New Russian Lexis In The Aspect Of Cultural Appropriation Of Loan Words


The paper examines the semantic, lexical and derivational features of the cultural appropriation of borrowings in the Russian native speakers’ speech practice of the latest period associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The author proceeds from the assumption that linguistic innovations of different levels of the language system, initially entering Russian speech within the framework of the general global trend towards internationalization, while being appropriated in Russian speech both at the content and at the formal level, become exponents of Russian nationally determined ways of language conceptualization of the world. The methodology of cognitive analysis and linguo-culturological interpretation of new phenomena in the Russian language of the latest period is used. The research material is the dynamic and actively developing Russian-language segment of Internet communication. The paper presents two classes of phenomena in the Russian lexis in recent years –– lexical-semantic and lexical-derivative innovations based on foreign language elements. It is shown that active processes of the semantic type find their expression in the phenomena of “new polysemy” (lexeme “” (“self-isolation”)) and “new homonymy” (lexeme “” (“crown”)). It is noted that proper lexical and lexical-derivative innovations are associated with cultural assimilation of the foreign language nomination “” (“COVID-19”), which is inclined according to the laws of Russian grammar and included in Russian usual and occasional word-formative models.). It is concluded that elements of foreign language origin are actively and successfully mastered and even appropriated by modern Russian native speakers as part of their own, nationally-specific speech practice.

Keywords: Cultural appropriation of loan words, language active processes, language internationalization, linguo-culturological interpretation, new phenomena in lexis, Russian in COVID-19 epoch


The paper presents new results of our study in the linguo-cultural interpretation of active processes in the newest Russian lexis and grammar. Active processes in the language as a reflection of the dynamics of the development of different communicative systems in modern Russian speech practice are the most reliable means of diagnosing social, political, cultural processes taking place in modern Russian society. Thus, a comprehensive (cognitive, linguocultural and communicative-pragmatic) description of innovative phenomena in the Russian language of our days is extremely relevant.

This problem is is of particular importance in the conditions of the new reality that the world community is facing. Linguistic comprehension of this new reality is already actively carried out in Russian studies using the material of different languages (Dankova & Krekhtunova, 2020; Kireeva, 2020). As it has already happened many times in the history of world civilization, one spring morning in 2020, people woke up and found that they were already living in another world, in a world ruled by the COVID-19. Comprehension of the new reality and the new conditions of communication caused by it, of course, should have taken quite a long time, but our language was one of the first, as always, to react. Today, the Russian language consciousness and the associated speech practices of people have been enriched with new words and expressions, behind which there are obviously new formats of knowledge about the changed reality, new cognitive models and concepts, for example, the very concept of “” (“COVID-19”); the lexeme “” (“pandemic”) and related words that had already taken place, but were pushed aside, into the inactive zone of “language existence” were also substantially actualized and, if necessary, rethought.

Thus, it is the problem of complex analysis and linguocultural interpretation of new words and expressions that entered the Russian language in the era of the COVID-19 epoch or acquired a "rebirth" in it that is in the centre of our research attention.

Problem Statement

Active processes in the Russian language of the latest period represent a vast area of mutual intersection of the tendency towards internationalization and the trend towards preservation of traditional national and cultural ways of language conceptualization of the world, which manifests itself in a vast and diverse array of language facts covering different levels of the language system and its discursive realization (Radbil, 2019; Skrynnikova & Astafurova, 2020; Zhukovskaya, 2020).

The starting point of our reasoning is provisions on (Radbil, 2019). This concept is that new phenomena at all the language levels, initially entering Russian speech within the framework of the general world tendency towards internationalization, as they master the discursive practices of modern Russian native speakers, both at the content and formal levels, become exponents of Russian nationally conditioned ways of language conceptualization of the world, they already reflect the key ideas of the Russian language model of the world, nationally determined value priorities and communicative-pragmatic attitudes inherent in the “Russian world” (Wierzbicka, 1997).

