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Chukchis In Russian Jokes and In History

Submitted by on March 30, 2012 – 5:29 pm 24 Comments |  

Anyone familiar with the contemporary Russian humorous folklore (jokelore, or in Russian anekdoty) knows that one of the most popular series of such jokes revolves around the Chukchis, the native people of Chukotka, the most remote northeast corner of Russia. These jokes, especially popular in 1990s and 2000s, fit the international genre of ethnic stupidity jokes, discussed by Christie Davies in Jokes and their Relation to Society and Ethnic Humor Around the World (see also GeoNotes post). In these jokes, Chukchis are depicted as primitive, uncivilized, and simple-minded, but clever in a naïve kind of way. Their adaptation to the cold climate and the harsh conditions of their environment also features prominently. Here is one example (most jokes below are found in Emil Draitser’s Taking penguins to the movies: ethnic humor in Russia):

A Chukchi has bought himself a refrigerator. They ask him:

“What do you need a fridge for? It’s so cold in the tundra?”

“It’s minus 40 [both Celsius and Fahrenheit] outside the yaranga [traditional style home], and in the fridge only minus four [Celsius; 25 degrees Fahrenheit] – I will warm up inside!”

However, such jokes are more revealing of the Russians’ own xenophobia and – as we shall see below – lack of basic knowledge of the Chukchi lifestyle and beliefs than of any real peculiarities of the Chukchis themselves.

The simultaneously ignorant and arrogant attitude towards the Chukchis permeates not only the Russian jokelore, but the whole relationship between the two peoples during the Soviet period. Already in the early years of the Communist regime, the Russian Revolution was explained to the peoples of the Far Northeast – the Koryaks, Evens, Eskimos, Aleuts, and the Chukchis – in extremely simplistic and explicitly paternalistic terms. James Forsyth in his A History of the Peoples of Siberia cites a proclamation that was conveyed to these indigenous groups (p. 265-266):

There were bad people in Russia. They killed and robbed many other people; they wanted to become rich that way…. Then the poor folk got together, took up weapons and started driving out the bad people… A terrible war began. The people suffered. … But the poor folk defeated the bad ones… All working people gathered together and created a strong Soviet republic. … The government of the Soviet republic now consists of the best people chosen by the whole nation. It will be to you like a father to a son, but you too must obey laws and obligations.  … You will find out when you may hunt fur animals and when you must not, so that the animals will multiply. …

As can be seen from this quote, the Bolsheviks completely disregarded the obvious fact that the Chukchis have been what Spencer Wells calls “wonders of adaptation”: over thousands of years they have “developed a lifestyle that allows them to exist in an environment of unimaginable harshness”, a landscape of “an other-worldly tundra, covered in snow and frost from September to June” (Spencer Wells, The Journey of Man, p. 134). Being heavily dependent on the few animal species that survive in such an environment – reindeer, seals, dogs, polar bears, and fish – the Chukchis developed a keen understanding of these animals and their lifecycles. What could the Russians, coming from an entirely different ecosystem, possibly tell them that the Chukchis did not already know? Attempts at collectivizing the Chukchis and imposing a more centralized system on them during the 1930s proved extremely unsuccessful. Russian jokes that feature Chukchis interacting not only with polar bears, reindeer, and marine mammals, but also with penguins, which are confined to the southern hemisphere (see the Wikipedia map on the left), expose an extreme degree of geographical and biological illiteracy:

A Chukchi brings a pickup truck full of penguins to a city. At a street intersection, he asks a traffic cop:

“Hey, do you know where I can take these penguins?”

“Where? What do you mean – where? Take them to the zoo.”

“Good idea,” says the Chukchi and whizzes away towards the zoo.

After a while the traffic cop sees the Chukchi again. His pickup is still full of penguins.

“Hey,” asks the cop. “What happened? Didn’t you take them to the zoo?”

“I did,” says the Chukchi. “And now I’m taking them to the movies.”

