Basic Old Russian Emigres Language as a way of self–identification

Nicholar Dmitriev, Academic Group Russian Way

The Revolution of 1917 and the following 85–year–long Soviet/Post–Soviet life have drastically changed the spoken Russian language in Russia itself (Uspensky 1931; Ozhegov 1953; Fesenko 1955; Protchenko 1975, 1985;Mokienko and Nikitina 1998; Riazanova–Clarke 1999). The changes have been so huge that even a separate language could be classified as Soviet Russian (SR) or as Russian of the Soviet Period (Kozhin 1985).

However, the language of so–called Old Russian Emigres (ORE) which is considered to be the Russian language spoken by different groups of Russian–speaking population around the world is still in active usage (Karaulov 1992; Golubeva–Monatkina 1995, 1998; Granovskaja 1995; Zemskaja 1998, 1999, 2001). I will call it Basic Old Russian Emigres Language (BOREL). This language has no or very little changes in its vocabulary, grammar,or phonetics regarding post–revolutionary sociolinguistic development in comparison to SR (Corten 1992, Kupina 1995).

Thus, the subject of the current paper is the relationship among language, political views, historical and cultural heritage and ethnic identity of ORE groups. Data was collected through my interviews with approximately 70 ORE speakers who mostly live in the New York area. Preference was made to subjects who were born outside of the Soviet Union or who left the country at a very young age. Considering the First Wave (after 1917) as a structural formation I expanded my collected data also to include some Second Wave émigrés (Second World War refugees) — especially ones who became a part of ORE communities, through parishes and other social organizations.

Leaving aside the problem of patterns of interference from and acceptance of other, I emphasize BOREL's own patterns in vocabulary, idioms, spelling, morphology, and syntax. Analysis of such patterns leads to unique results in social and political self–determination of ORE in opposition of BOREL versus SR.

Not only do sociocultural aspects, but also political preferences, convictions, prejudices, parental and educational background play roles in conservations in varieties of BOREL. In its turn, this language became a means of self–identification and recognition of the ORE among others, a way of preserving and presenting Russian cultural heritage and traditions amidst American (French, German, Italian, Latino) cultures. To put it in other words, BOREL is a distinctive feature of ORE as a particular group of Russians abroad and as a spiritual frame for their ethnic identity.

It's very important, that some part of language heritage of ORE — words, proverbs, idioms, and syntax units — have vanished from SR (contemporary Russian), but can be understood by Russian–speaking people, born in the Soviet Union. The words and expressions such as: aeroplan, jugoslavjane, jugoslavjanskij, kanceljarija, Solunskij front, beke&shachek;a, rotonda (vid mexovoj zhenskoj nakidki), rabotat' kak inzhener, on poluchil sluzhbu inzhenera, pol'zovat'sja svoim chinom and so on — can be understood though.

Also, the most interesting thing is how ORE (BOREL–speaking) resists accepting and using modern Russian innovations, labeling them as a Soviet language or a language of sovietchiksjazyk sovetchikov. (They even invented the word sovietchik to determine people of Soviet origin, or Soviet adherence). Most of so–called "sovietisms" are rejected in usage. We consider such words as: docent, prorab, zavmag, ORS (otdel rabochego snabzhenija, sobes (otdel social'nogo obespechenija), propiska, tovarishch (kak obshcheprinjatoe official'noe obrashchenie v SSSR), milicioner, staxanovec, vypolnjat' plan, partkom, zavkom, profsobranie, zarplata, poluchka...

To distinguish themselves from "sovietchiks", ORE created and established their own parallel usage of lexical, idiomatic and syntax of Russian. They resist using the word zarplata — they use nothing but the word &zhachek;alovanie or oklad. Instead of the word propiska they use registracija, zavmag remains director magazina as it was a long time ago. The expression exat' vokrug Grecii is presented as exat' krugom Grecii. Even a word marked as neutral perezvonit&soft; 'to call back', is negatively accepted. ORE prefer expressions pozvonit' eshche raz, otzvonit' nazad.

The sources of this language also attract our attention: it could be Church Slavonic, or language of the old classic literature, or vulgar folk language (drapaj – begi, toka – tol'ko, kada – kogda, kazakI, poljakI), or even regional Russian dialectisms brought abroad (peshechkom instead of literary peshochkom, ixnie, davecha, plotit instead of platit).

As a very special social group of American immigrants, ORE managed to develop and keep their very conservative attitudes towards social life, participation in political events, religious and family institutions. They call priests and archbishops on their names with the word added fatheror sovereign — otec Il'ja, vladyka Vitalij. There is no word popereferring to priest of a recognized church, but Moscow patriarchy's priest could be called popand even with the adjective redkrasnyj pop.

Political experience of ORE, however, mostly remains unclaimed. Recent political developments in Russia itself have had a deep impact on the ORE community as well as on its language. Right now, we are witnessing the ultimate and complete disappearance of genuine BOREL along with the passing away of last bearers of Old Russian Emigres culture, political, religious and ethnic traditions. The beginning of the twenty first century can be considered as a time of ethnic death of Old Russian Emigres overall.

Meanwhile, BOREL–related literature (fiction, memoirs, media, historical and religious materials) contain a great deal of classic patterns which could be used in teaching classic Russian language and culture.