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The Influence of Russian on Romanian in Moldova

Moldova, situated between Ukraine and Romania in Eastern Europe, has a rich linguistic history and continues to be a thriving multilingual environment. Romanian, Russian, Gagauz, Bulgarian and Ukrainian are the most widespread languages in the country. It is only natural for languages to influence each other upon contact, especially in a setting with such linguistic diversity. However, one of the most profound and visible results of such interactions is the effect of the Russian language on Romanian. Thus, in Moldova, Russian has surpassed the effects of the historical Slavic-Romanian language interactions. The effects of the Russian language influence comprise of modifications to several levels within the Romanian language, including lexis, morphology, and syntax.

Of course, when looking at the subject of Russian influence on Romanian, it is impossible to ignore the general Slavic influence on the language as a whole. This phenomenon dates back to around the IX-XIV centuries. At this time, the Dacio-Romans’ dominant occupation was stock breeding, as is reflected in the Romanian words for stock, which are of Latin origin – “cal” (horse), “vacă” (cow), “lapte” (milk), “oaie” (sheep), among others. On the other hand, the Slavic nations’ prevalent labour was in agriculture (Piotrovski). Such conditions were undoubtedly favourable for a development of trade between the nations, and resulted in many Slavic agriculture-related words in Romanian – “coasă” (scythe), “plug” (plough), “snop” (sheaf), “ovăs” (oat), et cetera. Additionally, the nations had many common enemies, such as the Turanians and the Huns (Piotrovski). A military alliance combined with trade made for circumstances in which language contact was simply inevitable. With the latter came a further Slavic influence on Romanian, bringing words from several lexical fields other than strictly agriculture. Thus, the vocabulary of clothing –“poală” (hem), “șubă” (fur coat); food – “smântână” (sour cream), “drojdie” (yeast), “icre” (caviar); and household – “sticlă” (bottle, glass), “sanie” (sled), “pernă” (pillow), “baie” (bath), “rogojină” (rug) all have Slavic origin, in addition to the others, such as the widespread “da” (yes), “boală” (disease), and “bogat” (rich), “vesel” (joyous), “prost” (stupid), “drag” (love), and “a iubi” (to love) (Piotrovski). Thus, the Russian influence on Romanian began as a general Slavic influence around twelve centuries ago.

Another key aspect of Slavic influence is religion. When Moldova took on an Orthodox Christianity independent from the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the early XV century, with it came Church Slavonic, which remained the language of the church and, most importantly, all official documents until the XVII century. This naturally resulted in much of the Romanian religious terminology being Slavic in nature. To name some examples: “duhovnic” (father), “mucenic” (martyr), “a se căi” (to repent), “troiță” (wayside cross), “post” (lent), “praznic” (holiday), “taină” (sacrament) (Piotrovski). When the Russian Empire began its rule over Bessarabia in the XIX century, the writing system changed from Church Slavonic to a Cyrillic alphabet based on the Russian language. As Piotrovski remarks, this was the beginning of Russian-Romanian bilingualism in Moldova. Many significant non-religious Russian vocabulary adoptions in Moldovan Romanian also date back to the Russian Empire. An example of such an adoption is “ogheal” (blanket). The word likely originated from the Russian «одеяло» (odeyalo - blanket), rather from the Romanian “obială” (footcloth), since, as Piotrovski points out, the morphing of [d] to [g] is very common for Romanian and the dropping of the final “ă” with the corresponding gender change while remaining within the same language would be practically inexplicable, leading to the conclusion of a Russian origin. Some other words dating to the XIX century include “covrig” (pretzel) and “corobcă”, also “coroapcă” and “coropcă” (box), and “poştă” (mail); along with words in local sub-Moldovan dialects, like “tractir” (tavern), “cleioncă” (oilcloth), “taburetă” or “taburetcă” (stool), “pocrival” (bedspread), “coşolcă” (bag), “cladovcă” (storage closet). (Piotrovski). Thus, starting with the XIX century, a specifically Russian influence on the Romanian language in Moldova can be observed.

This influence grew and widened with the USSR annexing Moldova in 1940. The most evident and superficial manifestation of this impact is in the Moldovan vocabulary. As Dyer points out, many Latin-born Romanian words were quickly replaced with their Russian semantic equivalents (87). Dyer, however, only gives three examples, two of which are of a somewhat institutional lexical field: “sclad” instead of “depozit” for storage or depositary and “sud” instead of “judecătorie” – although the Russian «суд» (sud) can refer to both the place and the process, while the Romanian “judecătorie” refers rather to the physical premises of a courthouse or specifically the magistrate's Court (Dicționar Rus-Român Român-Rus 576), which Dyer does not mention. Piotrovski illustrates some of the more vernacular and colloquial instances of Russian vocabulary replacing Romanian words and simultaneously taking on some Romanian pronunciation or morphology. Thus, for example, instead of “aer” (air), Moldovans would say “văzduh”, from «воздух» (vozduh) (Piotrovski). It is interesting to note in this case the change in the stress (on the first syllable in Russian and on the last in Romanian), and the corresponding change from an [o] to an unstressed [ə]. Piotrovski also explains the word “pojar”, which meant “defeat” or “confusion” in Romanian, and also gained the meaning of “measles”. In Soviet Moldova, the term for measles became “cori” from the Russian «корь», and “pojar”, came to mean “fire”, like its Russian equivalent. This in turn led to a set of Russian replacements, such as the word “pojarnic”, which means “fireman”, replacing “pompier”, which remains in use in Romania even today. Piotrovski goes on to list numerous instances of neologisms used in Moldova and their Romanian equivalents, noting how the former have a clear Russian origin, and the latter come from other languages. Some examples of this are “protivnic” vs. “adversar” (rival), “zavod” vs. “uzină” (factory), “ştraf” vs. “amendă” (fine), “contora” vs. “birou” (office), “aviobază” vs. “bază aeronautică” (air base), et cetera.