Soviet propaganda that was translated literally from Russian often led to profound misunderstandings, which in turn could become fodder for ethnic jokes.   An example comes from a story told by a Russian teacher working in a nomad school for the Chukchis in 1932 (cited in I.S. Vdovin’s Priroda i chelovek v religioznykh predstavleniyakh narodov Sibiri i Severa, pp. 235-236):

I [the Russian teacher] said that all over our country the new life had now been established… as a result of the revolution led by Lenin.

While the Russians used the phrase “new life” to refer to the Soviet regime, for the Chukchis it had an inherently mystical significance since its meaning covered not only ‘way of life’ or ‘existence’, but also ‘deity’. This identification of the leaders of the Communist Party with supernatural forces puts the following Russian joke in a completely different light:

A Chukchi returned home from the Communist Party Congress:

“I attended the Congress. They accepted the new program. They said: ‘Everything for man, everything for the benefit of Man!’ And this Chukchi saw this Man with his own eyes. He was right there, in the Presidium.”

Not only were the Russians ignorant about the Chukchi belief system and their natural environment, buy they also failed to understand the ethnic composition of the Chukchis people. The word Chukchi comes from the Russian work Chukcha, which derives from the Chukchi word chauchu meaning ‘rich in reindeer’. Chauchu, in turn, was used by the so-called Reindeer Chukchis to distinguish themselves from the Maritime Chukchis, called anqallyt (‘the sea people’). The indigenous name for a member of the Chukchi ethnic group as a whole is Luoravetlan (literally ‘true person’). The two groups have had distinct habitats and lifestyles. The Reindeer Chukchis are a nomadic people who live in the inland tundra region with herds of reindeer. The Maritime Chukchis are sedentary, living primarily from sea-mammal hunting, much like the Eskimos. In the Russian jokelore, however, the distinction is blurred:

A reindeer herder Chukchi is sitting by the edge of the coastal cliffs, counting his harnessed together reindeer falling of the cliff into the ocean, one after another: one, two, three… A passing-by Russian geologist asks him: “What’s going on?” To which the Chukchi responds meditatively: “A tendency, however!”*

The failure to understand the differences between the Reindeer Chukchis and the Maritime Chukchis is responsible in part for the lack of success of the Soviet collectivization program in Chukotka. While the Russians established nearly equal number of collectives (totaling about 40) for the two Chukchi groups – reindeer herders and sea-mammal hunters – the success rate of the collectivization for the two groups was quite different. The so-called “cooperative grazing associations” formed among the Reindeer Chukchis by 1933 were embraced by only 3% of the population, as compared with the 60% collectivization rate of the coastal people. By 1939, about 95% of the coastal Chukchi people had enrolled in Soviet collectives, but the percentage of collectivized reindeer nomads had increased only to 11%. Almost 90% of all reindeer were still privately owned as late as 1941. The great majority of Reindeer Chukchis remained entirely outside the collective system, turning their backs on the benefits of modern civilization offered by the Russians and adhering to the traditional ways of nomadic life.

The paternalistic attitude depicting Chukchis as stupid, naïve, and child-like pervades not only Russian humorous folklore and early Soviet propaganda. Consider, for example, the Russian 1966 film “The Chief of Chukotka”, a comedy set in 1922. A patriotic young man is sent by the Revolutionary Committee to Chukotka, where he intends to spread ideas of justice and equality among the natives, but as it happens, he learns instead the local capitalist ways and starts a profitable fur trade with American, Japanese, and other merchants. In the film, the Chukchis are presented as a peaceful people. In one scene, they refuse to shoot at the enemies of the Soviet regime, saying that “arctic fox we shoot, people no”. However, in reality Chukchis were noted among other Arctic groups such as Koryaks and Eskimos as formidable warriors. Even barter and trade encounters between the Chukchis and their neighbors often ended in bloody duels, which were conducted on a piece of walrus skin, smeared with blubber, stretched over ground and nailed down by sharp bone fragments or stones. The goal of the dueling fighters was to throw the opponent onto those sharp bone or stone pieces, often with fatal results. The wars between the Chukchis and their southern neighbors the Koryaks, which continued well into the eighteenth century even in the face of the Russian menace, are recounted in the historical records. The Chukchis used bows and arrows, poisoning their arrowheads with plant toxins. Pieces of walrus and sea-lion skins were used to make defense shields that looked like tortoise shells (see image on the left). However, the bravest Chukchi warriors were expected to forego such a clumsy, heavy, and inconvenient armor.

