Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Juni 2006

9.5. Recycling Culture. Ancient and Sacral Texts in (Post)Modern Literature and Art
Herausgeberin | Editor | Éditeur: Gabriella Hima (Budapest)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

The Lexical Innovations and Historisms in Modern Russian

G.N Kurokhtina (The Pushkin State Institute of the Russian Language, Moscow, Russia)


1. Everybody has heard about the revolutionary changes in the Russian society of the last two decades. The collapse of the Soviet totalitarianism has caused some considerable changes in the Russian language. The Russian language nowadays presents a very interesting object to investigate. The new conditions of its functioning under the new social regime were mentioned by one of the finest Russian linguists of the XX century M.V. Panov. These conditions are as follows:

  1. predominance of the dialogue which came to substitute for the monologue in speech practice;

  2. strengthening of personal position of the speaker in general;

  3. stylistical disbalance, usage of contrastive stylistical elements within one text;

  4. the global process of "renaming" (renomination) typical to many revolutionary epochs. [1]

The features of the present situation in Russia could be summed up in one general tendency - liberalization of language usage caused by global liberalization of the Russian society. The social revolutionary explosion does not create a revolution in our language but it influences the speech practice of the contemporary speakers of Russian, it brings out the capacities of the language which in normal flow of life would be hidden or wouldn’t be seen on the surface.

2. The situation in the Russian society of the end of the XX century resembles the revolutionary period after the October socialist revolution in 1917. There are quite a few features which can demonstrate this resemblance. Social changes normally bring about certain processes in a language. It mainly concerns the lexical system. Many words naming the realities of the former social life became unpopular in the new Soviet state of the beginning of the XX century. That is why the word "господин" was substituted by "товарищ"," Дума" by "Совет", "крестьянская община" by "колхоз" . Numerous organizations, institutions, administrative units in Russia had to be renamed. Such words as "департамент", "губерния", "уезд" were no longer in use and could be found only in the books on history. Instead new words appeared: наркомат, область, район .

It’s interesting to mention the fact of a circular movement of the Russian language during the XX century. The lexical innovations of the beginning of the XX century became historisms now: комсомол, пионер, наркомат, Совет, горсовет, райисполком, комсорг, парторг, РСФСР, НКВД, ВЛКСМ and so on. The words that were taken out of usage after the revolution of 1917 are used again nowadays: господин, губернатор, Дума, департамент and some other.

3. The most noticeable changes in the vocabulary of the Modern Russian are caused by the influence of the English language. The British scholar J.A.Dunn has written some interesting articles on the topic and he thinks that "the significance of English for the lexical development of Russian in the post-Soviet period is by now a well-documented fact". [2] Loan-words could be called a "sign of our time". L.A. Verbitskaya wrote in 2001 that the quantity of the words taken from other languages after 1986 grew up to 30000 units (compared to 9000 of the period between 1960 and 1985). [3]

4. The process of loaning concerns all the lexical groups including abbreviations. It’s a well known fact that formation of this specific lexical class in the Russian language can be dated back to the beginning of the XX century. At that time the abbreviations became symbols of the revolutionary language. Nowadays, at the beginning of the XXI century, abbreviated words are no longer perceived by the speakers of Russian as something revolutionary or innovative, but they survive the new phase in the development.

First of all, many abbreviations of the Soviet time became historisms, that is were taken out of use because of the radical changes in the social life. Certain amount of abbreviations were simply excluded from the language usage because of the fact that the realities they denoted ceased to exist, for example: ВЛКСМ, комсомол, комсорг, Госплан, Политбюро etc. Many of them (for example, such words like СССР, РСФСР, КПСС, КГБ, ВДНХ, АН СССР ) were substituted by new lexical units ( СНГ, РФ, КПРФ, ФСБ, ВВЦ, РАН correspondingly). And, what is probably most important, new abbreviations were created to name the newly born parties, organizations, companies, administrative units: ЛДПР, СПС, ОВР, РАО ЕЭС, Газпром, ЕБРР, ЖКХ, ООО, ОАО, ЗАО, АОЗТ, ГИБДД, ГОСБ, ЛУКойл, ЦБ, Минэкономразвития, Минприроды, Сибнефть and so on.

5. The group of new abbreviations is expanded with lexical units taken from the Western languages (English mostly). The most innovative feature of the present day abbreviation class is a tendency to borrow words from the donor-language as it is, with its original orthographics and pronunciation. It’s interesting to note that a knowledge of English (or at least of a Latin alphabet) is very useful in Russia of today. This knowledge is helpful not only in people’s professional activity but in everyday life as well. Latin letters can be seen everywhere besides the Cyrillic ones. One should know how to read the names of the foreign companies, trade marks and brands: DHL, IBM, JVC, GM, BMW, LG, BP, BBC, CNN. Most of them should be pronounced according to the rules of the English phonetic system (in the list of abbreviations adduced above we have only one word taken from German: BMW).

