The history of the Russian language is a popular topic for research, with the result that there are numerous books and articles on the subject. There are three experts, however, who deserve special mention for their work in this area: V.V. Vinogradov (1969), who was one of the founders in the 1940's of the field of Soviet lexicology; NYU professor, B.O. Unbegaun (1950, 1969, 1972, etc.); and A.P. Vlasto (1988), whose linguistic history of the language begins with the prehistory of Russia.
Indo-European/Common Slavic/East Slavic
Vlasto launches his study with Common Indo-European (I-E), followed by Common Slavic, which the Slavs spoke until around the 7th century AD. From this period come some of the common words for family members, body parts, animals, and numbers: mat' (mother), sestra (sister), doch' (daughter), brat (brother), syn (son), nos (nose), brov' (brow), gus' (goose), kot (male cat), volk (wolf), mysh (mouse), tri (three).
Around the 7th century, Common Slavic divided into three language groups--West Slavic, South Slavic, and East Slavic; from the East Slavic language come the Russian, Belorussian, and Ukrainian of today.
By the 9th-10th century, the East Slavic tribes had made their way north, to the area of Finland (Vlasto p. 263). There they came into contact with Scandinavians, including a few Finns, as reflected in the word tundra (tundra). Their primary contact, however, was with Swedes, who were in search of an international trade route to the Black Sea and the treasures of the (Greek) Byzantine Empire. They crossed the area of Kiev, subjugating the East Slavs in the process.
From the name of one Scandinavian tribe, Rus', came the name for the area around Kiev, hence the name Kievan Rus' (Vlasto 1988, p. 264) [not everyone agrees, see Fasmer (1971, vol. 3, p. 522-523)]. The linguistic influence of the Swedes was limited, reflective of travel and trade which they and the Kievan Rus' did with Constantinople: yakor' (anchor), shyolk (silk), kryuk (hook, Eng. crook).
The greatest influence from this opening to the south was in religion. The Russian Orthodox faithful celebrate 988 as the year in which Christianity was adopted in Kievan Rus'. Cyril and Methodius, Greek brothers living in Bulgaria, brought their religion to the area; they devised the Slavonic alphabet--the eponymous Cyrillic alphabet--creating for the Slavs their first written language, a Bulgarianized form of Old Church Slavonic (OCS). First and foremost, OCS was used to translate the religious books of the Byzantine Empire.
The new Slavonic alphabet was based on Greek; as a result, the vocabulary of these first translations included many borrowings from Greek for the language of the church: angel (angel), arkhangel (archangel), Bibliya (Bible), d'yakon (deacon), d'yavol (devil), Evangelie (the Gospel), episkop (bishop), ikona (icon), monakh (monk), monastyr' (monastery), and religiya (religion) (Poltoratskaya 1967, p. 15). Vinogradov (1969, p. 7) adds: apokaplipsis apocalypse, apostol apostle, mitropolit metropolitan, patriarkh patriarch, as well as some scholarly terms: arifmetika arithmetic, etimologiya etymology, grammatika grammar, prosodiya prosody, sintaksis syntax.
OCS served historically as the language of religion, books, and learning. The everyday spoken language, Old Russian, was based in the living dialects of the East Slavs (Vinokur 1971, p. 52)
In the 11th-12th centuries, this new Christian center of Kiev was invaded by the Tatar-Mongols, ending with the destruction of Kiev in 1240. The fall of Kievan Rus' brought about the fragmentation of the East Slavs, and, as a result, a fragmentation of their language. With the Tatar-Mongols controlling Kievan Rus', a large number of the East Slavs escaped north to the area around what is now Moscow (Grunwald de 1956, p. 8).
The separation of the East Slav tribes led to a division of their language into three: (Great) Russian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian. The Tatar-Mongols were finally expelled from the Kievan Rus' in 1480, but the more than 200 years of subjugation left behind in the spoken language, Old Russian, words like: bazar bazaar, kaftan caftan, kazak (1395, cossack), khan khan, kofe coffee, sablya saber, step' steppe.
By overpowering the Tatars and throwing them out of their area, the Russians had become a great power, but the years of eastern domination had isolated Russian civilization from the civilization of the West.
