Ukraine's Agile Mercedes

Ukraine's Agile Mercedes

Fifteen years of freedom have transformed the language of Ukraine just as they have changed the nation.

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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.”

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