Some Russians resist infiltration of English

MOSCOW (AP) — Imagine that the United States, not the Soviet Union, collapsed at the end of the Cold War.
Suddenly, American streets were cluttered with Russian billboards, store shelves were glutted with Russian products and radios played the latest hits from Moscow and Leningrad.
In reverse, this is what has happened to Russia. Today, an American arriving in Moscow is startled by the number of signs and labels in English, the number of English words that creep into everyday speech, the number of American and British songs on the radio.
Still, a backlash seems to be welling up, the Russian equivalent of the English-only movement in the United States and the Francophone movements in France and Canada.
Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has led the charge, calling for restrictions on the use of non-Russian words in advertising and public displays, and encouraging a renewed pride in Russia’s language and culture.
“You don’t see any Russian signs in Switzerland or the United States, so why should there be English signs here in Russia?” Svetlana Korolyova, deputy director of Moscow’s consumer affairs department, asked recently in the English-language Moscow Times.
She was defending Luzhkov’s decision to make Moscow’s stores replace signs that use foreign words with purely Russian ones. If stores comply, Moscow consumers will once again shop at “gastronoms,” not “supermarkets,” and fill prescriptions at “aptekas,” not “drug stores.”
Critics have pointed out that “gastronom” itself is borrowed from French. But no matter. It sounds more Russian than “supermarket.”
All this teeth-gnashing amuses Leonid Krysin, a linguistics professor at Moscow’s Russian Language Institute and the author of a dictionary of foreign terms in Russian.
Sitting at a well-worn desk in an office redolent of dust and old books, Krysin observes that the English incursion is mild compared to the cacophony of Turkish and Arabic words that overwhelmed Russia in the 12th and 13th centuries.
“It’s a very natural process,” he says. “Since we live on the same planet, there’s no way we could build walls between us.”
Of course, that’s precisely what the Soviet Union tried to do, and in large measure it succeeded. Even now, there’s less American influence here than in most world capitals.
Krysin argues that, for the most part, the torrent of English has been “a surface phenomenon,” largely limited to street signs and the like. “On the whole, there aren’t very many English borrowings in everyday speech.”
But there are many exceptions, especially in specialized fields new to Russia, such as banking and computers. Here, Russians monitor “cash flow” on their “computers,” using “interfaces” and “files.”
A ride on the Moscow subway system can be a journey into some netherworld between Moscow and New York. Signs are a jumble of English and Russian. An Adidas ad trumpets “Feet you wear.” Ads for Miller beer contain long blocks of English type mixed with Russian.
At one of several Moscow schools run by English First, a Swedish-based language school, 23-year-old Svetlana Grekova shifts a little uneasily on her chair when she is asked why she’s studying English.
“This is what I need if I want to get a stable and reliable job,” she says through a translator. Asked how many of her friends are studying English, she replies without hesitation: “All of them.”
But even here at English First, there are worries about too much English.
“I have nothing against the world coming together, but we shouldn’t go insane,” says Tanya Shestoperova, personal assistant to the school’s academic director.
Shestoperova, 22, has studied English nearly her entire life and speaks it better than many Americans. Still, her Russian pride is wounded by the country’s headlong dive into all things Western.
“I think we as a nation have started to come to our senses, have started to see our own cultural values, and see that we don’t have to borrow everything from the West,” she says.