Active processes in the modern Russian language today reflect a kind of “language portrait” of modern society; they embody the ideology, the system of values and preferences of a modern person, his general level of education and culture under conditions of new communication needs and constantly changing socio-cultural environment. Therefore, at a new level of understanding of what is happening with the Russian language today, it is necessary not only to ascertain and diagnose the presence of certain innovative phenomena in the field of lexis, phraseology, word formation, grammar, stylistics, etc., but to identify the formats of knowledge, value priorities and communication models of native speakers behind the active processes in the modern Russian language.

This allows us to formulate and substantiate a significant scientific problem that our research is intended to solve to what extent do new phenomena in modern Russian speech practice in the new communicative conditions of the COVID-19 epoch correspond to the trends towards globalization and internationalization of the language, cultural and communicative “habits” of Russian native speakers, reflect the influence of "Western models", foreign cultural norms of verbal and non-verbal behavior, and to what extent do they correspond to nationally determined ways of language conceptualization of the world, fixed in the experience of millennia of psychological and cultural introspection of native speakers.

Research Questions

Active processes in the Russian language in the light of the cultural appropriation of borrowings are embodied at all levels of the language (phonetics, lexis, word formation, morphology, syntax). In this paper, we consider in detail only new phenomena in the area of lexis. There are two groups of active processes in Russian lexis in recent years –– semantic (lexical-semantic) and lexical (proper lexical and lexical-derivative) innovations based on foreign language elements. Semantic (lexical-semantic) processes are understood as semantic transformations of lexemes already existing in the language as a result of metaphorization and metonymization, narrowing and expansion of meaning, actualization of new meanings, etc. Lexical processes are understood as the phenomena of direct borrowing of foreign lexemes (proper lexical ones) or of the use of derivation mechanisms to create neo-lexemes (lexical and derivational ones). The research material is the dynamic and actively developing Russian-language segment of Internet communication.

Purpose of the Study

Purpose of the study is to analyze the semantic, lexical and derivational features of cultural appropriation of borrowings in the speech practice of Russian speakers of the latest period associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research Methods

The specificity of the research problem required the use of a complex method of analysis and interpretation of new phenomena in the Russian language of the latest period, which includes: methods of cognitive research based on the works of (Jackendoff, 2002; Sperber & Wilson, 2015) and applyed in (Cherneyko, 2019); methods of linguo-cultural description of cultural concepts developed in (Radbil & Saygin, 2019; Radbil & Yukhnova, 2019); methods of communicative-discursive study of speech strategies in the space of Russian culture, set out in (Issers, 2020; Kuznetsov, 2020); the method of lexical and derivational analysis of neo-lexemes and neo-derivatives presented in (Dedova & Grigorieva, 2018; Dubovsky & Zagrayevskaya, 2020; Nikolina et al., 2020; Zhukovskaya, 2020), including the description of deviant phenomena in Russian-language Internet communication (Negryshev, 2020; Toropkina, 2019).


Here, two groups of active processes in the Russian lexis in recent years are sequentially considered: semantic (lexical-semantic) and lexical (proper lexical and lexical-derivative) new phenomena based on borrowed components (items 6.1 and 6.2 of the paper).

Semantic (lexical-semantic) innovations

Semantic or lexical-semantic innovations consist in the fact that the original or borrowed in the previous periods of the development of the language lexemes acquire new meanings and connotations and / or expand the scope of use due to contexts in which they were previously impossible. In such cases, we can conventionally speak of the phenomena of “” and “”.

The phenomena of can be shown by the example of such an innovation, which is a semantic shift in the modern use of the lexeme “” (“self-isolation”). Comprehension of the new COVID-19 reality and the new conditions of communication caused by it, of course, should have taken quite a long time, but our language was one of the first, as always, to react. Linguists rarely have a happy opportunity to determine the exact date of occurrence of any word. But what about the word “”, according to the network project on the Russian language named “Marina Koroleva Bureau”, we can say that it was first recorded in Russian-language news materials in the usage of interest to us on March 8, 2020 ( However, of course, this is not the real birth of the word. This is, so to speak, its “second birth”, or even “rebirth”.

