By Paul Goble
In Russia, “yet another police force may appear – a linguistic one” that among other things will hunt down those who use foreign words and Latin script in advertising or other public forums and then impose fines on them, Ekaterina Trifonova of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” reports today (ng.ru/politics/2016-09-14/3_police.html).
Roman Doshinsky, a leder of the Association of Teachers of Russian Language and Literaturewho is a member of the Social Chamber, has proposed creating a special department of the police within the interior ministry that would be responsible for “the preservation of the state language” by hunting down and expelling foreign words and Latin letters.
He says that the current language law must be amended so that this can happen and so that fines can be imposed. And while Doshinsky and his supporters acknowledge that Russians cannot do without using some foreign words, when their own language doesn’t have analogues, they should use them as infrequently as possible.
He points to the experience of France which has a law banning the use of English words, something Russian officials have often supported, and that of Latvia, where a language police hunts down those who don’t use Latvian correctly, something Moscow has repeatedly attacked as anti-Russian.
In this area, the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist says, some regions are showing the way. In Omsk, for example, a language police force has already appeared whose officers are trying to “put an end” to the use of foreign words and Latin script in advertising and have appealed to “vigilant” citizens to turn in those who misuse Russian.
The new round of discussions about the possibility of creating such a new police force in the country as a whole was triggered by Vladimir Putin two years ago when he called for avoiding the excessive use of Latin script in writing Russian. That led to a series of bills in the Duma, none of which have been passed to date.
But there seems to be more support for such a move now. Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matvienko recently called “the borrowing of foreign words a real threat of the 21st century.”
Nonetheless, some experts are skeptical that the police will be created. They point out, Trifonova says, that there are simply too many words in Russia borrowed from other languages, including “patriotism,” a word that those who want to flaunt their national identity routinely flaunt.
As Valery Burt points out in a commentary on the Stoletiye portal, the fight against foreign words, bad grammar and cursing has a long history in Russia, extending back to the beginning of the 19th century. More recently, Stalin engaged in it during his fight against “kowtowing to the West” (stoletie.ru/vzglyad/ohotniki_za_slovami_911.htm).
And since 1990, both Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and the Duma have called for fighting against foreign loan words, a position enshrined in the law on Russian as a state language. But as Burt notes, “it is perfectly obvious that no one follows these rules. Indeed, it is possible that no one even knows about them.”
While many Russians appear to want to defend their language, at least one scholar says that the borrowing of foreign words may help them rather than hinder them in doing that. Maksim Krongaus, a Moscow linguist, says that borrowing words and then giving them Russian pronunciations is like “a vaccination” – it infects people a little in order to give them immunity.”