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I recently watched an excellent Russian movie "The Horde" in Russian with English subtitles and got totally confused by one scene in it. The scene is as follows. The Khan tells a European ambassador, "Научись, а то тебя женщина твоя любить не будет." The subtitles say: "Take it. Keep trying. Or your woman will not love you." The context is that just before saying this phrase, the Khan demonstrated his superiority over the ambassador in handing a sword.

I am completely puzzled as to how "научись" can mean "take it and keep trying."

My understanding is that "научись" means "get skilled" (in handling a sword in this context). Let me humbly explain why I think so. The infinitive is "научиться," this is возвратный глагол совершенного вида. The core verb is "учить" ("to teach"), and the postfix "ся" converts it to "учиться" ("to teach oneself," that is, "to learn"). "Учиться" is an imperfective verb, and the prefix "на" makes it perfective, "научиться." Since it is a perfective verb, it means that the process of learning is finished, so the meaning of "научиться" must be "to get skilled," and dictionaries seem to confirm this. "Научись" is the imperative of "научиться" and thus must mean, "Get skilled!" I also checked in the Internet how "научись" is used, and my interpretation seems to fit.

And my interpretation of "научись" makes perfect sense in the context: Get skilled in handling a sword, otherwise your woman won't love you. It makes perfect sense because men who cannot protect their women are to be despised. A weak unskilled samurai deserves contempt.

I am totally puzzled as to what I am missing. Being unable to sort it out on my own, I decided to ask you.

My question is this: How can "научись" mean "take it and keep trying," or did I really spot an inexplicable grieve translation mistake in the movie?

  • Looks like your are spot on. I didn't see the movie, but "Get skilled with the sword" seems like a more accurate translation. Or maybe Khan actually gives the sword to the ambassador as he speaks? – Alexander Jun 4 '19 at 17:19
  • @Alexander : Yes, he gives the sword... The answers below explain that it wasn't научись, it was "на, учись." Russian phonetics is so difficult... – Mitsuko Jun 5 '19 at 10:07
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Your understanding of word "научись" is good.

I've watched the scene. You've missed a slight pause (or rather that there are two stresses instead of one): it's not "научись", but "на, учись".

"На" is not only a preposition, but also an independent word (not sure what exactly it is). It can be roughly translated as "take it", or "here"

I believe you've figred out "Учись" already. But just in case, it's imperative from "учиться", so literally "go learn [how to do that]", "keep trying" also works.

  • Ohh, this is a real trap... To me, "научись" and "на, учись" sound the same or almost the same. In the movie there is no pause between "на" and "учись". I just listened again a few times. There is no pause. And it is so difficult that slight differences in stressing vowels can produce such a huge difference in the meaning. The most stressed syllable is "-чись" anyway; the difference is really subtle and is about sub-stressing... – Mitsuko Jun 5 '19 at 10:08
  • Imagine you give me a fish and say "нарежь!" So it can mean either "на, режь!" ("here is the fish; get busy slicing it!") and "нарежь!" ("Get the fish sliced now!")? And to understand you right, I have to carefully listen how strong "на" is in "нарежь"? Russian phonetics is difficult... – Mitsuko Jun 5 '19 at 10:09
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    @Mitsuko Yes, it can be either. The pause is not exactly a pause, but rather absence of connection between "а" and "у". If it was one word, the sound would kind of flow from "а" to "у", but in this case the two sounds are separated. You can try typing both options in google translate and listen how it reads them. I hope it helps you. – Alissa Jun 5 '19 at 12:25
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In this case, "На", as noted above, is a separate grammatical unit. There was a pause with which you can determine that the phrase sounds like "На, учись".

"На" can also be translated as "here you go". But "take it" is quite a viable option.

What I can also state is that "на" is definitely a particle. In Russian, they are used mainly to change the connotation or to add an emotional undertone to the word. In English, the word "well" is a clear example of a particle similar to Russian particles by definition. Again, everything described above applies only to this context. In most other cases, a separate "на" in the written text will be a preposition. The main thing to remember is that "на" surrounded from both sides by punctuation marks will absolutely be a particle.

The topic of particles in Russian is very interesting and not all competent native speakers can identify and correctly separate them with commas in the text. So do not be embarrassed and wish you good luck with it!

  • Thanks for the explanation. To my ears, there is no pause between "на" and "учись" in the movie. I just listened again a few times. There is no pause. Or maybe there is an interruption for a millisecond, but it is really hard to tell whether it is there or not. I understand now that the Russians hear "на, учись" because на is slightly more stressed there than the prefix на in the word "научись" is. Russian phonetics is very hard and confusing... – Mitsuko Jun 5 '19 at 10:12

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