Another factor in the Russian influence on Romanian in Moldova is that as the contemporary Russian influence grew, it interacted with previous Slavic elements in the language. Thus, for example, while the Slavic “norod” (people) had long existed in Romanian, it had become rare and archaic, whereas in Soviet Moldova it was revived and became the only used word for “people” (Piotrovski). Another similar phenomenon occurred with previously existing Slavic words acquiring a new meaning, closer to the Russian one. Accordingly, “puşcă”, which referred to a rifle, came to stand in some dialects a heavier form of ammunition, similar to Russian, where «пушка» (pushka) means “cannon” (Piotrovski). The same can be said for “prost” which lost its negative meaning in several Moldovan areas and acquired a new meaning of “simple” (Piotrovski), which is exactly what «простой» (prostoi) means in Russian. Similarly, “slujbă” remained in the Moldovan variant of Romanian and came to mean any kind of service, not just religious, whereas in Romania, the word was replaced by the Latin-originated “serviciu”. Hence, one of the Soviet-era effects of the Russian influence on Moldovan was the intersection of newly added Russian words with log-ago Slavic ones.

As for specifically morphology, Dyer clearly illustrates the effect of Russian on Romanian verb morphology in Moldova. The examples given depict a typical phenomenon, where Russian stems take on Romanian elements. So, the Moldovan “au sudit” is given, with the abovementioned Russian “sud” gaining a verbal meaning with a Romanian passive participle ending. The other example given is “mașina bucsuiește”, which takes the Russian «буксовать» (buksovat’), - “to skid”, and adds the third person singular present marker –ește. Interestingly, this specific inflectional ending is common with other words of Slavic origin in Romanian in general: “a citi” (to read) – “citește”, “a iubi” (to love) – iubește, et cetera (Dyer 88). Piotrovski simply points out that the assimilation of Slavic and Russian words in Romanian typically takes place through Romanian morphology.

A related phenomenon is that of morphosyntactic calquing, which Dyer divides into three levels: morphological, semantic, and phraseological. He illustrates with some examples of phraseological calquing, such as Moldovans saying “La mine rochia-i nouă” [at me dress be new], which comes directly from the Russian form «У меня новое платье» (U menya novoye platye – [at me[gen.] new dress]), instead of saying “Rochia mea este nouă” [dress my be new], which is the correct Romanian form (Dyer 88). As the article goes on to demonstrate, there are many instances where the possessive form is calqued as “la mine/la tine” from the Russian syntactic pattern «у меня/у тебя» (u menia/u tebya). These forms have become typical for Romanian in Moldova, yet they are considered incorrect by Romanian scholars. Another example of calquing is the transfer of the Russian instrumental case to Romanian, where such a case does not exist. Thus, instead of saying “Ion lucrează ca șofer” (Ion works as a chauffeur), which would be the conventional Romanian form, the Moldovan norm would be to say “Ion lucrează șofer”, which is taken from the Russian «Ион работает шофёром» [Ion works chauffeur[instr.]]. (Dyer 90) This sort of calquing clearly shows a very direct influence of Russian, since the forms are copied directly. Syntactic calquing is also common in a journalistic setting, where gerund forms that are more typical of the Russian language are prefereed; for example, writing “Plecarea delegației în India” (Departure of delegation to India) instead of “Delegația a plecat în India” (Dodon 7). Hence, Romanian syntax in Moldova was also greatly affected by the Russian language.

To conclude, the eminent influence of the Russian language is a phenomenon that has shaped Romanian in Moldova. Its effects are visible at several linguistic levels, i.e. lexis, morphology, and syntax. Some of these effects truly set apart the Moldovan variety of the language from its Romanian counterpart. Others, such as the historical Slavic influence, conversely, unite them. Undoubtedly, this, like any instance of language contact, enriches and diversifies culture, and, most importantly, demonstrates the flexibility of language.

Works Cited
Dicționar Rus-Român Român-Rus, Ghianăia, 2004.
Dodon, Evgeniya G. “Nekotoriye tendencii v sintaksise sovremennogo moldavskogo yazika”, 1990, Chelovek i nauka, www.cheloveknauka.com/nekotorye-tendentsii- v- sintaksise-sovremennogo-moldavskogo-yazyka
Dyer, Donald L. “Some Influences of Russian on the Romanian of Moldova during the Soviet Period.” The Slavic and East European Journal, vol. 43, no. 1, 1999, pp. 85–98., www.jstor.org/stable/309907.
Piotrovski, Raymund G. “Slavyano-moldavskiye yazikoviye otnosheniya i problema nacionalnoy specifiki moldavskogo yazika”, Serebrennikov B.A., Suhotin, V. P. Centre de recherches en histoire et épistémologie comparée de la linguistique d'Europe centrale et orientale, www.crecleco.seriot.ch/textes/SerebrSuxotin51.html.

Katherine Kitsen
Romanian Culture in a Semiotic Perspective Course
@ Glendon College Toronto

Katherine Kitsen    5/20/2019


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