Linguistic Middle Finger Raised in Cyberspace
- By Michele A. Berdy
- Oct. 31 2008 00:00
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Every once in a while when I'm poking around Russian Internet sites, I start following links that lead me out of the world of polite discourse and into the thicket of the блогосфера (blogosphere), where the grammar and orthography of Russian that I have spent more than half my life trying to master disappears in the undergrowth. To read what's there, I regress to the stage of language acquisition that characterized my first year Russian class. I sound out words, discovering that аффтар is автор (author, poster) and жжот is жжёт (burns). Then I open one of my dictionaries to translate аффтар жжот (the author lights on fire?) into something I understand, an approving response to a poster's comment: Good one!
This is йазык падонкаф (язык подонков -- literally, the language of scoundrels), aka Албанский, Албанцкей, Олбанский, Олбанскей (Albanian, more or less) -- although these adjectives can also mean the Russian language. By legend, this term appeared when an American poking around LiveJournal came across Russian language postings. He apparently asked what this mysterious language was and in reply got a флеш-моб (flash mob -- that is, a kind of instantaneous public happening). Over 5,000 Russian bloggers sent him messages telling him it was Albanian (jerk!). Now the most common usage is still the phrase учи Албанский! (Learn Albanian!), a highly contemptuous comment sent to a poster who has poorly expressed himself in Russian or misused the jargon.
There are two opinions about how and why this "language" appeared. The first theory is that it was a reaction to the poor grammar and orthographical mistakes of Internet postings, a kind of parody of bad Russian used to shame the illiterate. The second theory is that it rose out of punk subculture as a kind of linguistic middle finger raised in the virtual world of Internet -- a modern version of futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky's "Пощёчина общественному вкусу" ("Slap in the Face of Public Taste"). It seems that now it is used by such a wide range of people with such differing political and social views, that its origins are almost moot.
It's not as easy as it looks. The trick is in what practitioners call орфоарт (ortho-art). They sometimes spell phonetically -- that is, the way words sound -- so пока (see you, bye) becomes пака. Sometimes they distort the spelling to fit pronunciation rules, so that мальчик (boy) becomes мальчег. They turn the слитное/раздельное (one word or separate words) rules upside down, so that не осилил (couldn't handle it; he didn't read a long post to the end) becomes -- with all the other orthographical changes -- ниасилел. Yotized vowels (vowels that begins with the "y" sound) usually become й, so that жирная (greasy) is transformed into жирнайа. Then they use plenty of obscenities, toss in transcribed foreign words and have their own slang.
I've picked up a few words and phrases. Laughter is indicated by гыгыгы or гугугу (hee-hee, yuck-yuck). A long repetition of ыыыыыыыы seems to express hilarious laughter or drop-dead amazement -- or maybe both. Аццкий (адский -- hellish) is generally a term of approval, as in аццкий анек(дот) (a great joke). German has been incorporated in Нейн (No! You're totally wrong!) and Ахтунг (Attention!), which is used as a warning that the post to follow is particularly obscene or offensive.
English appears in witty ways. Вентилятор (fan, a device that moves air around) has come to be used for болельщик (fan, someone who supports a sports team). ИМ'О is a transcription of the English "in my humble opinion," which then got "translated" into Russian as Имею мнение, хрен оспоришь. (I have an opinion, and damned if you can argue against it.)
Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.