This fearsome nature of the Chukchis was not lost on the Russians, who waged a sanguinary war against them for 120 years without success. The encounter between the two peoples began in 1640s, when the Russian Cossacks first reached the Kolyma and Anadyr rivers.  Contact at first was rather limited, mostly because the Chukchis were poor in fur, the main desire of the early Russians adventurers. Fighting flared up around 1700 when the Russians began operating in the Kamchatka Peninsula and needed to protect their communication lines from the Chukchis and Koryaks. Four expeditions were sent out in the first decade of the eighteenth century, resulting in considerable bloodshed but little success. The Russians renewed their efforts under the command of Major Dmitry Pavlutsky, who adopted brutal tactics of killing Chukchi men, driving off their reindeer, and capturing women and children to be sold as slaves. Pavlutsky was only too happy to follow orders from Saint Petersburg that the Chukchis and Koryaks were to be “totally extirpated” (in Russian, iskorenit’ vovse). However, the genocidal war proved difficult carry out, as the Chukchis defended themselves bravely. Prisoners of war killed each other, preferring death to slavery.

The war continued throughout 1750s, despite Pavlutsky’s death March 1747; according to several sources, the Chukchi kept his head as a trophy for many years. Only with Catherine the Great’s ascension to the throne in 1762 did the policy change. It became clear to some Siberian officials that savage attacks served merely to arouse the warlike spirit of the Chukchis. Moreover, maintaining the fort at Anadyrsk had cost the Russians over a million rubles, while the profit from the area amounted to less than thirty thousand rubles. The fort in Anadyrsk and the forcible gathering of tribute were therefore abandoned in 1764. The Chukchis, no longer provoked, began to trade peacefully with the Russians. The following episode further illustrates how clueless the Russian authorities in Saint Petersburg were about the Chukchis and their mode of life: to inform foreign ships that Chukotka belonged to the Russian Empire, huge imperial coats-of-arms were sent to the region in 1788, and the Chukchis were ordered to fasten them to trees along the coast. Alas, the authorities in the capital had no idea that Chukotka had no trees.

The “end of the world” nature of Chukotka – as well as its role as in the Soviet prison camp system – became the crux of the following Soviet-era joke:

Two Chukchis are sitting on a beach and fishing. One of them says:

“Wanna hear a political joke?”

“No. They might exile us.”

But now and again, the Chukchi of the jokelore take an opportunity to retaliate on the Russians:

The Soviet Army test fire an SS-20 missile and lose track of it as it goes into the vast northern tundra. They drive a jeep up there to try to find it. “Hello”, they call out to a passing Chukchi. “Did you happen to see a big, flaming stick cross the sky?”

“No”, replies the Chukchi. “I saw some birds, a plane, a helicopter, and an SS-20 missile… but no big flaming stick.”



* Curiously, these Russian jokes fairly accurately reflect certain linguistic peculiarities of the Chukchi language, such as its reliance on evidential particles (cf. Aikhenvald & Dixon, Studies in evidentiality, p. 300). Such particles indicate whether something is known via direct visual evidence, via hearsay, or via indirect inference. This peculiarity of the Chukchi language translates into the jokelore Chukchi’s overuse of the Russian word odnako, meaning literally ‘however’, but used in contexts where this Russian word makes no sense as such.

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  • Peter Rosa

    Not that this has much to do with the main point of the post, but I was surprised to see that there are penguins in Australia.

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      It is absolutely true that most Russians never meet a Chukchi in their lifetime. I actually met a Chukchi, who was a lecturer at my college. But when this man introduced himself and mentioned that he is a Chukchi, he could have said he’s a Martian — we were about as likely to ever meet one…

      More to the point, Russians do tell ethnic jokes about many other groups: Ukrainians, Jews, Georgians, Armenians, Estonians, Poles, etc. Curiously, many of these groups are characterized in jokes as “stupid”, in different ways: Ukrainians as provincial peasants, Estonians as slow, etc. But whereas other groups are described as having other qualities as well, it is the Chukchis who — in the jokes, but as I show in the post, not in reality — are just plain stupid.

