I suspect that this question may be both too specific and too vague for this forum, but here goes...

I recently tried to watch the film "Жила-была одна баба" (2011) -- I'm not sure I'd recommend it to anyone reading this, but I do think it has garnered some awards and is relatively well-known, perhaps because it provides such a graphic (some might say gruesome) depiction of Russian provincial life at the start of the 20th century.

Regardless of its artistic merits, though, the one thing that struck me about the film is that -- for me at least -- most of the dialogue is basically incomprehensible. Needless to say, I am not a native speaker, but I studied, lived and worked in Russia for many years, and I've always thought that my grasp of the language was very good -- in any event, I have absolutely no trouble following Russian-language movies where the dialogue is more...contemporary.

Anyway, my question is this -- for those among you who have seen the film, is the dialogue at all challenging to understand? Or is it just me?

Part of what is interesting to me about this is that underscores how subtle language can be -- "uneducated" or "sub-standard" speech (in any language) is NOT "simple"...in fact, it is often just the opposite.

The other thing that this reminds me of is that Russian seems to have more "sub-standard" variants than, say, American English -- not sure that urban or rural American English can offer anything like "Феня" for example. But again, that may just be me.

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    I watched a couple of minutes of this film, and it sounds like the dialogs would be indeed tough for non-native speakers to comprehend: the speakers have southern accent, and they use a lot of words that are no longer in widespread use. Looks like a good film, though. Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 0:33
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    Try watching "Deadwood" to see what American English can offer.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 6:44
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    Also, please improve your question. As for now, you basically ask: "here's a movie in (supposedly) Russian, can someone understand its language?" - it's pretty subjective.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 6:51
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    For those interested, the entire film can actually be found on youtube: youtube.com/watch?v=qMUapNU8bBA
    – Aleks G
    Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 11:24
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    @Aleks G there are some obvious mistakes in the subtitles. For example when the actor says "не царский режим" the subtitles translate it as "у них царский режим", lol
    – Anixx
    Commented Apr 26, 2013 at 12:31

4 Answers 4


I would not be confident in the accuracy of this film.

According to Russian Wikipedia, the critics called it "specimen of anti-Bolshevist propaganda", produced for the elections and sponsored by the wealthiest Russian oligarchs. The ethnographic accuracy also was criticized. The actors were taught to speak "Tambov dialect" rather than being natural speakers.

At times it is evident that the actors "overplay" it. In one scene a Jewish Bolshevist commissar speaks a very exaggerated stereotypical Jewish accent (that is a wrong pronunciation of "r"). This level of exaggeration is very unnatural and never can be seen in real life.

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    The "never can be seen in real life" depends a lot on where and when you live: for example, in the 70s-80s in Kiev I routinely heard people, mostly of Jewish descent, speaking with pronounced rhotacism. I also heard people who mispronounced Г so badly I couldn't figure out the word (when our chemistry professor said "Правило Гельмгольца", it sounded like "Правило Йеймхольца"). I rarely heard speakers like that in Moscow in the nineties, though. Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 16:20
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    @dasblinkenlight people who mispronounce "r" usually tend to make it less prominent, not empathize it as in this film. The artificiality of the accent is very evident here.
    – Anixx
    Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 16:23
  • How can it be a "specimen of anti-Bolshevist propaganda", - if this movie demonstrate a period even times before the Revolution? :> Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 20:23

The action of the film is set near the city of Tambov (Тамбов), the characters speak the dialect of that region, the Eastern variant of the Southern Russian dialect, Tambov is in the east of the red area on the map there.

As for me, a native Russian speaker, it's quite easy to understand everything they say in the film, although I've never been exposed to that kind of dialect in any way. Still, it is a dialect, it has many words transformed, it has some morphological differences from the standard Russian.

What I can suggest for you to facilitate it somehow, is watching this film with subtitles. Here it is, you can watch it online with Russian subtitles in that dialect, it's not the translation into the standard Russian (scroll the page down, the film is closer to the bottom of the page). I hope this will help you to see why it was difficult to make it out.


I just glance through the movie , and all i can say , that it's they speak old Russian, and i didn't find it hard to understand. But langue they use is rear so you may find some old people some where in the village will actually speak this way. Rather then that it's not common to use most of the words in modern Russian.

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    They speak a dialect of Modern Russian. Old Russian is The Tale of Igor's Campaign and Primary Chronicle.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 6:02
  • well :) be your way , but i do believe they speak more or less old Russian at the beginning. Or more correctly the one that was used at that time ... but it's not modern Russian ...
    – vveliev
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 7:42

"Anyway, my question is this -- for those among you who have seen the film, is the dialogue at all challenging to understand?"

No. It's not a "challenge". It's easy. and even Primary Russian Crhonicle (and others ancient cronicles) I just understand in general parts - although I didn't learn the Old Russian language especcially :> Also you could watch video about the Interslavic and reactions in the comment section from Russians( https://youtu.be/NztgXMLwv4A and this have relations with this issue :>)

"Or is it just me?" - just You only (as foreigner) or.. anothers...otarks (not foreigners :>).

"basically incomprehensible. I am not a native speaker" - this is the answer for You; well - a really full educated Russian read not only the Leskov, and Bazhov, etc, but hear a russian people's fairy tailes in early childhood from a mother, etc. :) And Soviet fairy tales movies, and historical movies, etc, etc, etc :) https://youtu.be/q_0uYbiUjsE?t=14





"and I've always thought that my grasp of the language was very good" - и ежели ты так полагаешь, то просто почитай Бажова, Лескова, Гоголя, Шолохова,Островского, Фонвизина, Ершова и далее; читай больше русской и советской литературы - это для улучшения навыков сих. :) У нас это вообще-то и в школе преподают :>

https://youtu.be/7eN-_qZR_KM :)

"where the dialogue is more...contemporary." навроде такого ? : https://youtu.be/lxkK5cVM9VM




:> :>>> и так далее... Это не то, что я называю - образованный русский человек. :) Излишне мягко говоря. The froast heads and tatokanos...

"language can be -- "uneducated" or "sub-standard" speech" without delving into the meaning of these English words, I will note that in this case we are talking more about "rural", "village's", "country", often more archaic language - but understandable for a NORMAL Russian human :)

"anything like "Феня" for example." it isn't a "феня", the "феня" just a special criminal slang only, the specifical thing. For a criminal only.

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