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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian in One Ear, English in the Other

NEW YORK -- At the Taste of Russia grocery store in Brooklyn, many people order potatoes by asking for "potyaytoaz." Some order turkey saying, "Tyurki, pleez."

They are Russian immigrants mainly, some of the many thousands who inhabit Brighton Beach. There is, of course, a Russian word for potato -- kartoshka -- and a Russian word for turkey, too -- indeika.

Nonetheless, Lenny Galitsky, who owns the store, said he had found in recent years that many new immigrants would rather use the English words. "Nobody says 'indeika' anymore," Galitsky said. "They say 'tyurki.' 'Ize creem,' too, they like to say; no one says morozhenoye. English is easier. It's short."

A change in language tends to follow immigration as closely as a headache tends to follow too much drink. Linguistic scholars speak of Spanglish and its related tongues, Frangle (French combined with English) and Ingrish (English mixed with L-less Japanese).

Now, on the streets of Brighton Beach, people have begun to speak in a different hybrid tongue. They use something known as Runglish -- a Russian-English blend in which the "Cross-Bronx Expressway" might come off as the "Cress Bonx Exprezvei" or "appointments" as "appointymenti."

A surprising number of Russian words have already entered the greater English lexicon. There are political terms like "apparatchik," "intelligentsia" and "commissar," and, of course, there are culinary nouns like "samovar" and "babka."

But English, too, has made its tiny inroad on the Russian language -- especially in immigrant enclaves like Brighton Beach. Frequently, the English interlopers are foodstuff -- like "hyam-boorgoors" or "ized cyawfeh" (iced coffee) -- that are not so popular in Russia. Often they are technological terms. "There's no way to translate 'SIM cards' into Russian," a young salesman at a Sprint store on Brighton Beach Avenue said, referring to the little chips inside cell phones. "People just say 'syim carti.'"

The salesman, who would gave his name only as Anthony, went on to say that the "Runglicization" of his mother tongue was a phenomenon mostly prevalent among the old.

"The young people already speak in English mainly," he explained, adding that he himself spoke English 70 percent of the time. "But older people sometimes get confused. They hear English in one ear and Russian in other, and it mixes in their head."

Runglish, as a linguistic term, is almost as infelicitous as it sounds when spoken aloud. The name is said to have been coined by veteran cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, who took part in the launch of the international space station in fall 2000.

"We say jokingly that we communicate in Runglish," Krikalev said at a news conference shortly before the launch. The word, like Runglish itself, seems to have stuck.

To some, however, Runglish is no joke at all but an indication of the slow demise of Russian culture.

"When the kids turn 18, 19 years old, we tell them, 'Stop speaking English. Speak more Russian,'" said Alex Kondov, owner of the Varichnaya Restaurant.

Standing next to him, his friend, Vladimir Robu, chipped in: "It is tradition and family. We try to keep the culture alive from home."

Today's Russian immigrants are -- linguistically speaking -- a far-too-sheltered bunch, said Pat Singer, president and founder of the Brighton Neighborhood Association.

"This group that comes here now has Russian newsletters, Russian radio, Russian TV stations," explained Singer, whose grandparents came from Odessa in the 1910s. "They might as well have stayed in Russia, since they created Russia here."

Other immigrants, she said, have learned to speak English just fine. But not the Russians, Singer said.

"The Russian community has been here 30 years. You'd think they'd all speak English by now."

Part of the problem, Singer said, is that while English is taught as a second language in the city's public schools, there is a lack of English training for adults. "The kids -- you wouldn't even know they weren't American born," she said, "until they get on the phone to their mothers to say they're coming home late."