Beginning of Western European Influence
Outside the area of Kievan Rus'and Moscow, this isolation was not total. In the Baltic area, there had been settlements of German traders since at least 1275 (Bond 1974, p. 13). The northern city of Novgorod was even a member of the Hanseatic League.
In reality, Slavic peoples had had contacts with various tribes for many centuries, but no major lexical influence resulted from these contacts. That was about to change; Russia was just about to undergo a period of whirlwind Europeanization of the culture and of the language.
In the late 1400's and the 1500's, Russia turned its eyes to the West. Foreign tradesmen were invited into Russia; in 1493 diplomatic ties were opened with the great Italian state of Venice (Bond 1974, pp. 12-13), resulting in Italian painters and architects coming to Russia. Ivan IV (1533-1584) began relations with England; English merchants began arriving in an area around Archangelsk, which became the center of activity for them (Bond 1974, p. 13). An impressive number of Scottish mercenaries also came to Russia, including George Learmont, who, while serving in the Polish army in 1613, was captured by Russians and ended up staying in Russia. He is most known for being ancestor to the great 19th century poet Lermontov (Unbegaun 1972, pp. 356-357).
All this activity had an influence on the vocabulary of business and diplomacy, and on the social lexicon as well. Unbegaun (1969, p. 256), in explaining a citation for the word karty cards, describes how "playing cards were known in Muscovite Russia at the end of the 1500's."
The country with the most influence at this time was Poland, which had taken advantage of the political and civil turmoil of the Time of Troubles (1598-1613), to seize the lands of the Kiev (Ukraine).
With the Polish government and the Catholic Church in control in Kiev, Polish and Latin became a necessity in Ukraine. The literary and everyday languages were greatly influenced. The Orthodox clergy learned Polish in order to defend their religion, mastering the vocabulary of philosophical debate. Medieval Latin literature, philosophy, and learning became the topics of debate. As a result, Ukraine became Europeanized before Moscow did.
The influence of Latin shows itself in a whole series of terms in various fields: rhetoric - fabula plot, story; mathematics - numeratsiya numbering, tsyrkul' compass, vertikal'nyi vertical; geography - globus globe; astronomy - gradus degree, minuta minute; military - distansiya distance); administrative - familiya surname (a false friend), instruktsiya instructions, tseremoniya ceremony (Vinogradov 1969, p.20). For a detailed study of the Polish-Latin influences, see H. Leeming (1973).
The increasing strength of Latin, the language of the Catholic Church, caused Greek to lose importance as an influencing language. M. Leeming (1973, pp. 183-185), in examining Pamvo Berynda's Lexicon of 1627, notes the vast increase of words with Latin elements. Greek religious terms which had been borrowed earlier were being replaced by Latin ones; particularly surprising was the appearance of a Latin word for a most religious idea, sakrament (p. 183).
By the time Tsar Alexis (1645-1676) finally expelled the Poles, the Polish language had taken hold. Its Latin base actually paved the way for other West European languages.
The expulsion of the Poles was a sign that a new chapter in the life of Russia was beginning--whirlwind Europeanization.
Peter the Great--Whirlwind Europeanization
This new phase was actually started by those foreigers who had been invited in earlier, who were segregated in foreigner-only enclaves. Russians had contacts with these foreigners, seeing in their customs a different way of life. One of the Russians especially intrigued with these new people was Peter the Great (1682-1725), who as a boy spent a great deal of time playing in the German Quarter near Moscow.
Peter the Great is credited with instituting the greatest wave of westernization that Russia had ever seen. Peter's main goal was to transform Moscow into a military power that would know no opposition from anyone, including the West. To accomplish that, he had to rebuild his military strength, and for that he needed to bring in foreigners, above all Germans. In November 1700, the commander-in-chief of Peter's army was a German, von Krui (Bond 1974, p. 34). Peter the Great achieved his goal, even defeating the Swedes at Poltava. Bond (1974) and Gardner (1965) detail the massive linguistic influence of the Germans in military terminology, as well as the their contribution in other fields.
Peter reorganized the government along German lines, as can be seen in some new administrative words: administrator, aktuarius actuary, auditor, bukhgalter bookkeeper, gubernator.
German chemists were brought to Russia to assay and refine metals and as a result 1/2 of the terminology in this field are foreign words, mostly German and Latin (Zamkina 1966).
