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21 Feb, 2013 08:45

Grammar Nazi style: Russian MPs aim to ban foreign words

Grammar Nazi style: Russian MPs aim to ban foreign words

The Russian language needs legal protection from the “conquering march” of foreign words, sponsors of a bill before the State Duma believe. It seeks to ban all words borrowed from other languages and fine those who dare to use them in public.

The bill submitted by members of the Liberal Democrat party goes even further, administering punishment for any “violation of the norms of the contemporary Russian language.”

According to the justification for the proposed legislation submitted by the lawmakers, their vocabulary condemnation targets words that came into Russian from English after the late 1980s and the collapse of the Soviet Union. They specifically mention the Russian words that ended up as ‘dealer’, ‘boutique’, ‘manager’, ‘single’, ‘OK’ and ‘wow’.

The legislators suggest Russians use – sometimes archaic – substitutions or face a penalty. Ordinary linguistic offenders would have to pay up to an $80 fine, while organizations would have to fork out as much as $1,650. The latter are even threatened with “confiscation of the object of the administrative violation,” whatever that means.

The document apparently aims to snap freeze Russian. As with any other tongue, it undergoes natural evolution, with some words becoming archaic and phasing out of use and others being born and gaining popularity.

Over the centuries Russians borrowed thousands of words from Mongol conquerors, Byzantine priests, French and Italian artists, German engineers and, lately, English-speakers. Yet in many generations there were those vocally calling on preserving the traditional language and protecting it from foreign influence.

The sponsors of the bill are apparently fine with the linguistic legacies of the past and want to root out only the newcomers, specifically those which have substitutes in Russian. So the bill would apparently spare the words ‘democratic’, ‘liberal’ and ‘party’ used in the political sense, all of which were borrowed from Greek and Latin respectively. The same goes for the word ‘Rossiya’ – Russia – which is of Greek origin as well, and is first mentioned in Byzantine documents.

The legislators cite the French and Polish laws on protection of national languages, as well as the experience of the francophone Canadian province of Quebec as the inspirations for their draft law.

The majority United Russia party has already branded the bill as populist stunt with zero chance of passing.
United Russia itself is not without a taste for linguistic lawmaking. They submitted a bill - currently floating in the parliament - which would fine the media for use of obscenities. The discussion of the draft legislation had its peculiar moments, for instance when one MP suggested it would cover the entire internet, a place where “verbal hellspawn” reigns, she said.

The initiative to ban foreign words has so far attracted few comments in the Russian blogosphere, with most simply re-posting the news. Those who did comment would probably be subject to the profanity bill, if it were to cover the internet.