I’m continuing the translation I began in a recent entry of Kornei Chukovsky’s comments on changes in Russian and generational reaction to them.
If the youth of those days [the 1840s] happened to use in conversation words unknown to earlier generations such as fakt [fact], rezul’tat [result], erunda [nonsense], solidarnost’ [solidarity; joint responsibility], the representatives of those earlier generations declared that Russian speech suffered no small loss from such an influx of highly vulgar words.
“Where did this fakt come from?” asked the indignant Faddei Bulgarin in 1847. “What sort of word is that? A corruption.”
Yakov Grot at the end of the 60s declared the newly appeared word vdokhnovlyat’ [to inspire] “disgraceful.”
Even such a word as nauchnyi [scientific] had to overcome considerable opposition from old-fashioned purists before it entered our speech as of right. Let us recall how struck Gogol was by the word in 1851. Until then he had never heard of it.
Old men demanded that the word uchenyi [learned] be used instead: a learned book, a learned treatise. The word “scientific” seemed to them inadmissably vulgar…
Of course, the old men were wrong. [All these words] are now felt, by young and old alike, as perfectly regular, rooted words that no one could do without!
…I have been put into a quandary by new forms such as [end-stressed] vyborá (in place of vybory ‘elections’ [stressed on the first syllable]), dogovorá (in place of dogovóry ‘agreements; treaties’), lektorá (in place of léktory ‘lecturers’). I heard in them something devil-may-care, reckless, wild, rakish. In vain I told myself that the Russian literary language had long since legitimized such forms.
“Two hundred years ago,” I told myself, “Lomonosov was already saying that Russians prefer the ending –a to the ‘boring’ –i.”
(He gives examples of words that changed endings in succeeding generations, for instance tom ‘volume’:)
If Chekhov, for example, had heard the word tomá, he would have thought the French composer Ambroise Thomas was being discussed…
Each time, I came to the conclusion that it was useless to protest against these forms. I could get as agitated as I liked, but it was impossible not to see that here was a centuries-long, unstoppable process of the replacement of final unstressed –i by the strongly stressed ending –á.
…[In language] everything moves, everything flows, everything changes. And only the most naive purists maintain that language is something immovable, eternally congealed—not a turbulent stream, but a stagnant lake.
This seems to me an exemplary attitude towards language change on the part of someone sensitive to the nuances of usage and attached to the forms he grew up with, but aware of the necessity and inevitability of change. A man after my own heart.