Information Warfare · Russia · Ukraine

Ukraine Insight Into Ukrainian, The Russian Language, and Russian Occupation

A wonderful friend gave me permission to share an insightful posting she shared on Facebook and the subsequent comments.  The posting was followed by a fascinating conversation about the nuances of Russian and Ukrainian.

What I found worth sharing here was the acceptance by a Crimean Tatar to have a conversation in Ukrainian, specifically avoiding the Russian language.  This is happening on a personal level, he wasn’t told to do so by the government.  To me, this is yet another sign that Ukraine is ‘deRussifying’.  This is a sign of healing, of resistance, and a sign of a national unity.

Imagine, one of the most oppressed and persecuted groups of people in the former Soviet Union, the Crimean Tatars, being this accepting, flexible, and resilient.

What I find most fascinating about the “efficiency” statement by the older woman is that her fellow Ukrainians disagreed with her, that life under the Soviet Union was not efficient, it was oppressive.

The “soviet” statement is also fascinating. Most of my friends from Eastern Europe love the country in which they live. Okay, all of them. Every single friend has made anti-Soviet statements, even the people old enough to have actually engaged and worked as a Soviet citizen. These are unsolicited statements, the resentment runs deeply through their veins – from Ukraine, through Czechia, even to Estonia.  On the other hand, many have commented on the older generation “missing” the orderly nature, the regimented living under the Soviets. These friends have often remarked that the older generation only took off the Soviet identification, they’re still the same inside – they even continue ‘snitching’ to the secret police. Even if the quality of life was much, much lower, there was an order to things.  Occasionally I miss the order of being a young enlisted soldier as well, but then I remember the squalor in which I sometimes had to exist.  Perhaps it’s the same.

The third part of the conversation, about languages, semantics, and meanings, is also fascinating to me.

I offered to anonymize the entire conversation and received permission.  Here is the conversation as it is occurring.  Damn, I have some interesting friends!

Original posting.  I witnessed a couple of very interesting things in a large medical clinic today in Kyiv today.

A doctor – and Crimean Tatar- who fled Crimea to Kyiv after Russia’s occupation, apologized to a patient for not being able to speak Ukrainian. Insisted the patient use Ukrainian and not Russian for the physician’s sake: “We are in Ukraine. You should use Ukrainian. Please speak Ukrainian. Don’t speak Russian for me.”

Shortly thereafter, an elderly woman in the same clinic was bemoaning the “loss of efficiency” in Ukraine’s systems with the end of the USSR: “We may not have had much, but things worked! We had efficiency!” Several patients quickly corrected her, explaining that what the USSR was a large scale concentration camp of sorts that brought nothing but misery upon its citizens, and that Ukraine would be more prosperous and stable like Western countries were it not for the terrible, failed political/social experiment of the USSR. She shut up.

Comment.  Once a soviet, always a soviet.

Comment. She said “efficiency”? There’s no such word in Russian (or Ukrainian for that matter).

Comment. She said things were orderly and in good order. That things worked. Among other things, she said що “був порядок”

Comment. Éffektyvnostʹ / performance

Comment. I realize all those other words exist. Except “efficiency”, which is very different from “effective” and even “order”. Sorry, just nitpicking. I spent too many years in Ukraine adopting the use of weird acronyms like КПД instead of “efficiency”. That’s why I was wondering what word the old lady actually used.

Comment. Nitpick away! No problem. It’s completely fair.

Comment. “efficient” is different from “effective”. However, эффективный is not “effective”; it’s “efficient”. Sorta like in German, an “Akademiker” is not a member of the Academy of Sciences but just a college graduate. I don’t think you spent more years in Ukraine than I have. Although that is a completely different matter from which word the old lady used.

Comment. I lived in Ukraine 16 years and never heard “effectivny” used to mean “efficiency”. It was a subject that actually interested me greatly because it was a word I needed to use. I don’t see how there would any need for a technical acronym like КПД if “effectivny” actually mean “efficient”.

CommentSemantic fields of different words overlap to different degrees, so “not seeing a need for another word” is a weird argument in linguistics; why would there exist the term “synonym” if words with remarkably similar meanings didn’t exist. Now, of course, there are no full synonyms; if there exists a different word, there is also a different nuance, gradation, or connotation. The word эффективный does also include the meaning of the word efficient. That was the reason for the dispute a couple of years ago about whether Stalin deserves the moniker “эффективный менеджер”—bc yes, he did produce results, but with enormous cost. There would have been no basis for making this argument if there were no meaning of ‘efficient’ in “эффективный”. So saying “there is no word in Russian or Ukrainian for efficient” is approximately 90-95% unfounded. The fact that one would need to use КПД to drive something home just means people don’t always understand what a certain term entails, e. g. when people throw around things like “democratic” or “repressions” or whatever, the practical implementation of that might be different from what other people do or envision when using the same word. If the democratic practices, or transparency practices, or “civil society” in Ukraine are practiced differently than in other parts of the world, this is the subject of лінгвокраїнознавство, not лінгвістика.

CommentTranslated from Ukrainian “Stalin himself in March 1946 in interview paper ” really ” said: Soviet Union lost in war, 7 million. People on 2 million. Less than Germany. ” effective generalissimo and manager ” couldn’t happen to the Soviet Union has lost more than Germany, otherwise would have arisen questions about his performance and zhukov.”

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Comment. <deleted to protect an identity>, with all due respect, “effective” and “efficient” have completely different meaning in English. There is no word for “efficient” in Ukrainian or Russian.

Comment. Debates over whether Stalin could be called “effective” and then debating the cost of the “effect” is using a whole lot of words to define the concept of “efficient”.

Please bear in mind this is an ongoing conversation.




3 thoughts on “Ukraine Insight Into Ukrainian, The Russian Language, and Russian Occupation

  1. For those of you who are American – it basically boils down to this (maybe you’ve heard of this issue)
    In some parts of the US, people use the word “soda”. In other places, people use the words “pop”, “cola”, etc… combine this with a Boston accent vs. a Bayou accent vs. a “surfer accent” and you have a good understanding of the issue here.
    The languages are just accents of the Slavic language in general, however, over time, they have become a significant cultural identifier. The Soviets (predominantly Russian) tried to destroy the Ukrainian culture (and that of the Crimean Tartar and Baltic States) by forcing use of Russian language in all aspects of life. Now, Ukraine seeks to re-introduce their language to the dismay of the Russians. Now come the Russians crying and complaining of “discrimination”. I know to people in the US and elsewhere that this seems a petty issue (and it is).
    However, if someone tries to claim I am wearing “sneakers” when I am actually wearing “gym or tennis shoes” i’d be pissed too.

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