Thursday, October 30, 2014

Q&A: Did Russian Change Over The Last 50 Years?

Hello! First and foremost I'd like to say thank you for everything you do with this blog; it's been a great help to me while I learn Russian. A while ago I was with my friend at an old book store and I found a Russian grammar book that I decided to buy called "A Progressive Russian Grammar" by J. Kolni-Balozky. The book was printed in 1962. I'm wondering if there have been many changes in the Russian language since then that I should be aware of as I use this in my studies. Спасибо!

Thank you for your kind words! I’d say the Russian language has changed quite a lot since then, but changes happen at a different pace at different language levels.

Pronunciation and phonetics have changed significantly. Back then, the older Moscow norm dominated, now we speak differently. For example, the suffix -чн- was pronounced as [шн], булочная - [булошная]. Today, the only word where we pronounce it in this fashion is конечно (of course). The stress moved to different syllables in many borrowed words ( вАхтер - вахтёр). Many other small changes happened, too.

Grammar (morphology and word formation) is more static, though modern Russian grammar books describe the Russian grammar differently. Some borrowed words may have changed their gender. I noticed that in the 1938 edition (I found it online), there is the locative case. In modern Russian, the locative case is part of the prepositional case.

Vocabulary - it depends. Of course, the basics remain the same: мать, отец, брат, стол, etc. However, there are words that are now too archaic; we no longer speak like that. There are also many new words that have emerged into Russian recently. Some words now have different connotations.

Syntax and sentences - the basic rules have remained the same, but in general, Russian syntax is changing toward simplification. When I watch Soviet movies of this era, I find their speech kind of artificial and pretentious. We communicate very differently now. Again, the grammar basis remains unchanged: flexible word order, subject and predicate (verb) should agree in number and gender, etc.

Summary: Yes, Russian has changed during the last 50 years, however the grammar core is stable. You can use this book for grammar references, but you should remember that you would sound a little bit old-fashioned and peculiar if you started speaking like that.

Photo by Steven Mueller