Foreigners from various countries--physicians, merchants, teachers, engineers, scholars--came to Russia, bringing with them new things, ideas, habits, all of which are reflected in the new lexical items attributed to this period, as described by Huettl-Worth (1956; 1963).
Foreigners held high positions in Peter's government. Two of Peter's top generals were Scotsmen: Patrick Gordon and James Bruce.
The French contribution shows in a few military words: abordazh boarding, bastion, garnizon garrison, redut redoubt, marsh march.
Russia had close relations with the Dutch during the time of Peter; he himself had travelled to Holland to study shipbuilding. The influence of the seafaring Dutch in building Peter's navy is hardly surprising: rejd raid, shkiper skipper, rul' rudder, shlyupka ship's boat, dok dock. The English also contributed in this area: bot boat, brig, fut foot, michman midshipman.
Peter was personally interested in many subjects, including architecture (Hughes 1983) and fireworks. He read that in China "they produce fireworks the likes of which...have never been seen in Europe" (Roehling 1983) and so he commissioned firework displays. In 1697 Peter took a course in artillery in Prussia (Bond 1974, p. 34).
At the same time as foreigners were being invited into Russia, Peter the Great was sending young Russians to Europe to study the skills necessary for rebuilding Russia.
Death of Peter the Great
With the death of Peter the Great in 1725, the German language began to lose its place of prominence, and French started to rise in influence. Already in the 1730's, French (and Italian) culture was making inroads: aktrisa actress, kontsert concert, likyor liqueur, massazh massage, protezhe protege, punsh punch drink, pyure puree, shofyor chauffeur.
The next two decades saw a negative reaction to foreign borrowings and a resulting slowdown in new loanwords. Sumarokov (1718-1777), poet, dramatist, critic of the time, expressed the sentiment best when he complained of the "Gallomania of fops who larded their speech with French...this macaronic jargon...."
Catherine the Great
Sumarokov's criticism was to little avail, however, because Catherine the Great's (1762-1796) time saw an increase in French culture in every element of court life: fashion, manners, taste. This period saw the largest number of French loanwords added to the language, despite a continued effort to fight gallicisms.
The new words were related not only to court life, but to the life of ideas. Catherine greatly admired "the philosophes," especially Voltaire, with whom she corresponded (Madariaga 1983). Catherine was considered "a German on the Russian throne who used French to express her admiration for things English" (Cross 1986, p. 62).
Her admiration for things English was expressed in her support of English literature, and her financing of translations of many works by English writers, including Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progess, Milton's Paradise Lost, Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield (Cross 1986, p. 65), Swift's Gulliver's Travels (p. 66). In the years 1741-1800 there were 245 such translations into Russian, 48 of them directly from the English originals. Most translations of English writings came indirectly, through either French or German translations (Cross 1986, pp. 69-70).
The 19th century saw the extension of the French influence. The French presence increased in certain sectors: refugees from the French Revolution, or former prisioners from Napoleon's army who stayed in Moscow (Unbegaun 1972, p. 357), French teachers (for the children of the nobility), ballet-masters, milliners, restauranteurs, wine-merchants, etc.
Not all influence was from cultural life. Discoveries in the natural sciences in Russia and in Western Europe created a large new vocabulary, most of them internationalisms: amfiteatr amphitheater, atmosfera atmosphere, formula, gorizont horizon, instrument, praktika practice, proportsiya proportion, temperatura temperature, and adjectives such as natural'nyi and regulyarnyi.
Social and political ideas created international terminology at a high rate, as well: formulirovat' to formulate), progress, rezul'tat result, solidarnyi united with), votirovat' to vote (Vinokur 1971, p. 133).
New suffixes derived from foreign sources began to appear: "-izm" asketizm asceticism, mistitsizm mysticism, obskurantizm obscurantism, and "-izatsiya" polyarizatsiya polarization, pauperizatsiya pauperization, etc. This led to words such as tsarizm (Vinokur 1971, p. 133), and eventually leninizm.
Another element in the word stock of the 19th century comes from the revolutionaries, beginning with the Decembrists of 1825, and Herzen, who emigrated to Paris and London in the 1840's to "prepare for the great upheaval" (Treadgold 1972, p.35). For their political, and economic ideas, the revolutionaries used many western words, particularly from French (Selishchev 1928); after all, it was in the West that they got their inspiration, especially from the French Revolution. The ideas of revolution were western ideas; Das Kapital was written in German and translated into Russian in 1872 (Filin 1981, p. 183).