The word “”, although not very active, has nevertheless been present in the Russian native speakers’ discursive practices, at least since the 1930s –1940s –– see example from the Russian National Corpus (RNC):

Glubina i bogatstvo lichnosti predpolagayut glubinu i bogatstvo yeye svyazey s mirom, s drugimi lyudmi; razryv etikh svyazey, opustoshayut yeye (S.L. Rubinshteyn. Osnovy obshchey psikhologii. Chasti 4-5 [Fundamentals of General Psychology. Parts 4-5] (1940)).

In the main Russian explanatory dictionaries, this word was not recorded at all. Its meaning is largely determined by the generalized semantics of the derivational model, which is characterized in “Russian Grammar” as a word-formative way of uncomplicated composition, a subtype of the subordinate connection of the components of a compound word: “The most frequent in subordinate compositions are the following first components: a) (the basis of the pronominal adjective), calling an action aimed at the one who performs it” (Shvedova, 1980, p. 242). The “Modern Codified Russian Dictionary” (MCRD) notes the meaning of the prefixoid- : “the direction of the action (called the second part of the word) to itself” (MCRD, 1962).

In these cases, the conceptual scheme “the subject of the action directs the action according to the meaning of the verb () to himself” is implemented (in other words, the subject, for one reason or another, isolates himself from something / someone). The substantive way of grammatical representation of this action indicates that we are dealing with a nomination the result of the action (), or the state that has occurred as a result of the action, etc. It is important that for the cognitive model of the situation behind the word “” in its original meaning, the following implication can be noted, which is obligatory for the correct use of the word: the subject acts purposefully and consciously, in the words of Vezhbitskaya, of his own free will (Wierzbicka, 1997).

This general conceptual scheme, or cognitive model of the situation, can be implemented in several types of use of the word “”, reflecting its initialal, original semantics in Russian. We will conventionally distinguish two basic types:

(1) (when it comes to self-isolation of the individual), which, in turn, can be conditionally subdivided into two subtypes:

(1.1) when it comes to the physical self-isolation of an individual, spatial or movement limitation – an example from the RNC:

I ne tol'ko «Konflikt», «Adazhio», no vot sverkhaktual'nymi stali «Vykrutasy», v kotorykh chelovek zakruchivayet - ograzhdayet provolokoy svoy dom, v prevrashchaya v «zhelezo» sebya i blizkikh (Larisa Malyukova. Obshchestvo otshvartovyvayetsya ot pristani «Gosudarstvo» [Society is moored from the pier "State"] // Novaya Gazeta, 2015.12.21);

(1.2) when it comes to the psychological experience of unwillingness to see someone, communicate, immersion in oneself and detachment from the outside world (internal self-isolation, which may not be accompanied by external restrictions on movement in space) – an example from RNC:

Tem ne meneye tyaga k opredelennoy zamknutosti, dazhe ot bogemnykh krugov ne pomeshala yemu poluchit izvestnost po obe storony okeana (Dmitriy Smolev. «Chuzhoye» i «svoye» Nikolaya Feshina [Nikolai Feshin’s “Alien” and “ours”] // Izvestiya, 2012.05.15);

(2) (when it comes to the policy of isolationism on the part of any state, political or social entity) – an example from the RNC:

No istoriya pokazyvayet, chto strany, vybirayushchiye, vyklyuchayut sebya iz zhizni i vpadayut v otstalost (Besedoval Aleksandr Zaytsev. «Khvatit khodit' stenka na stenku» [Interviewed by Alexander Zaitsev. “Stop walking wall to wall”] //, 2016.07.15).

However, everything changed in the spring of 2020, when we celebrated the second birth (or rebirth) of the word “”. Initially, the new meaning of this word penetrates into the media news discourse from the English-speaking mass media, and the word itself appears, apparently, as a word-formative half-calico from English “”. This new meaning, which is laid down by the official discourse of the authorities, is interpreted in the network project about the Russian language “Bureau of Marina Koroleva”: “voluntary isolation in order to prevent the spread of the epidemic” ( But this formulation, in a certain sense, imposed from above inevitably comes into conflict, on the one hand, with the original language semantics of the lexeme “”, which is in accordance with the conventions of the Russian language and usus, with the Humboldtian “spirit of the language”, and with the self-awareness of those who speak in the Russian language: they feel that something is wrong with this word, and certainly do not perceive it “as a commendable action, socially useful, socially approved one”, as something “in a good sense”.