Such loan-abbreviations fall within a certain number of semantic areas. First of all it’s a group of words related to the new technical devices and computer technology at large: MP 3, GSM, SMS, MMS, WAP, Hi-Fi, LD, e-mail, MODEM, DVD, CD, CD ROM, FM, PC, ICQ and so on. An other group is closely connected with the sphere of social communication: VIP, PR. Some of them are used in the mass media: MTV, BBC, DJ, VJ and some other.

One point about loan-abbreviations is something of a paradox - the need for translating them is not essential. Contemporary Russians use the words mentioned above without knowing their exact lexical meaning. It’s more important to know where, in what contexts to use them. Sometimes it happens to some loan-words (not abbreviations). Not many Russians could have explained what the words импичмент, консенсус, инаугурация or легитимный mean. Same problem with abbreviations: only very few people can give a full expansion of the meaning hidden in such abbreviated words as MP 3, ICQ, SMS, DVD or PR in spite of the fact that they are used very actively now. Sometimes we can come across some curious examples of using them: SMS- сообщение (the word "сообщение" means "message" in Russian), диск DVD, CD- диск and so on.

6. Not all abbreviated words mentioned above are used with equal frequency. Some of them can be heard only among a limited circle of people. For example, the drivers can use such abbreviations as ABS, EBD, TRS, ESP (not necessarily knowing the exact "translation" of them). They are used to describe some specific functions of automobiles (the abbreviations have been taken from different car magazins).

But many of the loan-abbreviations are very widely used in various spheres of social life. One of the most frequently used loan-words nowadays is the abbreviation V.I.P. It became popular in the early years of "perestroyka" and now it’s part and parcel of the Russian lexical system. When it came to Russia in 80-s of the XX century it was pronounced as in English [vi-ai-pi:] and in a written form it appeared with dots between the letters (it should be pointed out that the Russian abbreviations have lost the dots at early stage of their development). The more the loan-abbreviation is used in Russian the more it looks like a normal Russian word. The evolution of the "V.I.P." can be shown in the following sequence: V.I.P. [v’i-ai-p’i:] - VIP [v’i-ai-p’i:] - VIP [v’ip] - вип [v’ip]. At present moment different ways of writing the abbreviation can be observed (see the list of examples). It’s important to mention that all the "crisis" periods of language development have one characteristic feature: coexistence of variants (both in writing and pronunciation). The global instability of the society in a crisis situation causes the instability in the language sphere. For example, nowadays one can come across different variants in the writing of the following loan-abbreviations:

GM - Джи - Эм, джи - эм; BMW - БМВ; SMS - СМС, эс - эм - эс, эсэмэс; PR - пи - ар, пиар; CD - си - ди, сиди and so on.

7. As a matter of fact loan-abbreviations which are used in speech frequently enough easily get adapted to the Russian grammatical system. Even at the initial stage of assimilation of such lexical units in the Russian language they can be used with the Russian affixes: SMS- нуть, SMS- ка; MTV- шный; PR- ить, PR овский, PR овец; VIP ы . Normally such words appear in colloquial speech and they are used very actively by the young generation. Many modern jargonisms are based on the loan-abbreviations: CD - «сидюк»; CD- плейер - «сидюшник»; ICQ - «аська», «ася»; PC - «писюк», «писюха»; e-mail - «емеля», «мэйло», «мыло».

At the same time some of the abbreviated units fall out of this process of adaptation and can be used only as graphic abbreviations (in contrast to the lexical abbreviations they should be pronounced as full nominations, without shortening them), for example: VW - Volkswagen [fol’ks vag’en] or HP - Hewlett Packard [h’julit pakərt] and some others.

8. To sum up what have just been said, we have to go back to the beginning of our report and to repeat that the new tendencies in development of a language can be stimulated by social changes. The innovative features of the Modern Russian lexical system were influenced by liberalization of social life in post-Gorbachev period, by the opening the state borders and by joining the process of unification with the Western culture. The enormous number of loan-words (including abbreviations) appeared to satisfy the need for the naming of new goods, new organizations, new phenomena in the sphere of economics, politics, culture, sport and so on and so forth. Nobody can predict the exact direction of global language movement - only time will show which lexical units will stay in the system and which will be swept away.

The example of Russian abbreviations demonstrates the circular movement of language development: the similarity of two periods of Russian history (revolutions of the beginning and the end of the XX century) have caused a definite similarity in the language processes of both periods. Every change of political system is normally associated with revolutionary changes in language usage. In early Soviet period the new class of abbreviations appeared to substitute for the words of the old regime. At the end of XXth century the abbreviated words survived their renovation according to the conditions of the new times: the words inessential under new circumstances were taken out of use and became historisms, the new words came to substitute them and to call the realities of a revitalized society.

