What's the 'dil'? Russians adopting our words Fascination with the West altering Russian language

October 06, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

MOSCOW -- They make some Russians angry. They leave others confused. And they cause Americans to smile, or wonder why.

They're the odd-sounding English names affixed to streetside kiosks all over town.

"Commercial," "Consumer Goods" and "All For You" are seen frequently.

No matter. Words borrowed from English are hot now, a reflection of the fascination many Russians feel for life in the West, especially the United States, during these troubled times. These expressions often also reflect sweeping economic and social change.

The person in charge of a Moscow business office is likely to be called the "meneger." A "diler" trades at Moscow's commodities exchange. A "kommissioner" works on commission. A "franchaizi" sets up a small business offshoot of a large, successful operation.

Repeatedly heard in political discussions are words like "konsensus," "privatizatsia," "korruptsia," "plyuralizm" and "konsolidatsia."

But it is among the young that the most pervasive and creative adaptations are occurring. "Naitat" means to spend the night. "Askat" means to beg for money on the street, "khair" is a wild, hippie-type hairdo, and "daun" is slang for depression.

Young people "kis," "drinkat vain" and "hich rides." When they get angry, they may threaten to "udaret fesem op tebl" -- give a good beating (literally, smash the face against a table).

English words long have been applied to fashion. "Jinzi" has been in use for decades, and sneakers were called "kedi," from the American brand name Keds.

Today fancy sneakers are referred to as "shuzi." On men, they PTC go well with a nice pair of "slaksi" and fashionable "soksi." Depending on the style, casual pants for women are called "leginz" or "slipsi," two terms that entered the language quite recently, according to linguist Natalya Novikova.

Russia's struggle to build democracy and capitalism encourages borrowings from English, especially American English, said Novikova, who teaches at the Russian Language Institute.

At other times, other languages had a great influence on Russian, she said.

"There is a very close relationship between language and politics. Politics influences developments in language," she said. the time of Peter the Great, Dutch and German words entered the language. In the 18th and 19th centuries, when Russian foreign policy was oriented toward France, a lot of French borrowings appeared."

English words, long popular with students and intellectuals, have worked their way into Russian throughout much of this century. But the collapse of communism and Russia's new friendship with the United States have turned the steady trickle into a flood, Novikova said.

In many cases in which English words have been adopted, several suitable Russian terms exist, Novikova wrote recently, but the native words took on a negative connotation under communism and do not seem appropriate for this new time.

"It is evidently not enough for us" to have several words that could work as well as "meneger," she wrote, including some -- "direktor" and "administrator" -- borrowed from English earlier.

But because of the behavior of "direktori" and "administratori" over the years, "we know that they are nothing good," she concluded.

In this climate, even a concept created in Russia can be given an English name, Novikova noted. A new, non-aerobic procedure for keeping in shape was recently developed in St. Petersburg. It's called "sheping."

"This passion for new, beautiful, ringing names," she wrote sarcastically, "results in a peasant wanting to be called a fermer, a bandit taking money from others wanting to be called a reketir (or even better, a reketman) ... ."

One of the most frequently heard foreign words here is "Mafia." Gangs control the distribution of essential products, and most street vendors, kiosk operators and other independent businesses owners pay protection money to one gang or another.

But the word "gang" has not taken hold. Neither has "gang war," although violent battles between the various Russian and ethnic gangs are becoming alarmingly common.

Russians still call one of these encounters a "razborka," which derives from the word for "taking apart" or "clearing up."

In the past, Ms. Novikova said, most English borrowings entered Russian by way of educated people who read the language. Today, though, "words are borrowed from the cheapest level, videocassettes," she said. As a result, many of them strike educated Russians as silly or vulgar.

What bothers her most, Ms. Novikova said, are borrowed words that result in "informational emptiness." For example, if the purpose of a store's name is to attract shoppers, why should perfectly good Russian words be discarded for English ones that most folks on the street won't understand?

"Behind every word there should be real life, real meaning," she said. "For ordinary Russians, what kind of meaning can there be in signs like these?"

'Russian' English

Here are some of the words and their meanings adopted and altered by Russian citizens:

* Meneger: manager

Diler: dealer

* Kommissioner: commissioner

* Franchaizi: franchisee

* Naitat: to spend the night out

* Askat: to beg for money

* Sheping: to get in physical shape

* Konsensus: consensus

* Daun: down, depressed

* Kedi: sneakers

* Shuzi: fancy tennis shows

* Slaksi: men's pants

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