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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Foreign Word Loans Need No Prolonging

I am no fuddy-duddy when it comes to language. Regular readers will recall that about a month ago I wrote sarcastically about President Boris Yeltsin's newly formed Presidential Commission on the Russian Language, a group of sour-faced academics who are charged with coming up with a legislative program for ensuring the purity of the Russian language. I have nothing against the natural evolution of language, and I consider the ability to adapt and absorb foreign words one of the Russian language's most fascinating features.

However, I draw the line when native speakers of Russian try to embellish their language and ideas by importing foreign words when there are perfectly good, and much more easily understood, Russian words available. A couple of days ago on the evening news, I saw an interview with a "sophisticated" New Russian banker who remarked that it should be possible to prolongirovat' kredity (to prolong the loan). Of course, from the point of view of English grammar, it would have been better to say extendirovat' kredity, extend the loan.

The point is that neither prolongirovat' nor extendirovat' exist in Russian, while the verb prodlit' (to extend) does. Of course, we native speakers of English benefit when Russians say things like prolongirovat' since it saves us the trouble of learning Russian words. But this practice does nothing to facilitate communication among Russians.

Since I heard that interview, I have listened carefully for other examples of this phenomenon and have been stunned at how quickly they accumulated. I have run into babisitirovat' (to babysit) instead of sidet' s rebyonkom and garbichnyi meshok (garbage bag) instead of meshok dlya musora. I have no doubt that many other examples fly right past me since they are so easy for me, as a foreigner, to understand.

But the champion of the practice of importing unnecessary words into Russian is an obscure academic named Igor Smirnov, whose article "O nartsisticheskom tekste (Diakhroniya i psikhoanaliz)" -- "On the Narcissistic Text (Diachrony and Psychoanalysis)" -- I recently had the dubious pleasure of reading.

In this article -- essentially little more than ungrammatical, transliterated English -- Smirnov speaks, for example, of how a kontrovertsiya manifestiruyetsya, a controversy manifests itself. Why the Russian phrase spor vyrazhayetsya (a controversy manifests itself) is inadequate in this case is beyond me. And what about konstantnost' instead of postoyannost' (permanence) or intentsiya in place of namereniye (intention)?

Obviously, Smirnov's intentsiya is not to be understood, but to hide the bankruptcy of his thoughts behind a load of meaningless jargon. And there are many Smirnovs out there. I just hope not too many of them are members of the Presidential Commission on the Russian Language.