      If you are interested in this subject, the book by Draitser that I refer to in the post is a fascinating resource.

  • Igor Solunskiy

    I am glad that interesting topic of anqallyt and luoravetlan people have been brought on GeoCurrent, however. Nevertheless, there are some moments in the article which may be still worked upon — starting from the whole “Chukchi” “jokelore”. These “anecdotes” appeared and gained the popularity not in 90th and 2000th, but in 70th and early 80th.   They were, obviously, circulating underground (as the most true Soviet “jokelore”) and could not be published. In 90th and 2000th, however, they were commercialized by television and press to fill the void of humor — and because they were considered “politically safe” (unlike, say, some jokes from the TV shows “The Dolls” or “Turn the light off!!!” — which ultimately were silenced by government).
       These pop utilization inevitable changed the tone of the jokes — and add some translated once (like the one about penguins which is originally Australian) from different subsets of “jokelore”
       Original jokes about “Chukchi” were not so much about denigrating them — but rather mocking Soviet propaganda and the certain stupidity of the Soviet life — from the standpoint of the person “naive and true to nature”… More often then not Russian in these jokes looks pretty stupid — like in the original one about SS-20 test.
       “The Chief of Chukotka” is the probable culprit for the originating Chukchi “jokes” and distorting their image — because in Siberia there not much jokes about them: rather very cautious mentioning like “The pit-fires of warrior Chukochi* were staring in his eyes”**
       And, indeed, they were ferocious warriors.
       Only tuberculosis, alcohol and syphilis were able to decrees their population and weakened the tribes to the level they agreed to the armistice (but not the peace) with the “White Tzar”.
       Nothing clumsy about armors shown on the photograph — they are very advance form of Asian lamellar armor — similar to ones of Mongols, Kyrgyz or Tibetan. The peculiar “shells” on the backs of the warriors are, in fact, shields strapped for carrying.
       And their individual skills were not less impressive: I saw a rare film shot in early 70th in anthropological expedition were louravetlan worrier trained in traditional manner (one of the last I presume) was parring arrows shot by about 20 archers from about 25-30 yards…      

    I am not defending the Russian “jokelore” which was (and still is) ANYTHING but “politically correct”, but to bring one more dimension to the understanding of the nature of these jokes I have to bring one more (from the original 70th “set”):

       “The Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in order to reflect growing brotherhood among the nations in the Soviet Union and to ward off the false and blatant claims of racism in capitalist propaganda have decreed:
    From now on in all jokes about Chukchi word “Chukchi” has to be replaced by “one Jewish reindeer herder”!”***
    * — the XVII — XVIII cc form of the ethnonim
    ** — Oleg Medvedev “The Cossack”
    *** — this joke is not so much about Chukchi and Jewish but rather about insensitive, stupid and bigoted nature of some aspect of “national policies” of Soviet Union.

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      Thank you for your fascinating comments, Igor!

      Regarding your point about the timing, I agree that these jokes originated in the 1970s. As I say in the post, they became especially popular in the 1990s and 2000s. And I like your interpretation of them as mocking the Soviet propaganda from the point of view of a “naive man who is true to nature”. There has been, however, this view that Chukchis are “naive”, wasn’t there? That’s in part why they were chosen as the characters of the joke. I don’t know if the film “The Chief of Chukotka” really had that much impact as it wasn’t immensely popular, was it?

      Thank you for your comments on Chukchi warrior skills and the joke! Stay tuned, however!

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    Some of these themes are quite similar to those used in Alaska

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  • Lara

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    Further Syriana Fidelis “Military Truth” Deconstruction:

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    * You can deal directly with Uncle Sam’s current working definition of comfy-relating personal plant growth: “SUG: Honey, the cracker kids want more holiday ‘duck soup for the crazy horse’ treat gas.”

