Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Twerking

One of the hottest topics in the Russian media today is… the booty dance. Here is the story: on April 12, the video of twerking teenage girls of Orenburg dancing school emerged online. RT said,
“Teenage girls at a Russian children’s school of dance have taken the controversial dance of twerking to a whole new level… by combining it with Winnie the Pooh. The video “blew up” on the internet, with millions of views and a police investigation.”



Twerk is not the only dance that was considered provocative and “dirty” by self-righteous sanctimonious people. Even waltz was once proclaimed “shocking”, “shameless” and “godless”, not to mention twist and rock-n-roll. Police investigation and a real risk of prosecution for the school principal and other people involved into the story is a pure overreaction, in my humble opinion, but this is not what I wanted to talk about today. I have no desire to discuss whether twerk is aesthetically and morally appropriate for teenagers. I'm not surprised with the outrage the video provoked either. What amuses me is how easily and gracefully the Russian language acquired a relatively new word “twerk”.

The name of the dance in Russian is тверк or твёрк. Wikipedia insists on the latter option, but you can read and hear both variants (Russians don't bother to put two dots over ё though, so it is really unclear which of the variant is to become a norm). Since this word looks like a normal masculine noun, it has acquired a paradigm of the masculine nouns ending with a hard consonant: тверк, тверка, тверком etc. The word now belongs to the language and has all the necessary grammatical attributes.

Along with the short noun тверк, Russian borrowed a word “twerking”, тверкинг, and made another masculine noun out of it, similar to шоппинг, лизинг and кастинг.

The next phase of adaptation is building relations with other words forming new words based on тверк. It is usually a harder task for a language. On the very next day after the scandal was emerged into mass media and spread to the historical scale, Russian produced a verb тверковать.. There are many suffixes that help to form a verb out of a noun in Russian, and there is the phonetic and grammatical logic behind the choice the language makes, but in this particular case the suffix sounds very natural and fits the word beautifully. There are many borrowed words in Russian that never пще to participate in word formation. Twerk overcame grammatical assimilation surprisingly fast. Now this verb can (and I'm sure will) give a life to other verbs: потверковать, недотверковать, дотверковаться and others.

Now twerk and its derivatives participate in multiple jokes popping up on twitter, facebook and other media. One of the best, I think, is this: Сегодня ты танцуешь тверк, а завтра Родину отверг (Today you dance twerk, tomorrow you'll have turned down (sic!) your motherland.). It is very funny, because it is a paraphrase of the famous Soviet propaganda slogan “Сегодня ты играешь джаз, а завтра Родину продашь” (Today you play jazz, tomorrow you'll betray your motherland). It brings back to life the memories of the Soviet absurd bans on everything Western (synonym to immoral and degraded back then). So a new word has become a part of a language and a part of a culture – all within few days.

When I studied at the University, our professors told us that the healthier a language is, the easier it borrows and adopts new words. Though twerk revealed unhealthy tendencies in Russian society, it proved that the Russian language to be in a very good shape.