For any type of use, to correctly interpret the cognitive model of the situation of self-isolation, consistent with the logic of the national language, whether with positive or negative evaluations, the implication of voluntariness is essential. It is with this semantic component that the discursive variation of the new concept of self-isolation experiences the greatest problems.

This circumstance provokes a certain illogism in the perception and usage of the word. This illogism is affirmed and strengthened in Russian speech through the formation and replication of collocations –– stable and reproducible combinations of words, including the lexeme “”. Below, on the material of the Russian-language segment of the Internet, we will consider several such remarkable collocations that eliminate the idea of voluntariness from the natural-language meaning of the word “”.

“Otpravit na samoizolyatsiyu” (“Send for self-isolation”):

Vrach rekomendoval roditeley shkol'nikov [The doctor recommended sending parents of schoolchildren to self-isolation] (

The semantics of the verb send in this context ʽto send, to send smb., smth. with some purpose, with an order; to sendʼ (Efremova, 2000), with a pronounced implication of the compulsion of this action for its recipient in the cognitive model of the corresponding situation, contradicts the idea of voluntariness inherent in the model of the cognitive situation of self-isolation.

(“self-isolation regime”):

Kak soblyudat? [How to comply with self-isolation regime?] (

The semantic evolution of the Russian loan word “(“”, “”, “”) in different contexts of usage of this collocation is no less interesting here. In this context the word is used in the meaning of ʽa well-established routine of life, activitiesʼ (Efremova-II, 2000), in the same meaning as in collocations “” (“”), “” (“”), etc.

The reality of the implicit seme ʽcompulsionʼ in collocation is proved by the possibility of its explication in a number of contexts by means of the adjective “” (“”) and similar words, for example:

V rossiyskikh regionakh vvodyatsya. S kakimi slozhnostyami stalkivayutsya lyudi? [Forced self-isolation regimes are being introduced in Russian regions. What difficulties do people face?] (;

Stolichnyye politseyskiye poka ne budut zaderzhivat' grazhdan za narusheniye iz-za koronavirusa [Metropolitan police officers will not yet detain citizens for violating the forced self-isolation regime due to the COVID-19] (;

V Tyumenskoy oblasti vveli dlya lyudey starshe 65 [In the Tyumen region, an obligatory self-isolation regime has been introduced for people over 65] (

In general, we note that in all analyzed examples, an internally contradictory cognitive model of the situation of legislative coercion of citizens to voluntarily restrict their rights for a period determined not by citizens, according to their internal need, but in a legislative way, is verbalized and clichéd. From a linguo-cognitive point of view, this situation can be interpreted in terms of a kind of “linguistic resistance”, when the language reveals a certain irregularity in the new reality, fixes an abnormal, illogical state of affairs in the world.

can be illustrated by formation (in informal communication) of the word “” (“”, in English) as a kind of unofficial abbreviation for standard nomination “” (“”). This word was formed as a result of the stem truncation of the same neological derivative –– the compound word “”. In the Russian native speakers’ speech practice on the Internet, it is undoubtedly understood as neological, not fully mastered at the conceptual level, therefore, in most cases it is written in quotation marks, but with a lowercase letter (as a sign of common noun):

Novyye ogranichitelnyye mery: uznayem, gde snova “” [New restrictive measures: find out where it is raging again “korona” (“crown”)] (

The further stage of cultural appropriation of the concept expressed by this word should be considered the entry of the word “” into stable and reproducible combinations of words –– collocations that have arisen by analogy with phraseological units existing in the Russian language –– for example, “""” (“to catch / catch the "crown"”) (by analogy with “” (“to catch a cold”)):

Takzhe mozhno v ocheredi na priyem k vrachu [Also, the “korona” (“crown”) can be picked up in the queue for an appointment with a doctor] (;

«» v derevne Luyskovitsy [“Korona” (“crown”) was caught in the village of Luiskovitsy] (