    * Alternatively: If RFN have any concerns about any of my definitions, or interpretations, or any questions, you wish to ask prior to honourably joining the submission coalition (as per aforementioned ‘Andrea Alciato’ standards); feel free to find an intellectual egological literate RFN member to engage me by transparent no censorship email to clarify or resolve NWF concerns.

    Steve S.: “Alamo Cricket’s Bound by Sling Blade – Not sure of our existence, but sure of our intentions – Genepool Honour” Message received.

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    Truthseeker bIErthday ‘Tara Ioveland Mountains IFreakUN Night’ response.

  • Evgeniy

    Great article, but it contains one major drawback, one major fault of understanding: its part about jokes on Chukchi and its part about Soviet mistreatment of Chukchi are entirely disconnected. There is one important feature of the Russian/Soviet culture that may be difficult (?) to catch from abroad: when a Russian says something, it does not mean he means that, but it means he feels like saying that. Russians needed a word for joking about Russians themselves; this is entirely disconnected with what they thought about the people that the word seemed to name, but actually did not. Think of the following, for instance: joking about Vasily Ivanovich and Pet’ka, do Russians actually mean Chapaev? Not of course. I like very much jokes about Chukchi, yet I think nothing of Chukchi themselves when recalling these jokes; actually, I mentally apply these jokes to people I know, considering the word Chukcha as a good name for a joke.

    Hope I don’t appear to be stalking you; this is my last message if nobody has questions, I promise. ;) The latest note for the end. There is a word, “dushevnost”, that, I think, addresses the above issue: this word includes, among other things, taking words for what they mean for dusha, not for what they mean for the dictionary. For a messy but well-known example, consider the illustrous «хорошо сидим». :-D Any attempt to interpret this according to what dictionaries say about the equivalent of the verb «сидеть» in the world of actions is deemed to failure. Here, the predicate is хорошо, and the verb сидим actually names a thing! But what a thing: no compiler of a dictionary would guess to include it in his work. This thing is the impression that the dusha has of the ambient world as the person is sitting with friends having a beer or a vodka. Sitting itself is non-important of course, as it is not a sitting contest; the impression is at stake, and it is said that this impression is nice.

    This word, “dushevnost”, is difficult to translate, literally it is “soulness”, “dusha” being a word for “soul”.

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      Oh I am not looking at this as much from the outside as you seem to think. I agree with you that ethnic jokes and more generally ethnic stereotypes say as much about the people who tell the jokes or entertain the stereotypes as about the protagonists. That’s really the point of my post. After all, how many Russians have seen a Chukchi? Very few. When I was in college in Russia, one of our professors was a Chukchi — all the students expected him to be really stupid like in the jokes. That’s how stereotypes work, no many which group’s stereotypes we are talking about.

      Jokes about Vasily Ivanovich (Stirlits, etc.) are different. They are not stereotypes of anyone in particular. Vasily Ivanovich in jokes is as far from the real Chapaev as the character in the film, or even the character in the book.

      As for your analysis of хорошо сидим, I don’t see why “sidim” is a thing. It’s a verb, and the adverb “xorosho” describes (modifies, predicates of) it, as adverbs normally do. And a good dictionary would record that meaning of “sidet’” as ‘sit around drinking’. There is nothing spiritual or душевный about creating euphemisms like that.

      • Evgeniy

        1. Well, I disagree with the statement (that I found in your article, though I may have incorrectly interpreted the word “reveals”) that the kind of Russian jokes about Chukchi tells anything about treatment of Chukchi by Russians. These are two separate topics. I don’t see any difference with jokes about Vasily Ivanovich (who was a real historical figure). One might well have formed his opinion about Chapaev on such jokes (as a rustic well-spirited person with lack of real interests), but one might just as well have not, taking in consideration the conventional (not sure how to say условный) character of such jokes, which is obvious. Your experience says you that Chukchi were considered as silly people by your classmates, and so does the proclamation you recited (the film is an evidence, though), but this is what your experience and that proclamation says, this conclusion is not derivable from analysing the jokes (or analysing the film, for that matter).

