Padonki language (Russia)

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Padonki language
Location: Russia
Russia map.png
Author: Larisa Morkoborodova
Affiliation: Åbo Akademi University, Finland

Original text by Larisa Morkoborodova

The padonki language or Padonkaffsky jargon after the phonetised version of the word podonok for scumbag, or riffraff, is a specific linguistic practice on the Russian Internet, usually understood as cyber slang. It is also known as the Olbanian/Albanian language (Russian: albanskii or olbanskii jazik). The characteristic features of the practice include the use of erroneous spelling (mostly based on phonetics); obscene lexicon (mat) (normally judged not to be printable); wordplay; and a set of non-standard words and phrases.


The terms padonki language and Padonkaffsky jargon most likely originated from the self-definition of Internet users as ‘padonki’ rebelling against cultural norms in language use. The term Olbanian first appeared in 2004 without any connection to the Albanian language and owes its origin to an incident in LiveJournal, when an English-speaking user didn't understand a post written in Russian internet jargon and was told that the language was Albanian. The posts that followed included an imperative: ‘Learn Albanian!’ (now written as Olbanian), that since has become an Internet meme and gave an alternative, and commonly used, name to the padonki language.


Based on play on words and spelling, this Russian online practice of orthographic distortions is somewhat similar to other Internet language phenomena such as English Leet or Romanized Cypriot Greek (Cf. French verlan in this volume). The difference is that the padonki language has its own original structure, its own sources, as well as a specific position in the socio-cultural environment.


Deliberate misspellings and puns were first developed by the Russian FidoNet in-group in the late 1990s. A massive Internet users’ movement ‘for spelling mistakes, against automatic spell-checking’, a denial of the social taboo of using mat publicly, has spread across the Russian Internet since 1999. Their main goal, manifested on www.fuck.ru (currently defunct), was to question language correctness as a marker of social status (Andreev 1999[1]). Andreev’s manifest of anti-literacy proclaims the right to make grammatical errors and propagandizes phonetic spelling.The Manifest of Anti-literacy states, ‘We are principally against the so-called spelling correctness on the Net! […] all masters of the Russian word should challenge the killing of our live language by soulless automatons!’


The declared ‘freedom’ from orthography (‘I write as I speak’) and resistance to the culturally prevalent linguistic norms have proven extremely attractive for hundreds of thousands of Russian Internet users, and not only youths – dozens of counterculture-oriented websites have started practicing the padonki language (e.g. padonki.org, fackru.net, down.ru, udaff.com and others). The followers of this countercultural practice online have formed Internet subculture by maintaining an internal cohesion and group distinction mainly due to the play with orthography and a demonstrative use of obscene lexicon. The in-group cohesion rested upon the adherence to their linguistic norms, display of intolerance, and ostracising the non-observers.


Since its inception, the padonki language has been used in all types of computer-mediated communication (ICQ chat rooms, social networks, Internet forums, blogs, Twitter etc.). Websites of padonki Internet community, practicing wrong spelling and mat (such as udaff.com and padonki.org), provide a place where padonki authors can publish online their original short stories (called kreatiffy) for readers to rate and share. The potential of the ‘anti-literacy padonki-movement’ when it comes to its influence on online communication is shown by impressive statistics: the average number of uddaf.com visitors (the most popular resource practicing the padonki language) during years 2003-2010 has been around 1 million people a month, according to the open statistics on the site (since the access to visitor statistics on uddaf.com has been closed in 2011, the web information company liveinternet.ru reports from 140 to 180 thousand visitors a month in the year 2015).


The main distinction of the padonki language as a linguistic phenomenon is the deliberate use of misspellings. The misspellings should be systematically observed and modelled on the phonetic ‘corrections; of Russian normative orthography. Such corrections include the reduction of unstressed vowels, voicing and devoicing of consonants (for example afftar, instead of avtor (author); ashibka instead of oshibka (error)). Other principles of the padonki language include the grammatical rules reversal. For example, • where the rule suggests to write -жи, '-zhi' and -ши, '-shi' with ‘и', 'i', the padonki norm suggests otherwise: жызнь, 'zhyzn instead of жизнь, 'zhizn (life); • after ч-, 'ch-' and щ-, 'shch-' letters я, 'ja' and ю, 'ju' are used instead of а and у, 'u': чюство, 'chjustvo' instead of чувство, 'chuvstvo' (feeling); • letters substitution and hypercorrection are used for transforming the words: for example, сч-, 'sch-' instead of щ-, 'shch-': обсчие, 'obschie' instead of общие, 'obshchie' (common); помасчь, 'pomasch instead of помощь, 'pomoshch (help) ; • letters е, о instead of и, 'i', and а: пеши, 'peshi' instead of пиши, 'pishi' (write), сотона, 'sotona' instead of сатана, 'satana' (Satan). The use of reversal for a number of morphemes that breaks with their traditional literate appearance plays a particular role in padonki language. For example, endings -ца/-цца, '-tsa/-tstsa' or -цо/-ццo, '-tso/-tstso' are used instead of verb endings -тся/-ться, '-tsja/-t'sja': кончацца, 'konchatstsa' instead of кончается, 'konchaetsja' (ends); жыниццо, 'zhynitstso', instead of жениться, 'zhenit'sja' (to get married). The rules of ‘creative’ orthography also apply to the Russian obscene language (mat) and its numerous derivatives. Thus, padonki-movement fans would use ипацца, 'ipatstsa' (meaning to fuck), and бисписды, 'bispisdy' (literally, no cunt) that somewhat softens the look and the sound of mat.


