For the Thirsty Runglish Speaker: Try an Ized Cyawfeh

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Jun 14 18:13:57 UTC 2005

>>From the NYTimes, June 14, 2005

For the Thirsty Runglish Speaker: Try an Ized Cyawfeh


At the Taste of Russia grocery store in Brooklyn, many people order
potatoes by asking for "potyaytoaz." Some order turkey saying, "Tyurki,
please." They are Russian immigrants mainly, some of the many thousands
who inhabit Brighton Beach. There is, of course, a Russian word for potato
- kartoshka - and a Russian word for turkey, too - indeika.

Nonetheless, Lenny Galitsky, who owns the store, said he had found in
recent years that many new immigrants would rather use the English words.
"Nobody says indeika anymore," Mr. Galitsky said. "They say 'tyurki.' 'Ize
cream,' too, they like to say; no one says 'morozhenoye.' English is
easier. It's short."

A change in language tends to follow immigration as closely as a headache
tends to follow too much drink. There is Spanglish and its related tongue,
Franglais (French combined with English). Now, on the streets of Brighton
Beach, people have begun to speak in a different hybrid tongue. They use
something known as Runglish - a Russian-English blend in which the
"Cross-Bronx Expressway" might come off as the "Cress Bonx Exprezvey" or
"appointments" as "appointmyenti."

A surprising number of Russian words have already entered the greater
English lexicon. There are political terms like "apparatchik,"
"intelligentsia" and "commissar," and, of course, there are culinary nouns
like "samovar" (a tea kettle). But English, too, has made its tiny inroad
on the Russian language - especially in immigrant enclaves like Brighton
Beach, on the southern edge of Brooklyn near Rockaway Inlet. Frequently
the English interlopers are foodstuff - like "hyam-boorgoors" or "ized
cyawfeh" (iced coffee) - that are not so popular in Russia. Often they are
technological terms.

"There's no way to translate 'SIM cards' into Russian," a young salesman
at a Sprint store on Brighton Beach Avenue said, referring to the little
chips inside cellphones. "People just say 'syim karti.' " The salesman,
who would gave his name only as Anthony, went on to say that the
"Runglicization" of his mother tongue was a phenomenon mostly prevalent
among the old. "The young people already speak in English mainly," he
explained, adding that he himself spoke English 70 percent of the time.
"But older people sometimes get confused. They hear English in one ear and
Russian in other and it mixes in their head."

Runglish, as a linguistic term, is almost as infelicitous as it sounds
when spoken aloud. The name is said to have been coined by a veteran
Russian cosmonaut named Sergei Krikalev, who took part in the launch of
the Russian-American space station in the fall of 2000. "We say jokingly
that we communicate in Runglish," Mr. Krikalev said at a news conference
shortly before the launch. The word, like Runglish itself, seems to have

To some, however, Runglish is no joke at all but an indication of the slow
demise of Russian culture. "When the kids turn 18, 19 years old, we tell
them, 'Stop speaking English. Speak more Russian,' " said Alex Kondov,
owner of the Varichnaya Restaurant on Brighton Second Street. Standing
next to him, his friend, Vladimir Robu, chipped in: "It is tradition and
family. We try to keep the culture alive from home."

Starbucks - that latter-day emblem of American culture - seemed a sensible
place to witness Runglish being spoken. After all, one can assume there is
no direct translation for a venti latte with soy milk. At the Starbucks on
Brighton Beach Avenue and Brighton Sixth Street, the patrons did indeed
Runglicize their orders. Calls went out for "tyall cyawfeh" with the
Russian word for milk and for "white chedyah chiz bree-yoach." "At first
there was a culture clash," said one employee, his voice low because he
was breaking Starbucks' policy of not speaking with the news media. "But
they adapted pretty fast."

Or so some think.

"People say the Russians have learned English," said Pat Singer, president
and founder of the Brighton Neighborhood Association, which sits in a
cluttered storefront on Brighton Beach Avenue. "But I think they're going
the opposite way." Ms. Singer's grandparents came from Odessa in 1910. It
is her contention that today's Russian immigrants are - linguistically
speaking - a far-too-sheltered bunch.

"This group that comes here now has Russian newsletters, Russian radio,
Russian TV stations," she explained. "They might as well have stayed in
Russia since they created Russia here." Other immigrants, she said have
learned to speak English just fine. But not the Russians, Ms. Singer said.
"The Russian community has been here 30 years. You'd think they'd all
speak English by now."

Part of the problem, Ms. Singer said, is that while English is taught as a
second language in the city's public schools, there is a lack of English
training for adults. "The kids - you wouldn't even know they weren't
American born," she said, "until they get on the phone to their mothers to
say they're coming home late."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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