        2. When I said “For me, those are jokes about Russians” (later I corrected myself, “about people I know”, which does not make much difference for my case, though), I meant something like this (a concrete example). Someone says he wants to write a book on a subject and says he read nothing of this subject at all. Someone else asks him, “А, чукча не читатель, чукча писатель”. Why should one mean anything about real Chukchi by this, I have no idea; it is simply a useful cliché. One could tell the following joke: Чукча приходит домой, спрашивает жену: «Чайник кипеля?» Жена отвечает: «кипеля, кипеля». Чукча подходит к чайник, видит, что воды нет, и как кинет чайник в жену! Жена говорит: «хорошо, что не кипеля.» Again, this joke is a way of talking about questions of life; yet nobody is talking about real Chukchi, that’s not what these jokes are for.

        3. I wasn’t talking about spirituality (ability and inclination of a human to understand his relations with the world that he lives in), my душевность referred to a very different thing. Unfortunately, this kind of topic is getting political these days; anyway, what I meant was a choice of a perspective for evaluating words you hear or read. One example of a family of perspectives is that you expect words to mean relations among things as they appear in some kind[s] of premodelled reality/-ies (this is where the word “dictionary” appeared from”). Another example of a family of perspectives is that you expect words to mean relations among things as they appear when they are acting on our consciousness, on our “dusha” (this is where the latter word appeared from). I think we could construct an infinite number of perspectives, and at least one of them is in use; we cannot understand sentences without any expectation on what they should be about. Are these perspectives different in different languages? Well, they could be. This topic is rich and confused, though, so I abstain from stating an ultimate opinion or giving examples, sorry.

        4. Thing/action/situation/manner etc from one side, and verb/noun/adjective/adverb etc from the other side are different fields of terms. For instance, “разработка” is a noun, yet it means an action (any argument that it does not?). When I said that this verb meant a thing, I meant that what it meant had all properties of a thing, namely it could be compared with other things and characterised as relating with other things, and it presented itself as a distinct entity. – I said “сидим”, I recalled the situation for evaluation and the impression that it had. But it did not have (in my mind) any properties of an action; it did not name any effort with duration (as I said, it did not mean any “sitting contest”). – I did not recall the way of our action and the options of changing our way. Your interpretation of the phrase as “We are sitting around well”, meaning “with success”, totally evaded my mind; it is possible. I think it is more literal, less of a cliché.

        I think I am not breaking my promise as I am answering to your points. ;)

        • Evgeniy

          «Чукча подходит к чайник». «К чайнику», of course. A typo.

        • Asya Pereltsvaig

          1. and 2. The ethnic jokes are not about “treatment” in the sense of what Russians DO to these peoples, but about “attitudes”, how they FEEL or what they THINK about them. If certain jokes are about Chukchis (and you must agree that they are never told about Armenians, Jews, Ukrainians, etc.), the question is why are they told about Chukchis and not some other group? My answer is that it reflects certain stereotypes that Russians have, which—as is typical of stereotypes—are only in part based on actual facts. Jokes about Vasily Ivanovich etc. are not about real individuals but about literary characters.

          3. If I understand you correctly, the distinction you are talking about is known in technical terms as the distinction between denotation and connotation. There is a great deal of literature on the topic, and I am not sure if “dusha”, which is a confusing notion anyway, is really involved in this.

          4. Indeed, things/entities/ etc. and verbs/nouns/etc. are very different conceptual fields, although often confused and mixed up. But “thing” is a very vague notion so I am not sure how relying on it helps the discussion.

          • Evgeniy

            1. By “treatment” I meant (perhaps, erroneously) what they thought about Chukchi, not what they did to them (which was not really a subject of discussion, anyway). No, these jokes say nothing about what they think of Chukchi. Why Chukchi and not other people? Because the word Chukcha sounds funny, and also maybe because Chukchi live very far and cannot take offence incidentally. Could as well be Komi (yet another indigenous unknown people for an average Russian), but their name – what a disgrace! – does not sound funny at all.

