Russian lawmakers are developing new measures to combat the spread of internet-slang into daily life. As the Novye Izvestiya newspaper reports, the project is still in its early stages, although ambitions run high.
The hubbub over net-speak—purposeful misspellings and emoticons combining into what Russians call “Olbanian” (a made-up language in itself a misspelling of Albanian)–comes as Russia’s lower house, the State Duma, is preparing draft legislation to regulate all aspects of the Internet. One part of the law intends to control the language used by Russians to communicate online, according to Yelena Zelinskaya, the deputy-chairwoman of the Public Chamber Commission on Preserving Cultural Heritage.
“There is very much good on the Internet, this is practically common sense,” she said. “But there are things that have a destructive effect on the younger generation. A child can’t distinguish between what is grammatically correct and incorrect. What do we do? Tear off the hands of those who use slang? Or rip out tongues? Of course not. The problem can only be solved with education. For instance, we are proposing a whole series of efforts to raise literacy. First of all, we need to forbid anonymity on the Net: reduce the amount of sites where people act using nicknames [usernames] instead of their real names. And when users will stop hiding behind masks, their treatment of the written word will improve, because everyone knows that making mistakes is improper.”
Lawmakers have proposed various methods of battling slang in the past. Actor Nikolai Gubenko, the last Minister of Culture of the USSR and now a Moscow City representative, suggested in 2005 that people who “unreasonably use jargon and slang expressions” on the Internet be treated as hooligans. Gubenko urged that violators be fined from 500-1000 rubles, or arrested for 15 days. In the end, the former minister’s colleagues decided to respectfully disagree, and block the proposal.
Independent experts, meanwhile, downplayed the effect of web slang on the Russian language, and argued that common grammar mistakes were much more pernicious.
“First of all, this only encompasses a very small audience,” said Marina Koroleva, author of “Let’s Speak Russian,” and the host of a radio show of the same name. “Secondly, this is a language game, where the players are more likely adults than teenagers. If a child sees the word “krasavcheg” [a misspelling of “beaut” or “handsome one”] by accident, of course this will present some sort of threat to his literacy, but not a a comprehensive one. A much greater danger is the complete misuse of grammar in the Internet, which no one controls.”
Koroleva adds that there is no way to have leverage over Internet-users. “And this is frightening, because poor grammar enters the subconscious,” she said. “Even, excuse me, I come into situations, where I start to doubt spelling simply because I spend too much time in blogs.”
According to the Russian Ministry of Education, youngsters are more and more frequently using misspelled “Olbanian” web-speak in their essays.
Emoticon smilies and acronyms like LOL are cropping up next to humorous misspellings of common words popularized online, like “hello,” (preved) “something,” (chenit) and “somehow” (kaknit).
Net-speak has also become embedded into the language of business. The General Director of one oil company even made the order to fine employees for using “Olbanian,” after he noticed its use in an outgoing business letter.
In 2007, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev had a different take on the web language. The web-savvy Medvedev, who now runs both a text and video-blog, was a First Deputy Prime Minister at the time. During a conference on the Internet, Medvedev commented that controlling the use of Olbanian in the country was impossible but said that it needed to be considered closely. “You may like it, you may not like it,” Medvedev said, “someone could say that it’s a change in the norms and rules of the Russian language. But this is a current language environment, which, by the way, is nonetheless based on the Russian language.”