Russian Language Blog

Do You Speak Runglish? Posted by on Sep 4, 2012 in language

If you are to search Google for a phrase “на каком языке говорит эта женщина” (what language does this woman speak), you will get более шестисот тысяч результатов (over six hundred thousand results). The above video will be at the top of the search results followed closely by articles and forum discussions, many – highly negative.

The видео (video) is a клип (clip) of an интервью (interview) with a woman who is владелица бутика (a boutique owner) and  иммигрантка (a female immigrant) from the former Soviet Union. And she mixes a whole lot of English words into her Russian-language interview. As a result, she is forever known as женщина, говорящая одновременно на двух языках (a woman who speaks two languages simultaneously). She is also one of the best examples of the topic of today’s post – рунглиш (Runglish).

Runglish is a pidgin dialect; it is a mix, sometimes very heavy, of английские слова (English words) into русская речь (Russian-language conversations). Basically, it’s nothing new. And depending on who does it, when and how, it can sound totally трендово (trendy) or totally not so much.

I believe that if you are trying to learn Russian and live in an English-speaking country, understanding Runglish can be very beneficial.

1. It can help you сделать первый шаг (put your foot in the door) on your journey to understanding conversational Russian. Understanding Russians can be very tough – we speak fast, we swallow or slur the endings, we don’t enunciate like they do in audio lessons. Heck, we don’t even put the stress properly, not to mention all the слова-паразиты (filler words), уменьшительные (diminutives), and abundance of prefixes and suffixes that can completely transform the meaning of a word. But with Runglish, you will be able to understand much more of what’s being said because the words are going to be English words, albeit pronounced with a cool Russian accent.

На обед будет турка v На обед будет индейка
(There is turkey for dinner)

У нас огромный мортгидж v У нас огромный ипотечный кредит
(Our mortgage is enormous)

Выйди с хайвея в девятый экзит, там толл два доллара v Выйди с магистрали на девятом съезде и заплати за проезд два доллара.
(Take exit 9 from the highway and pay a two-dollar toll.)

2. Speaking of all those suffixes, prefixes and word endings, you will have a great opportunity to observe them in action. The core of a Runglish word is English, but in true Russian style, we add grammatical bits and pieces to it. Think of it as a linguistic version of Legos where English words are your basic blocks and Russian elements are all the little elements that add variety and fun.

Запаркуй машину здесь, а то тикет выпишут – Park your car here or you’ll get a parking ticket.
Я с подругой иду в аут – I’m going out with a girlfriend.
Завтра у меня два апойнтмента и продуктовый шоппинг – Tomorrow I have two appointments and a grocery shopping trip.

3. You might not be going to Russia any time soon, but there are so many Russians in the US (or any other country) that you are bound to meet one soon. And every Russian living in the US (or another English-speaking country) speaks at least some Runglish.

Саша в этом году идёт в киндергарден, а София ещё в прескуле – This year Sasha is starting kindergarten, but Sophia is still in preschool.

В магазине крим-чиз был на распродаже и я купила паунд, сделать чизкейк – The store had cream cheese on sale, so I bought a pound to make a cheesecake.

Мы переезжаем из трёхбедрумного дома в двухбедрубную квартиру, так что устраиваем гараж-сэйл на уикэнд – We are moving from a three-bedroom house into a two-bedroom apartment; so we are having a garage sale this weekend.

Френдни меня по Фейсбуку или текстни мне и я тебе пришлю линк, – Friend me on Facebook or text me and I’ll send you a link.

Я завтра волонтирю у сына в школе – Tomorrow I’m volunteering at my son’s school.

4. Runglish will help you read news and periodicals. Yes, much of today’s Runglish becomes tomorrow’s widely accepted Russian. Sure it might never happen to the phrase послайсайте, пожалуйста, пару паундов сыра (would you please slice a couple of pounds of cheese), but consider these examples:

Стиль выглядит достоверно и трендово (The style appears to be authentic and trendy) – that’s from an article about one легендарный бренд (legendary brand).

