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The Borrowing of Foreign Words

Russian language has been influenced by different foreign languages over the centuries. Greek, Dutch, French, German words were introduced to our language and leaving little to remain from Russia. Moreover, many of those words have become so close to us that it is impossible to imagine modern speech without them.

How many native Russian speakers know that when speaking the word “кровать” (bed) or “огурец” (cucumber), they using Greek language? The word “ярмарка” (fair) seems to be totally Russian, when in fact it is related to middle-upper German jarmaket, an annual market.

The history of the word “зонт” (umbrella) is quite interesting. It came from the Dutch word zondek (a protection from the sun), from which the word “зонтик” (umbrella) is derived. This word was immediately perceived as a diminutive (like for example “дом” (house) – “домик” (little house), “кот” (cat) – “котик” (little catgt;) etc.) and thus led to the emergence of a full version of “зонт”.

These are positive examples. But what to think about the endless stream of useless foreign words that have appeared, replacing some already existing native ones: “Эксклюзивный” – “исключительный” (exclusive), “дайджест” – “обзор” (digest), “шопинг” – “покупки” (shopping), “паркинг” – “стоянка” (parking), “спонсор” – “благотворитель” (sponsor), “скинхед” – “бритоголовый” (skinhead), etc.

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Why don’t we use real Russian words in these cases? In the recent past, a Swedish word “омбудсмен” (the representative of one’s interest) even appeared in our language. This word “омбудсмен” (the representative of one’s interests) sounds pretty awkward to a Russian ear and difficult too. Why can’t we say “защитник интересов” (defender of the interests) or “правозащитник” (human rights advocate)?

Елена Коновалова