In the reception of an ordinary Russian speaker, the word “” does not sound as frightening as its formidable officialized counterpart –– “”. “” is perceived as something close, familiar, included in the world of Russian-speaking discourse:

Komu «»: nazvan faktor, snizhayushchiy risk zarazheniya v pyat' raz [Who cares about the “korona” (“crown”): a factor has been named that reduces the risk of infection by five times] (

Nazvana gruppa lyudey, kotoraya s rozhdeniya zashchishchena ot COVID-19. Komu zhe segodnya “”? [A group of people who have been protected from COVID-19 from birth has been named. Who is not afraid of the “korona” (“crown”) today?”] (

We see that the word “korona”, due to its recognizability, “familiarity”, is perceived to a lesser extent as an immediate threat. Here the cognitive mechanism of the “magic of a word” works, when, in order to ward off trouble, people rename the very phenomenon that carries alarm, as if “softening” the nomination.

In our works, for example, in (Radbil, 2019), such effects, following A. Vezhbitskaya (Wierzbicka, 1997), are interpreted as an attitude towards empathy (the speaker’s personal involvement in the nomination of an event) –– this is the most important nationally determined feature of Russian discourse, which is also manifested in cultural appropriation of borrowing (due to it, for example, the English word “” turns into the petting Russian diminutive “”, and the English “flash drive” transforms into the feminine diminutive “”, etc.).

Lexical and lexical-derivative innovations

consist in the fact that Russian speech includes foreign words, which acquire properties unusual for them in the source language –– idiomaticity, semantic diversity, specifically Russian emotional-evaluative background, etc. An example of such an innovation is the functioning of the neolexeme “covid”. A reflex of the lexical mastering of this lexeme is its graphic rendering in a Cyrillic font:

Za pervuyu nedelyu sentyabrya zarazilas tysyacha shkolnykh uchiteley, oni prenebregli maskami [In the first week of September, a thousand school teachers became infected with COVID, they neglected masks] (

The cultural appropriation of the lexeme “” is evidenced by its participation in the transformation of phraseological units or other precedent phenomena that are easily recognized by native speakers:

: sostav slez patsiyenta predskazhet tyazhest' zabolevaniya [COVID has cried: the composition of the patient's tears will predict the severity of the disease] (

Here the figure of defraseologization is used. The Russian phraseological unit “Kot naplakal” (“A cat has cried”) means ʽa small amount of somethingʼ and does not really contain the idea of cried cat. In this case, the word “has cried” is returned in the context of the direct meaning.

U? Bolshaya chast zabolevshikh koronavirusom v Chelyabinskoy oblasti –– zhenshchiny [Does a COVID have a female face? Most of the cases of COVID in the Chelyabinsk region are women] (

Here the allusion to the title of the famous book by S. Aleksievich “U voyny ne zhenskoye litso” (“War has no woman's face”) is rethought in terms of COVID-19.

Such uses have all the features of a “language game” (Dedova & Grigorieva, 2018; Toropkina, 2019). We believe that the use of this foreign-language word, which denotes a phenomenon not very suitable for entertainment, in contexts reflecting the attitude towards linguistic creativity, can be considered as a kind of psychological adaptation of Russian native speakers.

The phenomena of cultural appropriation of foreign language elements in lexis are also supported in active word-formation processes. For example, typically Russian models of occasional derivation with primordial and borrowed prefixes are used (Nikolina et al., 2020). As a result, on the basis of the neolexeme “”, prefix neoderivates with size-evaluative semantics appear ––“” (“under-COVID”), “” (“super-COVID”), “” (“super-COVID”):

Eto teper' tak budut pisat', yesli testom ne podtverzhdeno?? No vse zhe protekal kak kovid… Original'no pridumali [Will it be written like this now, if the test is not confirmed? Nedokovid (“under-COVID”)? But nevertheless it proceeded like a covid ... Originally invented] (;

Nu da, inoplanetnoye proiskhozhdeniye yeshche ne rassmatrivali [Well, yes, the alien origin of the sverkhkovid (“super-COVID”) has not yet been considered] (;

skazka v Bikerniyekskom lesu i na protestakh u pamyatnika Svobody [A beskovidnaya (“incovid”) fairy tale in the Bikernieki forest and supercovid (“super-COVID”) at the protests at the Freedom Monument] (

In the last example, the neo-derivative adjective “” (“incovid” ––ʽwithout COVID-19’) is also interesting. It is formed according to the usual word-formation prefix-suffix model of the type “bezdonny” (“bottomless”), “bezdomny” (“homeless”), etc. with the semantics ʽthe absence of an object named by the based wordʼ.

