Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Russian Language Becoming Ever More Regionally Diverse, New Study Shows

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 6 – Today in the Russian Federation is the Day of the Russian Language, the occasion for officials and others to celebrate the “great and powerful” Russian language that Vladimir Putin has made central to his understanding of identity in the post-Soviet world and sought to impose on many non-Russians.

            But perhaps the most interesting report on this day concerned the way in which the Russian language is becoming ever more diverse, with people in some regions using different terms and expressions drawn from a variety of sources, thereby highlighting their differences from the Moscow dialect which the Kremlin views as something sacred.

            There have been many studies of the Russian language, but only a handful of its regional variants. The most important in the past was a 2005 book by V.I. Belikov and V.P Selegey on The Languages of Russian Cities. But if focused on only a one aspect of this situation. Now, scholars at the Moscow Institute of Linguistics carried out a more massive investigation.

            In cooperation with Yandex, the linguists have used the techniques of massive data collection and identification to examine in detail 11 billion words and word combinations used by Russians on the Internet and select out regionally distinct vocabularies (trtrussian.com/novosti-rossiya/korner-shushlajka-i-habarik-sostavlen-spisok-mestnyh-slov-regionov-rf-5681893).

            They identified more than 2,000 words not included in Belikov and Selegey’s study and suggested that this is only the tip of the iceberg of regional variations in the language. Regions where there appeared to be little or no variation from Moscow Russian tended to be those where internet usage was the lowest.

            Some of the regional Russianisms came from the languages of other peoples with whom Russians live; others were restoration of earlier regional differences; and still others were the imaginative creation of Russians in various regions who transformed acronyms into words or changed the meaning of old words to handle new conditions.

             In a 6500-word post on Yandex.ru (yandex.ru/company/researches/2021/local-words), they provide several hundred examples providing definitions, some speculation on origins and the location where some of these words are used and others where they are not. Linguists will have a field day.

            But the most important message is this: Russian is growing and evolving; and one of the most significant aspects of this change is that people in different regions are increasingly using different words, the first step toward different dialects or even different languages and a step away from the homogeneity that the hyper-centralists in the Kremlin believe in.

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