Research article
Issue: № 1 (1), 2015


The article is devoted to the problem of Russian-English interactions during the last decades. Linguistic exchange is considered as a two-way channel of intercultural communication

The XXIst century has begun as an era of innovations and globalization. A number of factors such as the extension of interlingual and international contacts, the formation of the European Union, the creation of a single market and other integration initiatives that the world has seen lately all determined the perception of a modern world as a global village. In this context we face the problem of a global language and nowadays English is the most evident claimant to this role. But we must not forget that international communication is a multi-way channel. This means that bilateral, if not multilateral, relations are expected to take place in situations of language contacts. Thus, we could suppose that the English language itself is influenced by different languages and several researches have proved that. In this paper we will focus on Russian-English interactions during the new millennium.

The dominance of the English language in today’s world is apparent and remarkable. Numerous studies of the present role of English have been conducted and points of view are different, sometimes contradictory. Some authors see the origins of the unprecedented spread of English in colonial expansion of the British Empire, others explain it by “American-directed international economy” or deliberate language expansion. Various terms are used to refer to English as a means of international communication: “International and Intranational language”, “World English”, “Lingua Franca”, “Global English” or “Globish”, to name a few.

Without considering the reasons of the phenomenon, we can state that nowadays English is the most important foreign language that “dominates international communication in the fields of business, science and the media” [2, p. 6]. This domination has led, among other consequences, to the flow of borrowings, a continual process spread all over the world. The existence of words and expressions “shared by languages different enough to belong to different language families” [4, p.2] gives linguists reason to talk about globalisms such as computer, know how, manager, fast food, speaker etc.

Actually many languages are borrowing from English, Russian is no exception. But linguistic borrowing is not simply a capture of lexical items; as a result, a new word appears in another language environment with different pronunciation, different grammar categories and even meaning. The process is reinforced by various semantic processes such as broadening, narrowing or functional changes making the meaning of the borrowed word modified if not unrecognizable. Numerous studies in various languages have shown many divergences between the English etymons and loanwords in the recipient language.

Therefore the repatriation of lexical borrowings sometimes becomes impossible without some transformations or necessary comments. For instance, British journalists underline that Russian "kottedzhi" have nothing in common with the English cottage from which the word is derived, resembling more a fortress than a typical English cottage: «Today, wealthy "New Russians" are building "kottedzhi", which are more like fortresses than the English cottage from which the word derives: vast stone and brick structures with high fencing, a swimming- pool, a bath house and a 24-hour armed guard, in the depths of the birch forest». [Independent, 17.07.1999] It is remarkable that the word is re-coded again that is transcribed from the Russian variant «коттеджи» in order to be opposed to the English «cottage» (a small house, especially in the country).

Although borrowing was and still is the topic of investigation by linguists around the world, it should be acknowledged that many of the issues remain controversial. Modern researchers have left the traditional approaches of earlier studies in favour of the framework of code-mixing and code-switching. This approach enables to differentiate code mixing as a process from linguistic borrowing as “the end product”. Accordingly, it is generally agreed that “when a linguistic item is borrowed it is integrated phonologically, morphologically and syntactically” [1, p.4]. However, it is still difficult to draw a clear line between a borrowing and a single word code-switching, especially for the European languages. For this reason and some others, we prefer considering different types of code mixing as a continuum between code homogeneity, on the one hand, and code switching which is an example of code heterogeneity, on the other hand. This continuum embraces various categories of language usage beginning with loanwords and loan translations as the closest to the language uniformity, through the use of occasional borrowings, exotic or culture-specific words to intra-sententional or intersentential switches which are the examples of two languages juxtaposition.

As we focus on the study of linguistic exchanges between Russian and English, we think it is preferable to use the term “re-coding” instead of “code-mixing”. In fact, these two languages differ in its origins, linguistic families, grammar structures; moreover, they use different alphabet systems. Thus, even occasional or contextual borrowings presuppose changing of the language code, for example, "lyogkogo para" (may your steam be easy); the tsar’-batiushka (Little Father) and the narod (the people)”. These items actually do not belong to either language system, they are more likely a hybrid, a sort of linguistic crossing. Under that logic they may be called “inter-language” or re-coded lexical items and may represent the first stage in the process of linguistic borrowing.