List of examples


После спектакля артисты и VIP ы были приглашены на второй этаж, где состоялся банкет. («Профиль», №30-31, 2000, стр.50)

В Москве прошли Дни готового платья: С VIP -гостями, звездами на подиуме и, конечно же, дизайнерскими новинками. («7 Дней», №46, 2000, стр.60)

VIP салон приглашает девушек для VIP . Оплата высокая. («Работа для вас», №141, 06.09.2004)

Ещё одна "изюминка" - программа «VIP -страхования» имущества. («Автомир», №34, 2001, стр.9)

В последнее время жители Осенней улицы почти не обсуждают домашнюю жизнь VIP -соседей ... («Итоги», №31, 2001, стр.28)

На день рождения певицы в вип-зал казино я его, конечно, притащила. (М.Арбатова. Любовь к американским автомобилям. М.: ЭКСМО, 2004, стр. 40 ).

Началом PR -компании трансконтинентального пробега станут его презентация ... и VIP -мероприятие в РК «Метелица»... (Там же, стр.38)


Samsung представляет новинку - Hi - Fi магнитофон с встроенным DVD -проигрывателем . («Профиль», №14, 2001, стр.53)

Единый стандарт в технике для записи и чтения перезаписываемых DVD -оптических дисков следующего поколения. («Эксперт», №8, 25.02.2002, стр.63)

Рынок DVD -плейеров ...ускорит давно прогнозируемую кончину сегмента VHS -кассет . (Там же)

«Бизнес без DVD ендов». (Название статьи, «Компания», №4, 04.02.2002)

В случае успеха на DVD -диск можно будет записать 50 Гбайт информации. («Эксперт», №8, 25.02.2002, стр.63)


По мнению экспертов, SMS -каналы не играют решающей роли при выборе оператора. («Профиль», 04.03.2002, стр.63)

MMS против SMS . Хит сезона - пересылка по мобильному телефону не просто SMS -ок или примитивных картинок, а забавных мультиков или видеороликов. (« Cosmopolitan», апр. 2003, стр.30)


Многие из нас и не подозревают, что поставив обычную «аську» (т.е. Интернет-пейджер ICQ ), мы автоматически получаем целых два почтовых ящика. (« Cosmopolitan», июнь 2003, стр.28)

Один из них - номер «аськи» @ pager . icq . com - предназначен для внутреннего использования ICQ -владельцами . (Там же)


Самой сумасбродной MTV -шной программе «Чудаки» уготовано большое будущее... («Цветной телевизор», №8, февр. 2002, стр.3)

Зрители считают ведущего «Народного артиста» дебютантом, хотя на канале MTV он «ви-джеит» уже третий год. («7Дней», №8, 2004, стр.28)


Большинство аналитиков сказали, что отставка - это «мощный пиар-ход». («Профиль», №8, 01.03.2004, стр.17)

Сам Борис Абрамович прекрасно пиарит. (Геннадий Селезнев, 1-й канал, 13.10.2002)

Вы не делали себе пиара. (В.В. Путин, программа «Вести», РТР, 29.10.2002)

Это всего лишь масштабная общественно-политическая PR -акция, освещаемая в СМИ. (М.Арбатова. Любовь к американским автомобилям. - М.: ЭКСМО, 2004, стр.37)

То есть все выглядело, словно Веня способен потянуть технически-организационную сторону, а я - организационно-пиаровскую. (там же, стр.36)

© G.N Kurokhtina (The Pushkin State Institute of the Russian Language, Moscow, Russia)


Panov M.V. (1988) Iz nabliudenij nad stilem segodniashnej periodiki. In: Jazyk sovremennoj publicistiki. Moscow.

Dunn J.A. (2000) The role of English in the Developmentof Modern Russian. In: Sprachwandel in der Slavia: die slavischen Sprachen an der Schwelle zum 21.Jahrhundert / Lew N. Zubatow (Hrsg.). - Frankfurt am Main; Berlin; Bern; Bruxelles; New York; Oxford; Wien: Lang, 2000, p.87.

Verbitskaja L.A. (2001) Davajte govorit’ pravil’no. Posobije po russkomu jazyku: 2-e izd, ispr. i dop. - Moscow.

9.5. Recycling Culture. Ancient and Sacral Texts in (Post)Modern Literature and Art

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For quotation purposes:
G.N Kurokhtina (The Pushkin State Institute of the Russian Language, Moscow, Russia): The Lexical Innovations and Historisms in Modern Russian. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW: ../../../index.htmtrans/16Nr/09_5/kurokhtina16.htm

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