            3. I am leaving 3) and 4) aside; I invoked them in a casual way, just to make a note that if someone says, “a chukcha did that”, it does not mean he means “a chukcha did that”, it might well have meant, “it would be fine to imagine that someone did that”, and this is the case with the jokes about Chukchi.

            5. Yes, the jokes about Jews and the jokes about Chukchi are different, just like the jokes about Vasily Ivanovich and Stierlitz are. That is not for the reason that Russians, who joke on them, claim to know anything about them, but because “a Jew” and “a Chukcha” were handy names for bringing in universal notions worthy discussion. A Russian jokes about a Chukcha because he wants to consider what it means to be naïve and know the life well, and the word “Chukcha” is associated in his mind with the notions “naïvité” and, consequently, “courageous understanding of life” (they are the same thing when we’re talking of a certain kind of naïvité that is most interesting for discussion), yet this does not mean he says anything about real Chukchi. The real subject of the jokes is life.

            5. Same thing, I personally like Jew jokes that make the point of the
            notion of avidity, yet I perfectly know that Jews, just like Russians,
            are very different. Those people who have problems with Jews have them for other reasons than these jokes.

          • Asya Pereltsvaig

            1. Chukchi sounds funny only because it’s associated with the already-existing jokes. How is it a priori funnier than Itelmen (“ительмены удачи”, etc.) or Koryak (“сесть в раскорячку”, etc.)?! Both live about as far as the Chukchis too…

            5. Yeah, so “the Jew” and “the Chukchi” are “handy names for bringing in universal notions worthy discussion” but why these specific ethnicities for these specific traits? You don’t believe such associations are random, do you? Why is it that Chukchi is associated with naivete but Jews, Armenians, Estonians, Ukrainians, Georgians are not? They are each associated with their own stereotypical qualities. Why these particular associations/stereotypes? That’s what the post is about.

          • Evgeniy

            1. Well, you would have to choose something. I assure you (well, rather, I am assured myself), what Russians think about Chukchi and Koriaks is exactly the same. People who would expect Chukchi to be stupid would expect the same from Koriaks. The word Chukchi is funny because of its sounds, not because of its associations.

            5. Imaging stereotypes and really having stereotypes are very different things. I would dare say that many people don’t even bother for really having stereotypes about real people when they are joking about entities associated with them. Let’s imagine you joke about «Армянское радио», do you mean that all Armenians are totally unscientific? Hardly.

            5. No, they are not random. But see above. ;)

          • Asya Pereltsvaig

            1. Yeah, you have to choose something, but I don’t think these choices are random at all. Yes, there’s something funny about the “ch” sounds in Chukchi, but I find Koryak equally funny-sounding because of the -yak ending and Itelmen funny because of its rhyming with “gentemen” but a great contrast between the semantics. I can think of a lot of puns one could make around those ethnonyms too, but they are not the protagonists in ethnic jokes, no?

          • Evgeniy

            The word коряк is funny because it associates with the word раскоряка, but this does not provide a ground for “philosophical” jokes. While two ч, plus the combination кч for the second ч, have something like a way of life in their sound. Ительмены does not associate with джентльмены, like игра does not associate with пора: not everything that rhymes makes an association. Conscious puns on ethnic names are non-important here, they are not funny, things like “rush to Russia” or “polish Poland” do not catch on. While чукча в чуме ждёт рассвета simply sounds funny, and here I mean its sound.

          • Asya Pereltsvaig

            There is nothing inherently funny in any sound—there’s a lot of research about that. That some sounds or combinations of sounds sound funny to some speakers of some language is only because of prior associations, which are cultural, not linguistic.

          • Evgeniy

            In a sound independently of any language, of course; inside a language… well. Yes, prior associations are important, and there is commonly no way without them (you can’t make out a sequence of sounds that is just funny and all… well, you can sometimes, try чу-чу-чу), but what are these associations in this case?

