Innovations and Reproductions in Cultures and Societies
(IRICS) Vienna, 9 - 11 december 2005

<< Interkulturelle und soziolingustische Aspekte der Subsprachen | Cross-Cultural and Socio-Linguistic Aspects of Sub Languages

The sublanguage of Russian speaking users of the English language (Ruglish)

Natalia V. Ivleva (Moskau)



In our rapidly globalising world we have recently witnessed two interrelated processes. On one hand, communication between individuals has overcome national and cultural borders. It is no longer confined to monolingual communities, but involves people from various national and cultural backgrounds, many of whom have scarse experiences of other cultures and languages. This results in inevitable forming a means of communication known as a sublanguage.

On the other hand, due to the global changes in lifestyles and the informational breakthrough of the recent decades, the world has become a compex unity of subcultures, each of which unites people on basis of common interests, age, occupation, social status or sex. Thus, we can say that nowadays communication is carried out between people sharing features other than national homogeneity and, consequentlty, having limited language resources or in some cases no common language at all. The situation is especially characteristic of the former Socialist countries of Eastern Eurpope and the Soviet Union where people used to be deprived of any opportunities of cross-cultural contacts for decades and where the latter have increased dramatically since the fall of the "iron curtain".

For the last decade the informational and communicational areas of the Internet have been used by these new subculters. Each of them is actively developing its own sublanguage, the process being the most remarkable when two or more national cultures come into contact. The English language, therefore, simplified and greatly influenced by the native languages of the participants of communication, becomes a base for a new sublabnguage. One of these sublanguages has recently originated at the boundary between Russian and English speaking cultures. It is known as Ruglish.

The Internet is not the only one information space where Ruglish is used. In fact, it also occures in more traditional forms, such as personal contacts, telephone conversation, hand-written letters etc. Anyway, whatever form the communication takes, it need this sublanguage.

The word Ruglish is a blend of two words - Russian and English and is one of the group of similar neologisms (compare Spanglish etc.). It is only natural to suppose that the word is used to refer to a specific language used by speakers whose native language is Russian but who also use English as a second or foreign language. The fact is, however, that Ruglish is used in at least three different meanings.

The word itself originated about 10 years ago and simply meant using Latin letters to transliterate Russian words. The practice was common among first mobile phone users or people who for various reasons had no access to Cyricil keyboards. Alongside with transliteration, messages in Ruglish used some English words, and very soon the word "Ruglish" began to mean this weird mixture of the Russian and English languagess.

On the other hand, similar process went on in Russian-speaking communities in English-speaking countries (mainly in the USA). Having found themselves in the English language environment, Russian speakes developed a tendency to intersperse their Russian speech with English words and phrases or even to substitute English words for some common Russian ones. The strange mixture of languages, or a sublanguage, originated and was called Ruglish.

Then, in the 90s and the first years of the 21st century in Russia itself a new sublanguage based on intensive use of English words and phases in Russian every-day speech appeared. It is now often referred to as Ruglish. Sometimes another "term" is used - "Ruslish". One of the Internet users explains the difference: "Those who know more than 30 English words speak Ruglish, others speak Ruslish". Humorous as it is, this explanation draws a line between Ruglish and Ruslish. Ruglish is used by more knowledgable and educated individuals, while Ruslish is the Russian language "contaminated" with simplest and most frequently used English words.

The two "Ruglishes" (one of the Russian speaking communities abroad and the other of our domectic users) are on focus of this talk. We suggest distinguishing them by naming the former "oversees" Ruglish and the latter Russian Ruglish. First of all, we need to examine extra-linguistic factors influencing both sublanguages and determining their lexical and structural differences.

Ruglish of Russian speaking communities in English speaking countries was and still remains a necessaty, an invetible consequence of immigration to the foreign language environment. It affects all social and age groups inside communities but is mostly characteristic of middle-aged speakers. People between 35 and 55, who were born in Russia or former Soviet republics and came to live in English speaking countries at an adult age, preserve Russian as their native language and the language they use at home, while English becomes the language of their "outer" communication. This "outer" communication is rather wide and intensive as they are actively involved in social and professional lives. As far as older and younger generations are concerned, we find quite a different situation. Elder people tend to take less part in various social activities (or their activities are confined to the Russian speaking community they belong to). Their language, therefore, is hardly affected by English. Young people, teenagers and children, on the contrary, become so involved in the English language environment that they find it easier to communicate in English than in Russian or Ruglish.

