What are the first phrases that are usually being taught at the beginning of a foreign language course? Correct, they are WHAT IS YOUR NAME? - MY NAME IS.... and HOW OLD ARE YOU? - I AM (number) YEARS OLD.
Well, my pupils do not get to learn those at least until the second month into the course. This is because both phrases come as the passive voice in their Russian version, which would not make any sense grammatically until a pupil gets to learn how the passive voice is formed and used.
English: what is your name? - my name is Valentine literary translated into Russian is Каково твоё имя? - Моё имя Валентин with the noun name (имя) as the subject of the sentence. Such an expression in the Russian language is quite styled and would normally be used in fairy tales or legends, where the name of a character means not only a name but a destiny.
For example, in the famous TV program 'Merlin', Druids called Merlin by a different name, Emrys, which, to their belief, was given to Merlin by some higher powers. With the help of the possessive pronoun your/my, the English phrasing implies that a person's name is his/her attribute and inalienable possession that still suggests ownership and active approach to the fact
Russian: Как тебя (вас) зовут? - Меня зовут Валентин in English would sound like How do they call you? - They call me Valentine.
Interestingly, the word they is the subject of the sentence, however, does not graphically appear in it. Nevertheless, we know that the subject is either a plural noun (e.g., parents, people or, maybe, friends call you Valentine) or the 3rd person plural pronoun (they). This becomes clear thanks for the ending -ут in the predicate зовут (call) that indicated this verb form.
Once again, here we find the personal pronoun меня in the accusative case that puts the bearer of the name in the passive position of an object of someone's direct action (someone else calls you that name). On another hand, it could be seen as a certain degree of freedom for the named object: (they) call me Valentine but I can call myself whatever I like. This is actually the case, when, in the Russian language, a speaker is not bound to his/her name... There is actually a tradition of giving a child a different name in his/her baptism in the Orthodox Church.
Even more curious is the difference between the English and Russian statement of age.
English: How old are you? - I am twenty-one (year old).
Age is also attributed to the speaker, who is presented as a subject of the sentence, therefore an active participant, the owner of the years he/she has lived. Fair enough, it is quite possible to influence one's own age by leading a healthy lifestyle or vice versa. So, our age is our doing to a very significant extent. Also, it is interesting how the English use the word 'old' rather than 'young' no matter what age they talk about: they do not say I am 21 years young... Looks like one becomes responsible for his own life choices from the first moment of one's life on Earth...
Russian: Сколько тебе (вам) лет? - Мне двадцать один год.
All pronouns (тебе, мне, вам etc) are presented in the Dative case. In Russian - ДАТЕЛЬНЫЙ падеж. The realisation of the real meaning of this question comes, when we know that the word дать means to give. Therefore, the Russian Dative case without preposition always points at a recipient. In a strict English translation, it will be I am given 21 years.
...Given by whom? And the answer is right there, in our archaic mentality, - God! The fact that 'year' in Russian is 'год' /god/ is hardly a coincidence although it is лет in the plural. As лето stands for summer, I am 25 will go as Мне 25 лет (I have been given 25 summers).
Russian acquiesce and humility before God, even when it is not being declared out loud and even not being realised by most Russian speakers, is an extremely important part of the nation's mentality, in which the feminine element prevails. The phrase from M. Bulgakov's 'Master and Margarita' comes to mind: 'If your life is hanging by a thread, then, the thread can be cut only by the one who hung it'... So, we are back to the fatalist view of the world, hence the passive voice in the age statement.
The stereotype of a masculine as an active and logical being opposing a feminine as passive and intuitive being has been developing in cultures around the world on the background of ancient collective archetypes.
Worshipping of the 'Mother- Raw Land' in pre-Christian Rus and, later, worshipping Holy Mary, the Mother of God, influenced Russian culture particularly strongly by making the 'feminine' (arche-)type of mentality a dominant one. Emotion and sensuality, collective values and sacrifice, intuition, mysticism and power of motherhood rather than the power of a worrier... contemplation rather than action. These are the things that make 'the Russian soul' so alien to Westerners and so attractive at the same time. The feeling, similar to what a man experiences towards a woman...