            First, this is an association of an indigenous people. Second, there is an association of the farthest people, it is important (not only because they are far and can’t hear). It’s like being antipodes. Third, in these circumstances the sound also plays its own independent role: чукча в чуме ждёт рассвета is funny because of two чу, among other things. Compare: чубук (a very funny word if you ask me). The sound of the word, not only with its breaking any norms but with its violent expression (not sure how to say экспрессия, so I choosed the combination “violent expression”) in breaking any norms, also with its thoughtful repetition, provokes, in these circumstances, natural curiosity for opportunities that this word offers for expressing one’s ideas. Fourth, now there already is a literary образ of a чукча, like there already is a literary образ of Армянское радио, so this образ, independently of any ethnicities, works for making new opera. None of the four needs or involves any knowledge, false or otherwise, about chukchi’s ways of life.

            There is a reason why I treated the same films and jokes: both are works of art. For both, the reality of philosophical ideas is more important than the reality of real things: I don’t know whether the director (режиссёр) of the film knew that Chukchi were good warriors, there is no way to know whether he knew that, because this is unimportant for the movie. What is important is that people can search for goodness anywhere, and the idea of a place where people are very different works in this direction. They are very different than we, people of the world that we are tired of, therefore they are peaceful. I presume, that this was the logic of the movie, and it worked well, it enabled the stuff to make a good movie filled with interesting contents.

          • Evgeniy

            literary образ => literary representation.

          • Asya Pereltsvaig

            All of these associations (what’s “funny”, what’s “violent”, what’s expressive etc.) are cultural, not purely linguistic. You say “чубук (a very funny word if you ask me” — it’s not at all funny for me. These are associations/stereotypes etc. which come from somewhere in the culture, not the language itself. Where they come from is exactly from the jokes, not vice versa. So first, Russians “decided” to tell jokes about Chukchis, then “chu” became associated with that. As for being far, check out where Koryaks and Itelmen live. :)

            And I think we are making the same point that the stereotypes in these ethnic jokes have nothing to do with the reality of these groups. I am not sure why you argue as if I said the opposite.

          • Evgeniy

            1. No, чу in чубук is not associated in any way with Chukchi. Rather, with Ukranians, for this matter. “Cultural”, right, but not having anything to do with Chukchi’s ways of life, rather with the vocabulary of the language and our relation to it (there are not many words with чу, for instance). The word “чу!” was funny for me ever before I thought anything of Chukchi or Ukrainians, just like I first learned the word чубук and only then learned that чуб has to do with Ukrainians. Don’t expect this all is easy to explain: звукопись is the most mysterious literary device.

            1. I named four kinds of associations, of them three don’t originate from the jokes. “Far” does not mean just “far”, it means “in the end of the world”. If Alaska was Russian, who knows, maybe Aleuts would fill the gap instead of Chukchi. The British have (as I heard) a special attitude to Australians, who are antipodes, but not to Chinese, even though they are about equally far.

            2. My point is that “stereotypes” in these jokes have nothing to do with what Russians think about people. Clear and simple. In other words: the implication “tRussians say in their jokes the following” => “Russians think that people who correspond to common joke entities are following” is wrong. The parts may be considered independently, but there is no connection between them.

          • Evgeniy

            “No, чу in чубук is not associated in any way with Chukchi.” Better formulation of my thought: “… with what Russians think about Chukchi”. What I wrote before was an abbreviation.

          • Asya Pereltsvaig

            1. However you define “far”, Koryaks and Itelmen live in the same area as the Chukchis. So all these explanations are quite “post hoc”.

            2. Stereotypes are by definition what they think about the group. It’s exactly what stereotypes are.

          • Evgeniy

            1. Well, the area is called Chukotka, that’s what matters. In Alaska, too, not only Aleuts live.

            2. Whatever definitions of words are, I am talking about reality. I just picked a word from your post and put it in quotation marks; per this definition, these associations are not stereotypes, but an artistic device.

            You said (implied) you left Russia when you were already an adult. Nevertheless, I get the feeling that we share both vocabulary and grammar (I have read some of your Russian articles on your personal page), but treat them differently. Your treatment: “this person is naming an ethnicity, therefore he is talking about this ethnicity”. My treatment: “this person is naming an ethnicity, therefore he is talking about what the thought about this ethnicity makes him think of”. So, for you it is a “real story”, and for me it is a “literary device”.