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Linguistic frontline: the battle for the Russian language in the age of internet


Today marks 177 years since Alexander Pushkin’s death. On the remembrance day of the man who created modern literary Russian language, philologists will most likely raise the question about the state of the modern language.


It needs to be fought for – many those who value traditional language say. Alexander Odintsov has met some of those fighters on the linguistic frontline. 

This anti-illiteracy fighter from the squad with a rather radical name – “grammar nazi” – embarked on this path more than 3 years ago. His frontline is the worldwide web. His enemy – is every person who makes language mistakes in public.

Not always politely, but always correctly – in terms of literary Russian language – he will peg down an illiterate person online. His main weapons are links to websites with Russian grammar. 

Ruslan Vasiliev, head of internet community: “When a man is incapable to admit one’s mistake and keeps insisting in a dispute, having no arguments whatsoever, then it’s a different kind of dispute – trolling.

Such fighters as Ruslan are in a huge minority now – unlike those at the other side of the barricades. Linguists confirm – the state of current Russian language is far from best. Many, according to the internet, are trying to improve their language – both verbal and written – not by exquisite language means, but through intentionally highlighted mistakes.

He closely follows all language trends and knows that “olbanskie krosavchegi” have long been replaced by “kavaynie nyashi”. These phenomena are just a language transformation trend, which has always existed. And, broadly speaking, it has never affected the quality of literary Russian.
The former, according to philologist Vladimir Konkov, hasn’t changed in a few centuries. The skill of correct handling of the language, among many other things, is being developed in early years.

Dr. Vladimir Konkov, philologist: “Illiteracy appeared when schools diminished hours for the Russian language and literature classes. This is the real state of our society. It’s not in our trend to be literate; it’s not a shame to make a mistake”

“Our beautiful language, with the help of poor and uneducated writers, is freefalling. Words are corrupted. Grammar is fluctuating” – this is how Pushkin described the language of his epoch. Nowadays, linguists are facing corrupted words and fluctuated grammar more often. In their practice, words of Pushkin and Gogol are often not understood from the 1st attempt.

Olga Muravyeva, head reasercher of Pushkin studies department IRLI RAS: “People who graduated from St. Petersburg’s schools, went to universities – they simply don’t know the meaning of words. One boy, I recall, a very hard-working good boy said” “You know, I read Gogol’s books like an English text. I write down words I don’t know, then look them up in a dictionary and read again”.

These are not your average hotline personnel – these are qualified linguists. Those who know how to write properly, where to put a coma and a correct stress. The Russian language service has been on duty for more than 10 years. Their shift is daily, although they get few calls – around 10 a day. And using it mostly are those who usually make no serious mistakes in their speech or writing. 

Alexander Odintsov, reporter: “The fight for “clean” Russian language has been long-going on very different levels. There have even been suggestions at the highest level to fine for illiteracy”

Local officials are yet abstaining from radical measures. They started placing leaflets like this in the subway and at public transport stops – alongside regular ads. While waiting for your bus or station, having read it a few times, you’d likely remember how to say or write correctly”