Anglicisms in Modern Russian
Languages are in a constant process of evolution and our vocabulary is like a lexical fashion show in which words compete for popularity. New words appear every day, often enriching and adding colour to our languages. However, the global influence of English may be having a negative impact on modern Russian as people replace perfectly adequate pre-existing Russian words with “cooler”, more attractive English alternatives.
In linguistics, there are two main standpoints when it comes to language change: evolution and degradation. Evolution supporters see any change in language as a natural progression which cannot be stopped; language is the only true democracy, we all vote whenever we speak or write and for better or worse cause the language to change. Those who favour the degradation argument are usually purists who see language change as language destruction, simplification, the victory of public ignorance, etc.
I’d say that both views are correct to a degree. I believe that languages evolve over time and that they have a natural tendency towards simplification. People control language and not institutions so, in this sense, languages are fully-functioning democracies, in which each of us votes and the majority dictates which words are added to the dictionary each year and become the accepted norm. However, I think there is a case for promoting the use of adequate native expressions over unnecessary foreign borrowings where the two words are (close) synonyms. This last point is crucial when it comes to modern Russian.
Borrowing from English into Russian is not a new phenomenon by any means and has been happening for centuries. However, what we are seeing now in modern Russian is the language being flooded with anglicisms via the mass media, internet and marketing industry. In English, if you want a restaurant menu to sound upmarket then you add some French words and double the prices. In Russia, you remove some usual Russian words and add English ones in transliteration. Today, going for бизнес-ланч (business lunch) is infinitely more appealing than going for обед (lunch). You may be eating the same meal but the two have very different associations (and quite possibly price tags!).
As a native speaker of English, these transliterations in Russian sound like familiar but strangely pronounced English expressions from home. Sometimes Russians will compliment me on my impressive vocabulary when I’m speaking Russian but in reality I’m just using English words with a Russian accent!
One day an English colleague of mine from university was teaching a business English class on the topic of “outsourcing” and couldn’t work out why some members of the class kept giggling. Then someone told him that the word “аутсорсинг” (outsourcing) sounds like “отсос” (blowjob) + “-ing”.
When I lived in Saint-Petersburg I went into MacDonald’s on Nevskiy with an English friend. We looked up at the illuminated menu board to discover everything was written in Russian transliteration from the English: Биг Мак, Филе-о-фиш, МакЧикен. For some reason, my friend got it into his head that the Russian word for chicken was in fact “чикен” – as written on the MacDonald’s “blackboard”! He later told me about the confusion this caused at the market when he went shopping:
- Дайте мне чикен, Пожалуйста!
- Чикен. Я хочу чикен! Вот этот чикен там дайте.
- Нет, эта курица.
- Я не хочу курицу. Я хочу чикен!
The moral of this story is that MacDonald’s is a shitty teacher of Russian!
While the example above may be funny and even a little stupid, the issue of what classifies as standard Russian is a problem faced by all those learning it as a second language. When my dad visited me here, he could just about understand the Cyrillic alphabet on signs because he studied Ancient Greek at university but he couldn’t work out why any self-respecting travel agency would want to call itself “Vest Travel” (Вест Тревел)! Perhaps wearing vests was an obligatory part of their holidaymaker dress code (or should I say “дресс код”!).
In the language of modern Russian advertising English is king – it’s all about “имидж” (image)! The term “евро стандарт” has become a cliché in the Russian marketing business but it’s strange that in Europe we have no idea what “Euro standard” means. It’s an invented term to make goods in Russia trustworthy – if it’s good enough for them in Europe then it’s good enough for us!
I’d say that some of the most ridiculous borrowings have entered Russian via advertising and PR. I’m not a fan of terms like “прайс-лист” (price list), “апгрейд” (upgrade) or “контент” (content) when there are adequate native Russian alternatives like “список цен”, “обновление” (update) and “содержимое”. There are many cases where normal Russian words are being displaced by borrowings from English – this may be a passing trend but some native lexis may be in danger of being lost.
Russian is even catching the West up in terms of politically correct language with expressions like “офис менеджер” (office manager) replacing “секретарша” (secretary) or the insulting "секретутка" (a play on words from "secretary" and "prostitute"). However, when I suggested introducing the term “Афро-Русский” (Afro-Russian) to some of my students, they were quite perplexed and said: “No, they are just Nigroes but in Russia”! So, I suppose Russia still has a long way to go before it becomes as PC-obsessed as those in the West.
Russian slang is a rich hunting ground if you’re looking for recent borrowings from English and the younger generation or “тинейджеры” (teenagers) are just a cooler version of “подростки” (adolescents).
Here are several anglicisms in modern Russian slang:
Смокать (smoke), дринкнуть (drink), эпик фейл (epic fail), респект (respect), чатить (chat), не айс (not ice – from old TV ad), шутер (shoot’em’up), крут-able (cool + able)
I must admit to using some language mixing of this kind myself – my favourite home-grown expressions being “nice вообще!” and “не good”.
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