An online guidebook to Rome explains that Виа дель Корсо is one of the best шоппинг-район (shopping area) and lists a few other places of interest to шопоголики (shopoholics).

And менеджер по компенсациям и бенефитам (compensations and benefits manager) is an official and accepted job title in Russia.

Sure, Runglish is not an official language (hey, it doesn’t pretend to be). And you have to realize that in Russia it is not readily understood or taken in stride. This is not a language of either Leo Tolstoy or Tatyana Tolstaya. But there are many good reasons to прислушиваться (listen for) and брать на заметку (to make a note of) Runglish words and phrases.

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  1. Delia Valente:

    Unfortunately, many people speak this way…
    Here is more:

    Не знаю, плакать или смеяться. I don’t know whether I should be crying or laughing.

    • yelena:

      @Delia Valente Смеяться, конечно (даже если сквозь слёзы) – To laugh, of course, even if through tears. Thank you for the link. It’s really funny and the comments to the poem are just as creative as the poem itself 🙂

  2. Bob:

    Hilarious! I listen to Mrs. Bob and her friends talk like this almost every day.

    Conversely, during my trip to Crimea in August, I noticed a significant case of “English creep” into the Russian and Ukranian languages. Signs for auto repair facilities simply say “Autoservice”. Highway signs are in 3 languages (Ukranian, Russian, and English), and well-known name brands and their slogans are reproduced verbatim in English, with no supplemental translation whatsoever.

    I jokingly tell Mrs. Bob that the “Anglification” of Russian is one of the 7 signs of the Apocolypse 🙂

    • yelena:

      @Bob Glad to have you back from your trip, Bob. Did you take any pictures of the signs? I remember signs Автосервис even way back when I was little and it was still the USSR. These places were few and far in between and were always pricier and better than anything that called itself автомастерская.

    • yelena:

      @Bob Bob, I was reminded of your comment today when a Russian friend at a tea party said: Я сама делаю йогурт. В покупном слишком много презервативов. Of course, she meant консерванты (preservatives). But as you know, in Russian the word презерватив has a very different meaning. We all had a good chuckle 🙂

  3. Bob:

    Whoops – replace /Ukranian/ with /Ukrainian/

  4. David Roberts:

    Terrific! I wonder if UK Runlgish is different ftom US Runglish – I’m sure it must be. A common situation is when two people who know each other’s languages to some extent but not fluently try to converse. I’ve done this occasionally with Russians I’ve met on holiday. I imagine Russians living in Spain who have become fluent in Spanish often converse in Ruspanyol. We have a similar situation with Welsh – all Welsh speakers are perfectly fluent in English (except maybe some in Patagonia) and they often incorporate whole phrases of English into a Welsh sentence, use English numbers etc. There is also a dialect called “Wenglish” that is spoken a lot in South Wales by people who don’t really know much Welsh – this is English with a few Welshisms thrown in.

    My main opportuntity to speak Russian is when I go a Polish shop near us. The people there speak hardly any English, so we converse in Ruspol – i.e I talk Russian as best I can but say djenkuju bardzo instead of spasibo.

    • yelena:

      @David Roberts David, that’s another excellent reason to blend the languages. Whatever it takes, as long as you can understand each other 🙂 I find it very difficult to understand Polish although I have no problem with Ukrainian. So when I go to a local Polish store, I usually switch to English with the exception of dzen dobry, dziekuje and do widzenia.

  5. Rob:

    I imagine Russians living in Spain who have become fluent in Spanish often converse in Ruspanyol.

    I have no idea about Ruspanyol as a well-developed dialect, but I will never forget this bilingual exchange between a couple of Spanish tourists (with the characteristic “Castillian lisp”) and a college-age Russian tchotchke-vendor in Moscow:

    Spanish Guy: Ethpathíbo!
    Russian Guy: Дэ нада!

