SUFFIXES WORKING OVERTIME.

It’s time for another extract from The Russian Language in the Twentieth Century, by Comrie et al. (see here and here). These paragraphs are from the Word Formation section of the Morphology chapter:

From the beginning of the century onwards the suffix -ка has been extremely productive, forming nouns from both verbs and adjectives, e.g. маёвка ‘pre-Revolutionary illegal May Day celebration’, майка ‘sleeveless shirt’, буденовка ‘Red Army helmet’, семилетка ‘seven-year school’, пятилетка ‘five-year plan’, обезличка ‘lack of personal responsibility’, уравниловка ‘wage-levelling’, неувязка ‘lack of coordination’, скрепка ‘paper clip’, авоська ‘mesh shopping bag’ (from авось ‘perhaps’), похоронка ‘notification of death in the battlefield’ (in the Second World War), and the more recent кофеварка ‘coffee-maker’, стыковка ‘space docking’. Though it had been in use long before the twentieth century, the suffix -ка appears to have been at its most active in non-standard varieties, especially the speech of students (Seliščev 1928: 175) and in educated spoken language (Zemskaja 1992: 50, 154). Its extended representation in the standard language stems from the general readjustment of social and functional varieties resulting from changes in the structure of social control (Janko-Trinickaja 1964b: 27–9). Many -ка formations now recorded in dictionaries are still qualified as ‘colloquial’ or prostorečno….
During the first years of Soviet power there was a remarkable burst of activity by the previously unproductive suffix -ия to designate various social groups and areas—regional, political, or professional. In 1918 the area held by the Bolsheviks was called Совдепия by their opponents, but later this name was used by the Bolsheviks themselves (Pavlovskaja 1967: 16). At about the same time Скоропадия (from the name of Hetman Skoropadskij) and Красновия (after General Krasnov) came into existence (Seliščev 1928: 184). The Soviet state or system was called коммуния. To the Komsomol and Pioneers the names комсомолия and пионерия were given. Worker, peasant, and military correspondents (as groups) were referred to as рабкория, селькория, рабселькория, военкория. So quickly did most of these words fall out of use, however, that they were never recorded in dictionaries. The only exceptions are комсомолия, пионерия, инженерия ‘engineers’, which continue in rare use to the present day but with a very specific literary stylistic colouring. The suffix is now once again unproductive…

They go on to say that the borrowed suffix -изм became popular during the twentieth century; before that, it was only supposed to be used with Romance roots—”Russian roots and stems were supposed to attach the suffixes -ость and -ство (this meant, for example, that the normatively acceptable name of Bolshevism had to be большевичество, not the current большевизм).” Nowadays you can get words like жестокизм ‘cruel attitude’ and селявизм (from c’est la vie).
Incidentally, I’ve run across one forgotten form in -ка in Chukovsky’s diary: чрезвычайка (chrezvychaika, ‘the extraordinary thing’) for what quickly became standardized as ЧК or Чека (Cheka = Чрезвычайная Комиссия ‘Extraordinary Commission’).

Comments

  1. … -ия to designate various social groups and areas—regional, political, or professional. … The Soviet state or system was called коммуния. … So quickly did most of these words fall out of use, however, that they were never recorded in dictionaries. The only exceptions are комсомолия, пионерия, инженерия ‘engineers’, which continue in rare use to the present day but with a very specific literary stylistic colouring.

    What about “intelligentsia” ? It is along the lines of the abstraction contained in коммуния, if not of the concrete professional designation in инженерия.

  2. intelligentsia
    oh no, it’s another borrowed suffix -ция – -tion as in revolution, rotation, emotion, station etc., very productive until recently when it started clashing with anglicised -шн – same -tion, but transcribed phonetically as in ресепшн (reception).
    re -ka suffix. I wonder what kicked off its triumphant march? Popular press? There was a ‘Газета-копейка‘. Or was it improved postal service? Around the turn of the century cheap rate ‘open letter’- ‘post card’ was introduced. The official name ‘открытое письмо’ was quickly shortened to ‘открытка’. Educated classes complained, but it stayed.
    re -ism – It’s difficult to argue without seeing the full context, but there is a distinct semantic difference between -ism and -stvo/ost’. -Ism is for trend, movement and pattern, but -stvo/-ost’ is for certain quality, character, ‘svoystvo’. It is easy to see if you compare bolshevism (political trend) with bolshyness (bullying, agressive attitudes – here it would be -stvo), or romantizm (романтизм – artistic trend) and romantichnost’ (романтичность – romantic character or atmosphere); activism (активизм) with activity (активность), fatalism (фатализм) with fatality (фатальность).
    And why Russian (Slavonic?) suffix -ik has penetrated English, but not others, like -ka? or -chka?

