Ukraine's Agile Mercedes
Fifteen years of freedom have transformed the language of Ukraine just as they have changed the nation.
The source: “A Note on Lexical Changes in the Contemporary Ukrainian Language Since Independence (1991–2005)” by Valerii Polkovsky, in Slavic and East European Journal, Fall 2006.
Fifteen years of freedom have transformed the language of Ukraine just as they have changed the nation. Ukrainian has become more modern, colloquial, and functional, even as Soviet phraseology has been tweaked to reflect a uniquely Ukrainian perspective on contemporary life. The slogan “Forward to the victory of communism” has morphed into the jocular “Forward to the victory of ‘corruptionism.’” The line from the Soviet army song “The armor is strong and our tanks are agile” has been transformed into the ironic “The armor is strong and their Mercedes are agile.” Rural expressions have acquired urban meanings, for example, “Thousands of them got cozy at the budget udder.” And the language of production has become fodder for sarcasm: “Workers on the hard currency front” now refers to black-market moneychangers.
Almost extinct are the “palaces of pioneers” and the “stations of junior technologists and modelers,” writes Valerii Polkovsky of the University of Alberta. Instead, newspapers and journals describe discotheques and offices. Restaurants, Panasonics, and IBMs loom large as restoranty, panasoniky, and aibiemy. Favorite new words are implementatsiia (implementation), elektoral’nyi (electoral), and hrant (grant), whose use must be watched to prevent hrantove uzalezhnennia, or grant dependence. Many Ukrainians continue to speak Russian, but the Ukrainian language is on the rebound after becoming “lifeless” toward the end of the Soviet period. Polish, Czech, and Bulgarian are undergoing a similar renaissance.
Certain borrowed words have suffered in the Ukrainian language transition, Polkovsky says, such as the particularly unfortunate “management,” which is rendered incorrectly as mezhmenet or menezhement. Nonetheless, lexicographers have been busy translating unfamiliar concepts such as “real estate specialists” into Ukrainian. And some straight American imports have proven too good to pass up, such as “offshore,” which is used with banky, zony, kompanii, and firmy, and—to describe the previously indescribable—the term “political correctness.”