The padonki lexicon includes slang words and phrases, which have come into use as Internet memes. The longevity of these lexical innovations depends on different factors, including their communicative function, possible linguistic parallels, associations with particular lingua-cultural paradigm, connections to some actual social or political context, as well as their originality and attractiveness of appearance. Below is a short glossary the most durable padonki lexical units (variation in spelling occurs): An expression of approval: зачот, 'zachot' from correct зачет, 'zachem' (pass, as in exams). An expression of disapproval: ацтой, 'atstoi', from correct отстой, 'otstoi' (sediment). An expression of highest approval: аффтар жжот, 'afftar zhzhot', from correct автор жжет, 'avtor zhzhet' (the author burns). An expression of approval: пешы исчо, 'peshy ischo', from correct пиши ещё, 'pishi eshchjo' (write more). A popular Russian meme for greeting: превед, 'preved', from correct привет, 'privet' ('Hi'). It originates in a cartoon, widely posted on the Internet, where a bear comes out of the woods and cries out ‘Surprise!’ to a couple having an intercourse. In the Russian version, the bear exclaims ‘Preved!’ . Since the mid-2000s, many padonki words spread from their home Internet sites into all types of advertisements, headlines, outdoor banners, names of business entities and social events (see Figure 4).

<Figure 4. Буфед, 'bufed' (misspelled буфет, 'bufet', buffet), a cafe in St Petersburg. Децкая адежда, 'detskaja adezhda' (misspelled Детская одежда, 'detskaja odezhda', Children's Clothing), a shop in Volgograd.>

Elements of the padonki language rules have widely penetrated computer-mediated communication, the erroneous spellings have stabilized. The reason for the popularity of distorted orthography is linked to the lack of expressivity of the virtual ‘written talk’. Deliberate erroneous spellings, exposed and repeated in various contexts for a long time, have proven themselves capable of denoting expressivity in ‘low’ keys (irony, sarcasm etc.). Thus padonki language enhances the communicative creativity of the Russian computer-mediated communication in general. The new appearances of the padonki words have added expressivity, yet with time this lexical innovation gradually loses its counterculture character. The linguistic subculture can only remain deviant and limited in scale, if not incorporated into the orthographically correct mainstream.


The increasing scale of padonki spelling practices has caused ‘fear for the fate of the Russian language’ and stimulated a countermovement in academic and educational circles. Advocacy campaigns for ‘a clean Russian’ prevail in public discussions on the websites and in the traditional mass media. Although no official restrictions were imposed on the public use of padonki misspellings, this practice has been strongly discouraged by the administration of many Russian-speaking websites. ‘I can speak Russian!’ became a popular slogan in forums, blogs and personal web-pages in the late 2000s.


To date, the padonki movement has not reached its declared goal and has not transformed the Russian Internet communication into a zone free from social and cultural norms in language use. Since 2010s, the popularity of the padonki language has gradually declined, and its frequency of use on the Internet sites is diminishing. Nevertheless the decade of the padonki language ‘fashion’ has had a significant impact upon the use of slang at large and upon people’s linguistic awareness. This phenomenon has shown that dramatic societal changes and technological shifts provoke powerful ‘linguistic’ responses. The case of the padonki language raises the challenging question of how marginal subcultural communication practices can develop and have much wider socio-cultural implications. As such it presents fruitful possibilities for future sociolinguistic research.

References and Bibliography

  1. Guseinov, G. 2005. ‘Berloga bebloga. Vvedenie v erraticheskuju semantiku.’ http://www.speakrus.ru/gg/microprosa_erratica-1.htm
  2. Mokroborodova, L. 2008. ‘Russkaja fonetika I orfografija kak resurs “novogo pravopisanja” v Internete', Scando-Slavica: 62-78.
  3. Krongaus, M. 2013. Samouchitel' olbanskogo. АСТ: Москва.
  4. Chatfield, T. 2013. Netymology: From Apps to Zombies: A Linguistic Celebration of the Digital World. London: Quercus.

Notes

  1. Andreev, A. 1999. ‘Manifest of anti-literacy,’ www.fuck.ru (currently defunct)