The View From Here: How do you say that in Ukrainian?

Volodymyr Kish.

One of the big developments in Ukraine over the past few years has been the rapid growth of people using the Internet, and specifically the main social media applications such as Facebook, Instagram, Google, etc. This is a direct result of the fact that internet and cellular phone services are dirt cheap compared to what we have here in Canada. In Ukraine, you can buy an inexpensive but capable smart phone for the equivalent of $50 to $100 dollars and get a virtually unlimited phone/data services plan for about $5 per month. As a consequence, I have found that almost all of my numerous cousins in Ukraine have become my “friends” on Facebook.

One of the corollaries to this development has been the rapid adoption of English words and phrases into the Ukrainian vocabulary. What I call “Ukelish” has spread from being a diaspora phenomenon, to becoming imbedded in the contemporary Ukrainian language. For example, the Ukrainian word for Facebook is, unsurprisingly “Фейсбук” (Facebook). Needless to say, Ukrainian users like to take “Селфіс” (Selfies), and to “Пост” (Post) them “Он-Лайн” (On-Line). If a post meets their fancy, they will “Лайк” (Like) it and make a “Комент” (Comment). Most of the time, they do all this on their “Смартфон” (Smartphone). They frequently “Меседж” (Message) their friends and have a number of on-line app “Екаунтс” (Accounts). They are also experienced enough now to know when something is “Фейк” (Fake).

This phenomenon extends far beyond just the world of the Internet. Within the sphere of business and commerce, English terms have become ubiquitous. What is disconcerting to many Ukrainian academics and language purists, is that even when there are perfectly good Ukrainian words, the average Ukrainian seems to prefer the English version for common use. For instance, there are many good Ukrainian words that correspond to the English word manager – “керівник, управитель, завідуючий, начальник”; but most people in Ukraine would say “Менеджер” (Manager). Similarly, a typical business-related conversation will usually include such words as “Бізнес” (Business), “Маркетинґ” (Marketing), “Дизайн” (Design), “Бренд” (Brand), “Дедлайн” (Deadline), “Стартап” (Startup), or “Шопінґ” (Shopping).

If you are shopping, you may be looking to buy a “Компютер” (Computer), or “Ноутбук” (Notebook). Once you have one of these you would probably look for an “Інтернет Провайдер” (Internet Provider), and if you open a business account, you might want to create a “Веб Сайт” (Web Site) and add “хостинґ і домен” (hosting and domain) services. When you are done shopping, you might want to go for a “Бізнес Ланч” (Business Lunch) and have a “Сендвич” (Sandwich) or a “Біґ Мак” (Big Mac).

A good place to see how much English has infiltrated into Ukrainian everyday life, is to go on one of the popular Internet portals and sites that Ukrainians use to obtain news, information or to shop on-line. On the website of the “День” (The Day) newspaper, I found a column titled “Арт Гауз” (Art House) by Dmytro Desyateryk. On the news site, there was a timely seasonal article “Як Стати Справжним Таємним Сантою“ (How To Be A Genuine Secret Santa). In the events calendar for November for Lviv, there was an exhibition by the name of “Постмодернізм Йде“ (Postmodernism Goes).

On the shopping portal, I found the following goods and services on offer – the “Секс Шоп Полуничка” (Sex Shop Polunychka), “Ґаджети” (Gadgets), “Копіцентр” (CopyCentre), “Авто Тюнінґ” (Auto Tuning), “Фітнес Браслети” (Fitness Bracelet), and “MP3-плеєр” (MP3 Player). If you were looking for alcoholic beverages, there were ads for “Бурбон”(bourbon), “Коньяк”(Cognac), “Віскі”(Whiskey), “Ром”(Rhum), and “Текіла”(Tequila).

Whether one approves of all this or not appears to be moot, since English has become the de facto universal language of business, science, technology, politics and many other spheres of the 21st century existence. Although we may retain our individual national and ethnic characteristics, culture and language, we have become irreversibly a global economy and a global communications and media network. This has created a need for a communication common denominator, and the English language has become that by default.

What does this bode for the large number of languages being spoken in the world today? Will English eventually become the only living language as a result of a Darwinian process of linguistic evolution, or will the cultural forces behind at least some of the major languages spoken around the world today be able to preserve them in a world where every person becomes multi-lingual, speaking a local or regional language, as well as a universal global language? Only time will tell.