In the 1900's the revolutionaries used these words only among themselves. With their victory in 1917, these words became a part of the everyday life of "the masses": demokratiya (democracy-17th c), demonstratsiya (demonstration-18th c), deputat (deputy-17th c), al'yans (alliance-18th c).
Newspapers were found to be a quick way to spread this new vocabulary to "the masses," so a large scale public literacy campaign was one of the first things that the Bol'sheviks institituted. Krysyn (1965, p. 121) records the expansion of foreign words in print: a 1913 newspaper "Rech'" had 8.85% foreign words; the 1923 Pravda already had 11.31%.
Krysyn (1965, p. 20) cites a list of widely-used foreign words, from books in 1919, 1920, 1928: demonstratsiya, manifestatsiya, revolyutsiya, revolyutsioner, kontr-revolyutsioner, agitatsiya, miting meeting, mandat, rezolyutsiya, deputat, delegat, respublik, avtonomiya, federatsiya, anneksiya, kontributsiya, natsionalizm, internatsionalizm, kommuna, kapitalizm, sotsializm, komitet, eksploatatsiya, demokratiya, komissar, organisatsiya, dezerter, boikot, sabotazh, order, kupon, kategoriya, etc. The French borrowings for revolutionary ideas became part of the life of the country.
After 1917 another language began to shows its influence--English. It became the single largest source of borrowings in the 20th century (Comrie & Stone 1978, p. 155), though identifying a specific source is difficult, because of internationalisms. The tables in part three show the English loanwords from various decades, the influence of popular culture, technology, business, and sports.
Borrowings from other languages, as well, came into Russian, words such as robot, based on the verb to work, a neologism from the Czech playwright, Karel Capek.
Certain words relating to the time of the tsars were dropped after 1917, but some were restored during WWII: leitenant, maior (Comrie & Stone 1978, p. 143). Even though certain words were revived during the war itself, there were only a few loanwords from this period 1938-1945: blitzkrig blitzkrieg, and a word still used today--ace--, originally referring to German pilots, it has now come to mean any top performer (Comrie & Stone 1978, p. 144).
Not all Russian vocabulary is part of the official stock of the language, cited in standard dictionaries. The appearance in English of the word GULAG (an acronym for Main Administration of Corrective-Labor Camps), introduces the concept that words sometimes have different meanings within subcultures. Imagine the surprise of finding that among Soviet camp prisoners an amerikanka is a vodka stand (Galler & Marquess 1972, p. 65).
The number of new words entering Russian in the twentieth century, from the sources mentioned above and many others, is quite remarkable--25% of the full stock of words. (Norbury 1967, p. 70). Woodhouse (1972, p. 228) found that in the twenty years that it took to compile the Large Soviet Academy Dictionary of Russian, from 11,000 to 19,000 neologisms had entered the language, not counting periodicals (p. 230). Surprisingly, the "other languages of the Soviet Union have had little influence on Russian" (Rothstein 1985, p. 464).
The 1989 collapse of communism opened the way for another wave of language contact. Here in the 1990's, the level of borrowing has become quite dramatic; it is almost breathtaking how many American business and trade concepts are now crossing the Atlantic in lexical forms that are direct copies of the American English words.
It will be interesting to find out the scope of this new influence, especially when linguists start doing their studies of what is happening in Russia. Academics in the West are already starting to pay attention. Khazanova (1992) spoofed the amount of English in Russian today in her presentation entitled "Russkii lengvich," noting that it was "difficult to read Russian without knowing English."
The popular American press is paying attention as well. Gallagher (1993) remarks on "all the odd-sounding English names affixed to streetside kiosks all over town." A 1985 search of Soviet dictionaries found the translation for the word software as matematicheskoe obespechenie (Rothstein, p. 461). No more. Schmemann (1992) affirms the ubiquity of American English computer terms, such as floppi.
And we know there's something in the air when among the most popular recent translations of foreign books is Alex Comfort's The Joy of Sex (Lovers of the Russian Book).
How easy it is to agree with Sapir's (1921, p. 193) statement that "the careful study of...loan-words constitutes an interesting commentary on the history of culture."