Discourse-semantics of Borrowed Words in Russian after Perestroika

Olga Yoshizumi, Brown University

Contemporary Russian witnesses a large number of borrowed words from English. In this presentation I will discuss semantic and discourse properties of Anglicisms that entered Russian after Perestroika from the late 1980’s. On the level of semantics, my discussion will focus on a question on reference: what are the possible functions for borrowed words as referential devices?

I will first confirm some of Krysin’s observations (2004) on the possible semantic motivations for using a borrowed word in place of a native semi-equivalent. My data is consistent with Krysin (1997) who states that one of the main reasons of borrowing in Russian is absence of corresponding concepts in the language-recipient and the subsequent need to supply referential devices for them: e.g. dress-kod, ski-strim. My data is also commensurate with Krysin’s statement that use of a borrowed word is motivated by a need to refer to a specific entity within a more generic set defined by the native equivalent: e.g. the new borrowed word killer has more specific meaning than ubijca; the former refers to a hitman, while the latter refers generally to a murderer.

My approach, however, departs from Krysin’s relatively static description. I will consider what may happen to a borrowed word that is adopted as a necessary referential device to distinguish specific entities within a generic semantic set defined by the native synonym. Motivations for the expansion of the semantic scope (e.g. ofis, biznesmen), for shifts away from the meaning originally designed to the word in the source language (e.g. PR, imidž), and for creation of uniquely Russian word collocations and semi-neologisms (e.g. cernyj PR, anti-imidž) are sought in discourse. Besides the possible impact of discourse on semantics, I will also investigate how a borrowed lexicon may signal the discourse context. A borrowed word referring to an entity may implicitly characterize the type of discourse context (e.g. building solidarity), or the speaker’s evaluation of and/or attitudes towards the type of individuals and their behavior associated with the entity.

My discussion will be based on my database using recent Russian periodicals and magazines (e.g. Moskovskije novosti, Argumenty i Fakty, Ogonek,).

Krysin, L.P. 2004. Russkoe slovo, svoe i cužoe. Moscow: Jazyki Slavjanskoj kul’tury
Krysin, L.P. 1997. Efeizmy v sovremmenoj russkoj reci. In Russkij Jazyk konca XX stoletija. St.Petersburg: Izd. Sankt-Peterburgskogo Universiteta.
Fairclough, N. 1992. Discourse and social change. Cambridge, Mass.: Polity Press.