English Loan-Word Phenomenon in Current Russian

Ninel Kushchenko, Defense Language Institute

It is well known that language, being a form of human thinking, is extremely sensitive to any historical (political, social, cultural, etc.) changes in a society. The essential changes that Russian society has undergone have had an affect on various aspects of the modern Russian Language. The most obvious changes have occurred in the Russian lexicon, which increases almost everyday with new foreign loan-words, predominantly from English.

It would seem that English loan-words would easily aid in Russian language acquisition, especially for native speakers of English who learn Russian as a foreign language, for example: kondominium (condominium), uik-end (weekend), demping (dumping), spichrajter (speechwriter), kesh (cash), n'jus-reliz (news release), ofshor (off shore), shop-tur/shoping-tur (shopping tour), etc. In fact, practice shows that this is often not the case. The level of perception of the newness of a certain foreign word is usually associated with its current place on a scale from barbarism to a legitimate loan-word, and in most cases, is different for the student and the instructor, particularly if the latter is a native Russian speaker.

After being adopted by a different language system, new loan-words generally undergo one or more of the following transformations: phonetic, semantic, and structural. These transformations frequently create a barrier to accurate comprehension in either reading or listening. Being misread or even unrecognized at the level of reception, loan-words are often subsequently misapplied by the Russian L2 learner at the level of production, both oral and written.

The most explicit changes occur in the sphere of a new loan-word's "appearance," i.e., its sound and graphical forms. The latter, for example, gives us a unique opportunity to witness a historical flow of the Russian language, through its current modifications. Thus, several of the newest loan-words lack a stable form of spelling, and often are adjusted to Russian in two variants, for example: vik-end/uik-end, rieltor/rielter, parkovka/parking, nout-buk/noutbuk, n'jusmejker/n'jus-mejker, etc. Pronunciation and/or stress discrepancies between English and Russian versions are sometimes crucial for comprehension, although it might seem that they just touch surface aspects of a new loan-word adaptation.

Uncertainty in spelling sometimes creates morphological/categorical instability, or vice versa: mental'nost'/mentalitet, parkovka/parking. Usage of parking just recently prevailed over parkovka, which is associated with more natural for the Russian language patterns ostanovka, stojanka. Intervention of ING (ing) into current Russian gave some nouns not just a masculine gender version, but also a new semantic connotation: trenirovka-trening; konsul'tacija - konsalting. Compare: konsul'tacija -- special'noe raz"jasnenie; beseda s cel'ju obuchenija. Konsalting -- dejatel'nost' special'nyx kompanij, zanimajushchixsja konsul'tirovaniem predprinimatelej po shirokomu krugu voprosov rynochnyx otnoshenij (Slovar' inostrannyx slov, 2000). Some of the newest loan-words are still "looking for" a gender, for example spich, kesh. Both are actively used by the young generation and mass media, and are officially included in several dictionaries of foreign words, although they are still perceived by most Russians as barbarisms.

During the presentation, the above mentioned transformations will be analized in both linguistic and pedagogic aspects.