Saturday, March 10, 2018

Regional Slang Displacing Criminal Vocabulary among the Young – and Regionalists Can Exploit This

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 10 – In the last decades of Soviet power, many young people adopted the language of the criminal world to set themselves apart from others and to appear cool to those around them, but criminal vocabulary has become so widespread in the social and political world that it no longer serves as this kind of marker.

            In at least some regions, Russian commentator Aleksandr Rybalka says, young people are picking up on regional slang and toponymy for the same reasons, to set themselves apart from the herd and to appear cool in their own eyes and the eyes of others.  And regionalists can exploit this to promote their own goals (

                He points to what occurred in Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel, A Clockwork Orange, in which the English characters sprinkled their conversation with lightly anglicized Russian words. That set them apart but even more it attracted the interest of others in who and what these people with this distinctive language were. 

            Regionalists in Russia can exploit this same pattern. Neither they nor the young people in the regions will know some of the numerically smaller languages, but both will know at least some of the words and can sprinkle them in their conversation to set themselves apart, to cause them to learn move, and to attract the interest of others.

            Rybalka gives as an example of what he has in mind the following invented exchange in a bar in Onegaborg about plans for a meeting.  “Naturally,” he says, “you don’t want that others overhear you. Perhaps you’ll use the Karelian word vastavus which means ‘meeting’” like this:

            “We have a vastavus tomorrow, you haven’t forgotten?” “And we will drink?” “Yes, olut!” using the Karelian word for “beer.”  Those around will be “intrigued,” he says. “they too will want to come to this mysterious vastavus where they will drink olut. 

            “Even from the Ingermanlander dialect,” he continues, “one can select ten or so colorful words of this kind and spiff up one’s speech by creating a unique regional slang.” You won’t learn the language, of course, nor will your listeners – those who know it aren’t really part of this effort, he says – but you will call attention to it and that is the point.

            In this way, Rybalka says, “the regional partisan, dressed in the color of his region and speaking in stylish youth jargon will attract to the issues of regionalism many more people than two old guys discussing in the pure local language how to cure a sick cow.” 

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