The Bolshoi Theatre
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Russian Toponyms

В перестроечные годы в один день слово “Таллин” стало на одну букву длиннее – “Таллинн”. (During the years of the Perestroika, the word “Tallin” gained one letter “Tallinn”). Это был первый шаг к независимости Эстонии. (It was the first step towards the independence of Estonia).

But these changes were still an unusual thing, and people didn’t understand immediately what to think of it. Almost at the same time, and again in opposition to the Russian language, a change appeared with the word “Ukraine” (which is etymologically related to the word “border”), hence has always been used with the preposition “НА” or “С” (“on”) and which suddenly was preceded by the preposition “В”, “ИЗ” (“in”) .

Further changes occurred rapidly: Moldavia became Moldova, Belarussia changed to Belarus, Almaty took the place of Alma-Ata, Kyrgyzstan replaced Kirgyz.

The desire to rename a country, a city or any places is quite understandable. Это желание начать историю как с “чистого листа”, избавиться от отрицательных коннотаций. (It is the desire to begin a new story on a “blank page” and to get rid of all negative connotations).

Over the past 100 years, St. Petersburg changed its name three time. Strictly speaking, the process never worked that well as, for many people, even during the Soviet era, the city remained St. Petersburg, or rather Peter as we call it. In the same way, that abroad, people didn’t used the term USSR, preferring the word “Russia”. Relation between things and words can sometimes be stronger than those who thought it a good thing to change their name.

In the early 1990s, a well-known historian Alexander Panchenko led the toponym Commission in St. Petersburg. And he didn’t want to rename several new rebuilt streets (Instructors street, street Enthusiasts, etc.), explaining that each street should be called by the name it was first given. Панченко не переименовал ни одной улицы, он лишь возвращал старые названия (Panchenko didn’t renamed any street, he gave them back their ancient names).

A conscientious attitude to the language assumes conservatism. Historical cataclysms should not conduct to cataclysms of the language. Resistance of the language’s changes is justified.

(from Novoy Gazety)

Елена Коновалова