Here’s an interesting article (written by Tom Parfitt for The Telegraph, January 14, 2011) about the need for multilingual government officials in Russia:
It was a moment of acute humiliation for the Russian Academy of Sciences.
When the learned body produced an English language version of its website last year, the results caused a stir. The Institut Belka (Institute of Protein Research) was translated as the Squirrel Institute (Institut Belki), while Yury Osipov, the mathematician who heads the academy, was introduced to foreign colleagues as the President of Wounds.
Now the Russian government is moving to address such linguistic shortcomings by multiplying the number of polyglot officials. A strategy document unveiled this week says that by 2020, at least 20% of workers in state service must be fluent in a foreign tongue. More importantly, from next year all newly recruited bureaucrats should already be competent in English.
It’s the latest sign of a subtle trend: although Russia has a difficult relationship with the English-speaking world, when it comes to speaking English it is a different matter. English vocabulary has already made deep forays into Russian. In Moscow, for example, tineydzhery (teenagers) might go to a mall to shopitsya, depending on the dress-kod of the klub they’re heading for. Many of the words in use spring from recently acquired financial and business terms that were unknown in Soviet times, such as steyk-kholdery (stakeholders), autsorsing (outsourcing), riteyl (retail) and franchayz (franchise).
The computer-friendly younger generation, meanwhile, knows all about apgrady (upgrades), fayrvoly (firewalls) and kiberskvoting (cybersquatting).
Yury Alekseyev, a professional linguist and the president of a “terminological committee” which issues recommendations for usage of foreign-origin words said he welcomed the effort to increase multilingual bureaucrats. “I’d also like to see a more qualified defence of the Russian language from the influence of English,” he added. Russians collectively winced when their sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, gave a brave but heavily accented speech in English at Russia’s World Cup bid in Zurich last month. Nearly a million viewers have shared his pain by watching the clip, called “Let mi spik from may khart, in Inglish”, on YouTube.
Alekseyev’s committee sends reports to universities, businesses and media outlets urging them to weed out the more vulgar anglicisms. “We are trying to give people the choice to use a Russian word, with Russian roots,” he said. “Many Anglicisms have unpleasant or misleading associations. Take the word gadzhet [gadget]. The word gad in Russian means a reptile, or something foul, dirty. So it’s much better to just use the Russian word pribor, or shtuchka.”
Similarly, say conservatives, the ubiquitous word boss can be expressed perfectly adequately with its Russian equivalent, nachalnik, and resepshn (reception) with priomnaya.
A backlash against anglicisation gathered pace last year when the federal anti-monopoly service stepped up efforts to stamp out foreign words in advertising. By law, trademarks can be displayed in languages other than Russian, but any advertising material without a translation is deemed illegal – unless a transliteration can be found in a dictionary.
“If we’re talking about words with English origins that are already widely used in stock market slang like broker, fyuchers and auktsion than those are fine, otherwise we would end up returning to the language of the Russian Empire,” said Andrei Kashevarov, deputy head of the anti-monopoly service.
Beyond that, even using a couple of foreign words can get a business in trouble. In November the service brought cases against Yaposhka City, the owner of a Japanese sushi chain which displaying a billboard saying Happy New Menu. A sportswear store was brought to book for using the phrase “new collection” while a café was censured for using the word “Halloween”.
The absorption of foreign words may be inevitable, admits Alekseyev. “We can make recommendations as much we like, but in the end the language chooses its own path,” he said.