Pop goes the commissar
Not long ago the Times of London ran a dispatch from Moscow, detailing the hybrid Russian-English, or Russlish, spoken by the fashionable young people of that city.
Quite carried away by his little game, the correspondent imagined the vikend (weekend) of a Russlish young woman, more or less as follows. Though not a sportsmanka (athlete) herself, she attended a soccer match and booed the referi when he gave a penalti to the wrong side. But the home team scored a couple of goals just before the finish to become league champion. Three cheers!
The Russlish young woman celebrated by dressing in her new pulover and shoozi and dancing to rokmusik in a naitklub. Despite her fall into Russlish she was well brought up by her dear mazer and fazer, and she refused to flirtavat with the disk-dzoki playing the records. In fact, she went home early to watch a little TV. Then she walked her poodl and climbed in bed before 11:15 so she would be at her brightest on the job the next day - programing a komputer.
The Russlish vogue has spread to the point that the periodical of the Communist Youth League, Komsomolskaya Pravda, feels forced to inveigh against it. ''What is wrong with the perfectly good Russian words for label, button, watch, and bag?'' the journal asked, taking sorrowful note of leibl, batton, voch, and beg.
Such corruptions, it was concluded, would lead to the ''loss of the feeling for the beauty and richness, originality, and harmony of the Russian language and a total impoverishment of speech.'' Furthermore, the hybrid words ''are not only contrary to the character of the Russian language, but are evidence of an ignorance of and disrespect for the national spirit of Russia.''
Well, it had to come to that - politics.
But after we have had our little laugh at Russlish and the hapless Russlish-fighter, it must be acknowledged that with language pollution, as with other forms of pollution, we are all fellow passengers in Spaceship Earth. We may not be afflicted by Russlish, but in one way or another we all seem to speak (and think) the language of this or that subculture, availing ourselves of less than the complete Mother Tongue.
One does not have to go outside one's own dictionary to develop one's hybrid. Madison Avenuese, telly-English, the occult jargons of the professions, the rhetoric of -isms, the code of computerspeak - all these narrowed intentions on the English language keep our minds and hearts in strange little suburbs too, almost as artificial as Russlish.
We may scoff at the commissar of Pravda linguistics, mourning what he has lost by witnessing the world of Pushkin and Dostoevsky and Tolstoy shrunk to the province of Russlish. But, like man, here we stand by our own Tower of Babel, with our own world finalized, language-wise, into a lot less than Shakespeare's realm.
By comparison with what has been said in the languages of the earth, from Homer to Dante to the King James Bible, we are all a bit tongue-tied at best - Calibans yearning to be Ariels.
''So what?'' we are apt to ask a little too defiantly. We can get by on the slogans on bumper stickers, the folklore on T-shirts. Inflections, exclamation points, and grunts will do to express anger, enthusiasm, and longing - see your nearest rock lyrics. And what else is language for anyway? - until the pictures finally take over.
But we know better. And furthermore, we know that we invent Russlish and all the other dialects to say more, even though we end up saying less.
What would we become - what would our world become - if we could say more? If we could pronounce the names of the things we love? If we could declare the sort of human beings we want to be? Like Pushkin. Like Shakespeare.
In Russlish and all the other dialects, who can manage an answer? We can barely ask the questions. But, in between the stammerings, that is what we do ask.