Having regard to the above said, we analyzed the use of borrowed and recoded Russian words into the British press. According to Volodarskaya E. [3], the Oxford English dictionary numbered 499 Russian loanwords brought into English at different stages of its development. They can be classified into different groups such as historical (for example, tsar, knez, bolshevik, Politbureau), geographical (for example, steppe, tundra, beluga, sable) or technical terms (for example, sputnik, lunokhod, ethnonym), social and political words (for example, perestroika, glasnost, apparatchik, subbotnik) or colloquial vocabulary (for example, babushka, samovar, rouble, shapka, vodka). We have studied the use of Russian words in the British media through a quantitative and qualitative analysis of national daily newspapers and we can conclude that words of Russian origin are quite frequent in the British press. The corpus this study is based on exceeds 50 000 examples from British newspapers edited for the last 15 years.

As a whole, Russian loanwords used in British newspapers represent a large group of words belonging to different semantic fields and different periods of borrowing. We differentiated them using the criteria of frequency. The most frequent tend to be political terms such as tsar, Stalinist, Kremlin, and some borrowed culture-bound items, for example, vodka or sputnik. Signs of a trend towards the internationalization of some Russian borrowings are to be noticed; as a result, these words lose the national-specific status and pretend to become globalisms: “…so was the series of historic reforms that began in the mid-1980s when Mikhail Gorbachev introduced words such as perestroika and glasnost to the global dictionary” [Times, 23.05.2004]. British journalists write about perestroika not only in Russia but also in some European counties, China and even USA.

At the other end of this scale are exotic and culture-specific items such as drozhki, izba, valenki, balalaika, matrioshka, samovar, kolkhoz, kulak, samizdat, elektrichka, siloviki etc. A particular group of recoded lexical items naming the dishes of traditional Russian cuisine is wide enough: borshch, shchi, solyanka, okroshka, kulebyaka, kholodets, rasstegay, golubtsy, pelmeni, oladi, vareniki, varenye, kvass, kulich etc. Paradoxical as it is, Russian words appear in the British press more and more frequently despite the actual period of tension in international affairs and economic sanctions against Russia. For instance, one of the articles about the economic blockade of Russia is entitled "Goodbye parmesan, hello pelmeni. Goodbye brie, hello borsch" [Guardian, 07.08.2014].

As the examples above illustrate, we often have to do with the words not literally borrowed by the recipient language but rather re-coded from one language into another. By interlanguage recoding we primarily mean formal changes of the word (transcription or transliteration), as English and Russian languages use different alphabet systems, but some morphological or semantic transformations may also occur in these cases. The most remarkable example is the word intelligentsia which was borrowed from Russian «интеллигенция» although historically derived from Latin intelligens. This word was described as a foreign word in the Russian language dictionary while in the English language dictionaries it is considered to be of Russian or Check origin. In some contexts it is clearly perceived as a Russian borrowing, for example: “Exceptional heroism was shown by our hard core - surrounded by glory are our whole working class, our kolkhoz peasantry, the Soviet intelligentsia, who under the leadership of party organisations overcame untold hardships and bearing the hardships of war…”[Guardian, 26.04.2007]

In general, borrowed and recoded Russian words can be found side by side. The following sentence, for example, includes two words of Russian origin, i.e. dacha which can be considered as a loanword and a recoded phrase Rublyovskoe Shosse. Note that both items are used according to grammar rules of the English language (dachas in plural, Rublyovskoe Shosse with the definite article): “Harley will open a second showroom this year on the Rublyovskoe Shosse, where many oligarchs and officials have their dachas” [Telegraph, 18.06.2005]

The above arguments and given examples can be considered as samples of an inverse vector of language influence from Russian to English. The study of different British daily newspapers which reflect sociopolitical history day by day has shown that the Russian language is represented in the English-language media by a wide enough group of words including both linguistic borrowings and recoded lexical items.

To sum up, it should be mentioned that the process of intercultural communication in the framework of a globalizing but multipolar world may increase the interaction between languages and cultures; however, the vector of influence in this case is not exclusively one-sided. Sharing technical achievements or cultural values presupposes the exchange of specific linguistic items which are borrowed together with the concepts or phenomena they represent. The question still is:  what is the ratio of this linguistic exchange between contacting languages in the dialogue of cultures? It seems that the direction and amount of borrowings is influenced by various factors and, first of all, extralinguistic ones.


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