'creolised' Russian... or was just trying to put on some airs of a language connaisseur.

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  • These are very worthwhile reflections and I thank you for adding them. Jul 2 '18 at 17:18
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The quote from Istomin's article is in proper/modern Russian, except for the smaller quote from Гагемейстер in brackets ("малое сведение его в рос­сийском языке" ~ his poor knowledge of Russian) which needed a previous explanation in modern Russian:

к тому же плохо знающий русский язык =~ who was not a good Russian speaker at that

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"José Antonio Bolcoff (1794–1866) was born Osip Volkov in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Siberia. Working for the Russian-American Company, Bolcoff was captured on shore by the Spanish in 1815. He quickly assimilated into the Spanish culture, and was given the name José Antonio Bolcof. Bolcoff traveled with Governor Pablo Vicente de Solá, acting as an interpreter. In 1822, Bolcoff settled in Branciforte and married María Candida Castro, grantee of Rancho Refugio. Bolcoff was alcade of Branciforte in 1833. In 1833, Bolcoff was granted the one square league Rancho San Augustin, and moved his family to the rancho and built an adobe. In 1839, Bolcoff replaced Francisco Soto as administrator of Mission Santa Cruz."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rancho_San_Agustin

Bolcoff's biography snippets I managed to find do not clarify his poor comand of Russian. One possibility is that, having not been sufficiently literate in the first place, he stopped using Russian fairly early in life.

Here is a direct quotation I came across:

"Переводчик наш Осип Волков живет у его в доме и, как видно, пользуется отличною доверенностию. Я спросил его, чем приличнее услужить губернатору в будущее время? И он сказал, что-нибудь из вещей интересных и что возмет даже и звонкою монетою. Будучи в С.-Барбаре, я вызывался ему, что в Монтерее без его повысили пошлины и в С.-Круз взыскали и за деньги. «Да, – отвечал он, – это так должно!», и после сего отзыва я замолчал."

http://www.vostlit.info/Texts/Dokumenty/Reisen/XIX/1800-1820/Issl_russ_tich_ok_XIX/41-60/50.phtml?id=4142

The reference "креол" may be misleading. Here is how Брокгауз и Ефрон define it:

Креол

(от испанского criollo) — в обширном смысле слова каждый родившийся в стране индивидуум чужой расы. Поэтому в американских колониях родившиеся там негры не смешанной крови, в противоположность привезенным, называются К. (в Бразилии — Negro de nacao). В тесном смысле К. называются в прежних французских, испанских и португальских колониях Америки, а также Африки (Гвинея) и Остиндии, местные уроженцы чисто европейской крови (sangre azul), в противоположность родившимся в Европе эмигрантам, которые в бывшей испанской Америке называются чапетонами, в Мехике обыкновенно — гачупинами, в Бразилии — Portuguezes legitimos или Filhos do reino. В Бразилии белые местные уроженцы прозвали себя Brasileiros. Ср. Oelsner-Monomerque, "Der Kreole" (Б., 1848).

I hope this helps.

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