Zoominar and Sanitizer: SUSU Philologists Speak about the Effect of Coronavirus on the Russian Language

In 2020 the concepts of “covid” and “self-isolation” no longer raise questions. The reality has changed under the influence of the coronavirus, and the Russian language is undergoing changes as well. New words and expressions appear in the vocabulary describing modern situation and giving it an assessment. The philologists of South Ural State University speak about the way those have appeared and whether they will remain in the language.

The coronavirus pandemic is a global event, and therefore it will leave an imprint on the Russian language. The philologists of South Ural State University share this point of view. They note that many words related to Covid-19 have existed in the language before, but in the current situation they have become very popular. For example, people have known about the virus, pandemic, self-isolation, quarantine, masks and sanitizers before the new type of coronavirus. Even the word "coronavirus" itself was recorded by the National Corps of the Russian Language already back in the late 1990s. But at that time the term was used in scientific and popular science texts.

On the other hand, new words describing the reality are appearing in the Russian language now. They are built on living word-building models or are borrowed from the English language. Denis Pelikhov, Candidate of Sciences (Philology), Associate Professor of the Department of the Russian Language and Literature at the SUSU Institute of Media, Social Sciences and Humanities, gives examples of such words as “covid”, “covidiot” (a person who does not believe in the existence of coronavirus), or “zoominar” (webinar conducted with the use of Zoom application) and others.

“I must say that in some part of these words their playful, occasional character is felt, which is manifested in a pun-word formation. So, for example, the Russian word “ковидиот” (“covidiot”) is formed the combination of the words “ковид” and “идиот” (“covid” and “idiot”). In linguistics, this phenomenon is called fusion. And the Russian word “корова-вирус” (“cow-virus”) appeared due to a paronymic attraction, that is, the convergence of similarly sounding words: “корона” and “корова” (“crown” and “cow”). All these words are recorded in the “Dictionary of Changes”, and some of them are likely to be included in the paper version of this dictionary. I’ll venture to suggest that the words “coronavirus” and “covid” will be on the list of the words to become the words of the year. However, time will tell what the fate of these words will be,” commented Denis Pelikhov.

The Head of the Department of the Russian Language and Literature at the SUSU Institute of Media, Social Sciences and Humanities, Doctor of Sciences (Philology) Elena Kharchenko believes that many of the “covid” words and expressions will remain in the references and dictionaries of specialists, as well as in the scientific works of linguists. These words will leave everyday language as soon as the pandemic situation is over.

“The language reacts to all events very quickly, but gets rid of odd things quickly as well. Whether the new words will become permanent depends not on the language, but on extra-linguistic factors. As soon as a substitute event appears, even a less big-scale one than the coronavirus pandemic, the focus of attention and the process of creating words will shift to another sphere,” says Elena Kharchenko.

In the meantime, philologists continue to monitor the situation, because the popularity of the Covid-19 topic is not declining. This is proved by the statistics of the search queries of the native Russian speakers. If you type in the letter “c” into the Google search, then “coronavirus” will be the first most popular query that appears in the prompts.

Daria Tsymbaliuk, photo: pexels.com
Contact person: 
Daria Tsymbaliuk, 272-30-11
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