Sunday, February 21, 2016

Officialese, Not Imported Words, Biggest Threat to Russian Language, Journalist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 22 – Commenting on a new study by the Pushkin Institute of Russian language knowledge by officials at various levels, Marina Koroleva says that the greatest threat to the national language is not foreign borrowings, jargon or curse words but rather the spread of chancellery language throughout the population.

            The journalist says that officialese is an illness like diphtheria, is spread “from bearer to bearer, is very infectious, and extraordinarily vigorous. Times change” as they have since the Soviet period, but this plague continues to affect people with “only small mutations.” It seriously threatens Russian (
            “Of course,” she continues, “the speech of the present-day bureaucrat is not a copy of the speech of the Soviet bureaucrat. The words he employs are to a large extent different. Besides, the bureaucrat of Soviet times in generally never broke away from the printed page.” His speeches were the same as his writings.

            But if current officials are more used to speaking, they nonetheless have not managed to avoid many of the phrases and hence habits of mind of their predecessors.  And consequently, Koroleva says, Russians need to be vaccinated against it not just when they reach school but as soon as they enter kindergarten.

            The journalist’s comments came in reaction to a report by Moscow’s Pushkin Institute that studied remarks by officials on Russian television and evaluated the level of grammar and usage displayed by federal ministers, Duma deputies, heads of regions, and heads of municipalities.
            Rating the members of these groups by the number of errors per minute of air time, the Institute’s experts found that federal ministers used Russian the most correctly, followed by Duma deputies and mayors (in a near tie), with heads of federal subjects in last place by a wide margin.

            While the overall level of literacy was high, the Institute suggested, there were many mistakes with ministers often misusing verbs, deputies putting stress on the wrong syllable or misusing words of all kinds, and mayors and governors often making all these mistakes and more besides.

            Because of this, the Pushkin Institute recommended that “officials when preparing a public speech do not forget to look at the dictionary and then after the speech to find time to analyze it in order to avoid typical mistakes in the future.” 

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