Do borrowed words pollute the Russian language?

by Irena Green

Any conversation about the Russian language cannot do without a discussion of borrowed words. We often hear that the Russian language is polluted with foreign words and we urgently need to get rid of that kind of borrowing, which – if we do not take measures and stop it – will soon make us speak in a mixture of English and Russian. And these myths are passed down from generation to generation.

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The fact that it is impossible to imagine the Russian language without borrowed words is very easy to prove. It is enough to remember the words that seem to be originally Russian, but in fact they are not. For instance, the words shark (акула [akula]), whip (акула [knut]), herring (сельдь [syeld]), sneak (ябеда [yabeda]) came to the Old Russian language from the Scandinavian languages , the words money (деньги [dengi]), pencil (карандаш [karandash]), robe (халат [khalat]) – from the Turkish language, the words literacy (грамота [gramota]), bed (кровать [krovat’]),sail (парус [parus]), notebook (тетрадь [tetrad’]) – from the Greek language. Even the word bread (хлеб [khleb]) is very likely to be a borrowed word: scientists assume that it has Gothic origin.

Different periods of the Russian language were highlighted by the prevalence of the borrowings from certain languages. When Peter The First was creating a fleet, many foreign words related to maritime affairs came to the Russian language, most of them from Dutch (shipyard (верфь [verf’]), harbor (гавань [gavan’]), compass (компас), cruiser (крейсер [kreyser]), sailor (моряк [moryak]), since the Dutch were considered to be the best ship craftsmen and many of them worked in Russian shipyards.

In the XVIII-XIX centuries, the Russian language was enriched with the names of dishes, clothes, decorations, furnishings that came from French: soup, broth (бульон [bul’on]), champignon (шампиньон), cutlet (котлета [kotleta]), marmalade (мармелада [marmelada]), vest (жилет [zhilyet]), coat (пальто [pal’to]), wardrobe (гардероб [garderob]), bracelet (браслет) and brooch (брошь [brosh’]).

In recent decades, the words come to Russian mainly from English and they are associated with modern technical devices and information technology: computer (компьютер), laptop (ноутбук [noutbuk]), smartphone (смартфон), google, online (онлайн), website (вебсайт [vebsayt]).

This does not mean that the Russian language is so poor or greedy: it only consumes and does not give anything. Not at all. The Russian language also shares its words with other languages, but this kind of expor goes more often not to the West, but to the East. For example, if we compare Russian and Kazakh, we will see that there are many borrowings from Russian in the Kazakh language. Besides, the Russian language is an intermediary for so many words going from West to East and vice versa. In the XVII-XIX centuries, the same role was played by the Polish language, through which a lot of words came to Russian.

If we prohibit foreign words in Russian, the development of the language will simply stop. And then we will face a real threat that the citizens of Russia will begin to speak in another language (for example, in English), because in that case the Russian language will not allow expressing thoughts fully and in detail. In other words, the ban on the use of foreign words does not lead to the preservation, but to the destruction of the language.

About the writer

Irena Green is a professional journalist and a freelance content writer at the company


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