  3. suffix -ik has penetrated English
    Is that the -ik in beatnik? If so, it seems to have arrived in English as -nik, not -ik.
    Were beatniks called “beatnik” before Sputnik?

  4. Irresponsible of me to write off the top of my head, but, what the heck. I’d guess that the -ka suffix, which can also be used as a diminutive and is especially (?)used in professional jargon, gives a folksy (as in narod), non-hierarchical, non-class connotation. Putin uses them a fair bit; it gives a “just the guys talking about their fields” kind of vibe.
    But I haven’t done an ounce of research on this, so I may be entirely wrong.

  5. I’m a native Russian speaker and I’ve never heard the word жестокизм. There are 2 hits on it in Google – this post and an online discussion where it was obviously meant as a joke. Cruelship would be a perfect translation because it sounds just as unnatural.

  6. авоська reminds me of Peteterle/Pöteterle [pe/ɶ'de:dɚle], Swabian for a device, esp. a lighter that might or might not work, from peut-être. Legend has it that it originated in the Napoleonic conquests. Is there a strong sense of diminutive in these -ка words?

  7. And, of course, Maebie Fünke! Note that German Funke=spark. Could there be a connection?

  8. Bill Walderman says:

    “Selyavistvo” would have been so much nicer. Or maybe “selyavishchina.”

  9. I’m a native Russian speaker and I’ve never heard the word жестокизм. There are 2 hits on it in Google – this post and an online discussion where it was obviously meant as a joke.
    They didn’t say it was common, or even in current use, just that it had been created. And remember that the Russian language is still not entirely exhausted by Google hits; it’s referenced twice as an existing word in Словообразовательная игра как феномен языка современных СМИ (Rostov University, 2002).

  10. wow, there is a whole list of -nik words on Wikipedia and it is listed as an English suffix! In Russian I’d say it is two suffixes -n- and -ik, -n- from adjectives and -ik as a noun-forming suffix.
    Is there a dictionary grouping words by suffixes? I’ve seen Scrabble dictionaries, but not academic ones.

  11. and the -nik list even includes my (and Bertrand Russel’s) favourite word chaynik. My-my, I must go and quickly add it to my Global English Memorial Book of Russian Words.

  12. Victor Sonkin says:

    I think -nik came into English through the mediation of Yiddish.

  13. Well, Sputnik gave it a huge boost.

  14. The -ka words sometimes have a strong sense of the diminutive, sometimes a strong sense of the familiar. They are used a lot when the full Russian is very long and/or as professional slang.

  15. mediation of Yiddish.
    yes, but I think Yiddish first borrowed it from Russian or one of other Slavonic languages.
    Just remembered a much more famous example of Russian suffix penetration into English, in fact, a whole artifical language is named after suffix -надцать (-teen) – NADSAT
    in Burgess’s ‘Clockwork Orange’

  16. LH: Do you understand the point of this spam? I sure don’t.

  17. Just remembered a much more famous example of Russian suffix penetration into English
    Actually, I think Burgess’s (to me rather annoying) Russian-based slang is far less known than the -nik words.

  18. Do you understand the point of this spam?
    I don’t psychoanalyze it, I just shoot it dead.
    *blows smoke from barrel of six-gun*

  19. erwynsampl says:

    tonne cycles llc response 20th

  20. elliceblak says:

    trends against apple domestic 2009

  21. John Emerson says:

    “Take that, tough guy” say the spammers.

  22. My native language, Finnish, is very unwelcoming towards “-ismi” and “-isti” formations from domestic roots or old loanwords not perceived to be foreign. However, there are some examples of such formations being entirely accepted, notably huilisti “flute player” and viulisti “violin player” from the words huilu and viulu respectively. These two have recently inspired huilismi “the particular art of an individual flute-playing musician” and viulismi (in analogical sense).

  23. Budyonnovka is not a helmet, it’s a cap and I think it was only used by mounted troops. Also, I believe obezlichka is not lack of personal responsibility but de-personalization, as in people in a large institution being seen not as individuals but replacable pieces of machinery.

  24. It may be that the devil has found his way in here. You realise that spam backwards is “maps”?

  25. It was standard Red Army uniform until the 30′s – different coloured stars for the various branches – red for the cavalry – the most iconic. Also known as a frunzevka and a bogatyrka – the former after Frunze and the latter because it looks a bit like ancient Rus helmets as worn by the three Bogatyrs.

  26. 50 spam comments!
    am I imagining it: there is no spam on posts where there is no mention of Cheka-KGB, Soviet, communist or Red Army? spooky…

  27. Yeah, I think I’m going to go ahead and close this up. It’s too tedious deleting all those spam comments.

Speak Your Mind

*