Russian Borrowings

English and Russian are cognate Indo-European languages. But the history of actual contacts and inter-influences between Slavonic and Germanic began long before English and Russian had emerged as languages. On the one hand, it seems likely that contacts between Goths and Slavs near the Black Sea caused the Goths to adopt the Slavonic words. Russian and are represented in the words plat (a piece of cloth) and plinsjan (to dance); while the Slavonic words for bread and milk represented by the Russian and , seemed to have been adopted from Germanic types seen in the Gothic hlaifs and in the modern English milk.

It is not, however, till late in the XIV-th century that we find any notable direct reference to Russia in English literature, namely Chaucers mention of that country as one in which his ideal Knight had fought with distinction: and it is, perhaps, significant that, English and French sable appears from the Russian co. During the period of Tartar oppression no Russian words appear in English and only in the second half of the XVI th century when political and trade relations between England and Russia began to develop Russian words are found in the English vocabulary. The correspondence between Ivan the Terrible and Queen Elizabeth, the activities of the so-called Moscow firm in 1554, books of travellers describing Russia brought about adoptions, representing various semantic spheres: geographical names (steppe, taiga, tundra), names of animals and fish (mammoth, suslik, borzoi, beluga, sterlet), objects connected with the mode of life, as vehicles (troika, kibitka, tarantass, droshki), measure (pood, sagene, verst, arshin), money (rouble, copeck), national musical instruments (balalaika), beverages (vodka, koumiss, kvass), historisms, reflecting the political and everyday life of Russia (czar, tsarina, tsarevitch, boyars, maujik, cossak, pogrom, zemstvo, ukaz, knout, uyezd, volost, duma).

The period of major influential contacts between English and Russian:

1. That of Ivan the Terrible. This includes the varied Anglophil activities of Ivan himself, of Boris Godunov and of the false Dmitri. Although the aims of these men were connected with commerce, politics and war rather than any liking for the English for their own sake, their reigns mark a first inter-influence of the two languages.

2. The reign of Peter the First (with his Scottish and English technical helpers) and the following XVIII century.

3. The golden age of Russian literature indicated by the name of Pushkin.

4. A period of marked inter-influence of both languages after the Great October Socialist Revolution which showed its fullest characteristics in the years immediately following it, and still continues.

In England the translation of works of Russian literature scarcely began before the XIX-th century, though one of the most fruitful and at the same time most baffling of linguistic contacts is the art of translation and the related matters of literary inter-influence.

In the XIX th century, with the growth of peoples democratic liberation movement Russian words of different semantic spheres penetrate into the English vocabulary: narodnic, nihilist, Decembrist, intelligentsia. Scientific and cultural spheres are presented by: Periodic law, chernozem, peredvizhnaya exhibition.

A considerable number of political words came into use to express the rising revolutionary democracy which has become the USSR.

The term Soviet describes a new ideal and way of life and stands in a class by itself among political words and has become a common European word.

The beginnings of Anglo-Russian lexicography took shape in England long before there was a Russian dictionary proper. Acollection of manuscript material for a Russian-English dictionary was made by Richard Janes in 1619 after his visit to Russia.

In handling Slavonic languages English deals with 3 types of alphabet and their later modifications: the Cyrillic, the Glagolitic and the Latin; of these not even the revised Russian of the USSR can be rendered in Latin characters as familiar in English usage: ( - zautrana).

Russian borrowings after the Great October Socialist Revolution reflect the epoch-making changes in Russia. Most of such loan-words are international in character; new social-economic relations as well as new political, cultural and moral concepts, new ideas are denoted by Russian words with precision.

From the point of view of their form Sovietisms are presented by phonetic borrowings (Soviet, Bolshevik, the Pravda, sputnick, pyatiletka, Komsomol, artel, sovkhos, kolkhoz, etc.), by translation loans (labour day, social work, collective farm, self-criticism, Peoples court of Justice), explanatory translations (poor peasant, Young Communist League).

Semantic loans, i. e. words which have developed their meaning under the influence of Russian, are presented by: to liquidate (abolish), brigadier, cadres, pioneer, criticism, partisan.

The so-called hybrid borrowings, i.e.formed from Russian and English are not numerous: Soviet Union, Soviet power, Stakhanovite movement. The new epoch of borrowing from Russian began in the 90s of the XX th century and still continues: perestroika, uskoreniye, hozraschet, etc.


  1. Assimilation of borrowings.
  2. Identify the period of borrowing of the French, Greek, Russian and German words given in task 6.

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