Sorry to everyone who thinks this post is boring, which may well be everyone.
A few years ago in my introductory syntax course, we were learning about government and binding.
(What that is exactly isn't important; just know that it has partly to do with cases and noun declension. My readers will be familiar with noun declension if they've studied Russian, Latin, German, or any other language where you have to memorize a bunch of different noun endings.)
Anyway, we learned that one universal linguistic principle is that verbs and prepositions can never govern nominative case. Nominative case is the ending the noun has when it's the subject of the sentence, but the object of a verb or preposition can never be in nominative case. (That is, in the phrase "to give a gift," gift can't be nominative; ditto for house in the phrase "in the house.")
It was only later that I learned that you can't always trust "universal linguistic principles," and with two years of Russian under my belt at the time (that is, enough time to know nothing but still believe you know everything), I was pretty dubious when a grad student – a native speaker of Russian – raised her hand in class and said that in Russian there are prepositions that govern nominative case.
I won't share exactly what I thought of this declaration; suffice it to say that it was neither very charitable nor very wise. And I got my comeuppance, so to speak, in the form of this puzzling construction, which has been a thorn in my side for the past six months or so:
Что за невоспитанный мальчик?
Chto za nevospitanny mal'chik
What PREP ill-bred-NOM little boy-NOM
What's with this ill-bred little boy? or Why is this little boy behaving so badly?
I overheard a mother saying this to her misbehaving son on the bus last spring in Vladivostok. (His crime: trying to pull his wool hat off.) Despite the fact that I've heard the construction many times since, I still can't quite put my finger on what it means, so that gloss might not be quite right. But it sure looks like the preposition za (which has several meanings, such as "behind," "beyond," "to," "for") is governing a noun phrase in the nominative. But prepositions CAN'T govern nominative!
One solution is that za is actually governing chto ("what"), which has the same form in nominative and accusative case. In that case, "ill-bred little boy" is the subject of the sentence and the word order is highly unusual. But I've never come across another instance in Russian of a preposition following rather than preceding the noun it governs. (Doesn't a language have to be head-initial for that to happen? My syntax is rather rusty.)
Another solution is that I'm mishearing it, and that grad student was talking about a different construction.
If anyone has an insight, I would be happy to hear it. Russian native speaker linguists (here I am looking at Michael, who may or may not read this)? People who like syntax more than I do?
As a side note, воспитание/upbringing (like the oft-cited ремонт/renovations) is a word that gets a lot more airtime in Russian than in English, and seems to have much deeper and wider roots in the cultural soil. I'll try to write about it sometime if I can make it into an interesting post.