    (It seemed that a lot of the younger Russians selling matrioshki and shkatulki and whatnot were conversant in several foreign languages — or at least, they could haggle over prices and use memorized phrases like “Notice the fine detail of the painting” in several languages.)

  6. Rob:

    В магазине крим-чиз был на распродаже

    Even if you’re a purist, “крим-чиз” seems totally justifiable when you’re talking about the American-style product, which doesn’t have an analogue in Russian cheesemaking. Аnd, also, there are other styles of cheese that are made with сливки (“cream”) but are rather different in taste and texture from American “cream cheese.” So сливочный сыр isn’t necessarily an adequate translation, even though it’s literally correct.

    (Just as there’s no adequate English translation for творог — either we say tvorog or we have to fall back on “Well, it’s sorta like farmer’s cheese and sorta like ricotta, but not exactly.”)

    • yelena:

      @Rob Rob, try “farmers cheese” – it’s as close to творог as it gets 🙂 Yes, сливочный сыр might be a bit ambiguous. Interesting, when I searched for it online, the most often mentioned cream cheese was Филадельфия (Philadelphia, Kraft Foods brand name). The entire Wikipedia Russian article about cream cheese is really about Philadelphia cream cheese. I’m wondering if филадельфийский might come to mean a generic cream cheese, same as памперсы mean disposable diapers and ксерокс means a copier.

  7. Rob:

    Я с подругой иду в аут

    Hmmm… not to be confused with Каминг-аут, which has apparently found some limited currency (with various spellings) among Runglish-speaking gays and lesbians!

    From Googling, I get the impression that the nearest “native Russian” expression would be выход из подполья (lit., “an exit from the cellar”, fig., “ceasing to hide in the clandestine or semi-legal underground”).

    However, this phrase has no reference specifically to homosexuals “coming out of the closet” — for instance, one of the Google hits was about private tutors who had been getting paid “under the table” in cash, and hence not paying taxes. But some such tutors have now вышли из подполья — i.e., they are legally registered with tax authorities and have to declare their income from private tutoring.

  8. christian:

    Hello to all!

    First of all:Thanks for Your helpfull and interesting blog!I am struggling whith russian since almost two years.

    But:Where is the message?
    In Germany its even worse.People even say kids and family instead of german words.On the other hand,are You aware,how many french (and even german) words entered Russian long ago,e.g. шпион шпаль свита дежурная масштаб куплет грунт парикмахер ?


    • yelena:

      @christian Hi Christian, welcome to the blog! Yes, Russian language borrowed a lot of words from German, French and English. Over time these words get assimilated into the language and no longer sound foreign. Runglish words, however, are not even borrowed words. They are just English words that Russians in the US (and I guess Great Britain) mix into their conversations. The idea is that English words are made to conform the grammar norms of Russian language 🙂 So it sounds funny. Will some of these words become Russian, like пляж or картофель? Not sure, but it’ll be interesting to see in a few years. Also, I’m sure Russians in Germany mix in German words into their Russian in a similar way. Would love to know more about that.

  9. Michael:

    First off, this woman’s name is Zoya, not Zoe; she simply anglicized it.

    Second, it is obvious by her lack of accent that she did not come from JFK airport 30 minutes ago. Clearly, Zoya grew up here in the USA and fully immersed herself in the culture over the decades. Hence, her brain works in English so that’s why she is speaking ‘Runglish’.

    • yelena:

      @Michael Michael, yes, I believe you’re right and her name, Zoe, is an anglicized form of Zoya. And I think she does say somewhere in one of her interviews that she moved to Canada quite young (school age, I believe). However, many Russians, young and old, who move to the US and Canada start speaking Runglish even after just a few years. In fact, even those Russians who settle in the large Russian communities in the US (i.e. Brighton Beach, NY or Chicago or Miami) end up using Runglish, just not as much 🙂