However, there are some common tendencies shared by all Russian speakers in the English environment and, thus, characteristic of Ruglish.

In terms of lexis, it is fair to expect wide use of English words that have no equivalents in Russian. These words either denote realities peculiar to English speaking countries and absent in Russia or seem more appropriate and precise than Russian words. The first group includes words like mortgage, baby shower or baby announcement, carpool, volunteer, community etc. The second group consists of words such as appointment, dentist, healthy eating, fat-reduced, engagement or engagement ring, insurance, hospital etc.

There is however a strong tendency (semeengly strange) to use English names for many every-day objects, foods or items of clothing. Examples are numerous (grapes, strawberries, whole milk, T-shirt, bookstore, microwave). The explanation for this phenomenon is probably that these every-day words or word combinations are the first to be learned and to be used in communication with English speakers. Having sometimes very limited language resources, Russian speakers use these words to get across to English speakers what the need or want. The names of these simple things then penetrate into their Russian and replace analogous Russian ones. That is when and how Ruglish appears. Several dozens of English names for most frequently used objects are soon added by names of new realities unknown at home. And finally Russian speakers begin to feel that there are some things or activities that are easier to name in English than in their own language. For instance, a Russian immigrant in the USA would say "I have an appointment with my doctor" in Russian, but the word "appointment", which is really difficult to find a good equivalent for, is English. (У меня appointment с врач o м).

Extensive use of English lexis leads to syntectic structures typical of the English language replacing Russian ones. Ruglish is abundant in syntactic calques, especially of phrases with the first component - the verbs "have" or "take". "Take your time", "have fun", "take an exit", "take decisions" etc. are loantranslated into Russian, the second components (words like fun of exit) may not be translated at all.

There is another peculiarity of the so called "oversees" Ruglish. It uses words that have recently been borrowed by the Russian English. But unlike Russian, where these words have undergone some kind of assimilation, in Ruglish they still preserve all their phonetic or grammatical features. These words are, for example, credit card, marketing, fitness, supermarket, exclusive etc.

So, "oversees" Ruglish is a sublanguage characterised by frequent use of English words in Russian speech, words both existing in the Russian language and absent in it, and a large role of syntactic calques. This form of Ruglish is spoken by people from different social and age groups, though intensity of its usage depends on the extent of integration into the new environment.

Russian "Ruglish" bears its own distinctive features. First of all, it needs to be said that it is a socially marked sublanguage spoken by educated young people with western-oriented self-identification. They are mainly city-dwellers (from large cities), active Internet users and travellers, involved in cross-cultural exchanges of various nature. This characteristic of the social group suggests rather high social and educational status and, of course, substantial knowledge of English. In the country with acute social problems and in search of it own cultural indentity English is a "status symbol" used to diffirintiate people from certain backgrounds.

As the sublanguage serves to distinquish and identify, it uses means different from those of the sublanguage which serves to assimilate and adjust. "Russian" Ruglish is thus peculiar and not similar to "oversees" Ruglish.

We cannot find in it English words denoting every-day objects or realities of English speaking countries. On the contraty, it uses English words instead of Russian ones when it comes to abstact notions, human relations, feelings, esteems. These words often have very positive connotations (for example, respect, inspiration, fun, thrill, gorgeous, superb, glamorous etc.). The fact itself is worth mentioning, especially if we keep in mind that for negatively connoted notions they use Russian slang or obscene words.

Russian Ruglish hardly ever uses syntactic calcues and genarally preserves characteristic traits of the Russian syntax. On the other hand, however, it tends to use English interjections or words that serve to expess agreement and disagreement which are sometimes translated into Russian but sometimes are used in their original form. One of the examples is the word "absolutely" used instead of "of course" as a sign that the speaker aggrees with what their interlocuter said.

To sum up, we should say that at the boundary between Russian and English two sublanguages have originated over the past years. Both known as Ruglish, they are, however, different as they are used by people living in different social and cultural environments. Nevertheless, Ruglish is a representative of a whole group of sublanguages appearing as a result of interaction of the English language with other languages of the world. We may expect the global role of English to increase in the future and therefore the number and spread of such sublanguages to grow in the coming years.

Innovationen und Reproduktionen in Kulturen und Gesellschaften (IRICS) Wien, 9. bis 11. Dezember 2005

WEBDESIGN: Peter R. Horn 2005-10-21