A characteristic feature of the cultural incorporation of foreign language elements through the word-formation mechanisms of the Russian language is the formation on the basis of these elements of diminutive neo-derivates with typically Russian suffixes. Thus, the neo-derivate “” (“little COVID”) is very common in the newest Russian speech:

I vot seychas my voochiyu nablyudayem, kak malen'kiy, po suti dela, “” (“little COVID”), vyzval takuyu volnu paniki [And now we are witnessing with our own eyes how a small, in fact, “kovidik” (“little COVID”), caused such a wave of panic (;

Cho vy pridirayetes' srazu?! Tam logon'kaya bolezn' byla,. [Why are you finding fault at once ?! There was a small illness there, little kovidik. A small wavy kovidik] (

The emergence of the diminutive “” based on the neolexeme “”, in terms of the aforementioned empathy, turns the terrible and alienated COVID-19 into something homely, close, familiar in the minds of Russian-speaking people. Here we again encounter the work of the cognitive mechanism of “magic of a word”, when operations with the name of an object help native speakers to minimize their anxieties and fears associated with the phenomenon named by this word.

The neolexeme “” is also actively involved in the formation of compounding words according to the primordially Russian models of derivation. Often complex neoderivates based on this word can be created in deviation of standard word-formation models, according to the mechanisms of analogous word-formation or using other methods of occasional derivation –– “” and “” (“COVID-madness” and “COVID-mad”):

. Neutikhayushcheye bezumiye vynudilo menya nakonets-to napisat' podrobnyy razbor proiskhodyashchego [Kovidobesiye (“COVID-madness”). The unabated kovidobesny (“COVID-mad”) insanity forced me to finally write a detailed analysis of what was happening] (


The study confirmed that two antinomic tendencies coexist in the modern Russian language. On the one hand, new phenomena reflect the trend towards globalization and internationalization, primarily on the basis of English-language linguo-cultural, linguo-cognitive and communicative models –– this indicates significant transformations, as a result of impact of foreign cultural speech behavioral models and value priorities, in the language consciousness of a certain part of Russian native speakers. On the other hand, in new phenomena, reflexes of the most fundamental ways of knowing and evaluating the world inherent in traditional, primordially Russian models of linguistic conceptualization of the world are not only preserved, but even expanded their presence.

On the whole, the analyzed material demonstrated that elements of foreign language origin are actively and successfully mastered and even appropriated by modern Russian native speakers as part of their own, nationally-specific common speech practice. The results of the study revealed a certain freedom in handling borrowed material inherent in modern Russian speech in the COVID-19 epoch, and Internet communication is a vivid and representative evidence of the fact. Thus, the Russian language today does not at all retreat under the influx of an array of foreign language borrowings and foreign cultural influences, but, on the contrary, mastering someone else's things and making them our own, only becomes richer and more expressive, pushing the boundaries of its already considerable possibilities in conceptualizing this difficult world in which we live.

Moreover, we see how culturally appropriated foreign elements seem to be at the service of the world of the Russian language. They help the Russian language successfully cope with the challenges posed to it by the changed reality of the COVID-19 era. Largely due to these innovations, the language not only captures new things and new meanings, it prompts the way in their interpretation to its native speakers, i.e. solves heuristic and prognostic problems of understanding the new conditions of human existence, while revealing significant creative and expressive potential.


The reported study was funded by RFBR and FRLC, project number 20-512-23003 “Active processes in Modern Russian and their research in Russian and Hungarian linguistics”.


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01 September 2021

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The Russian language, methods of teaching, Russian language studies, Russian linguistic culture, Russian literature

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Radbil, T. (2021). New Russian Lexis In The Aspect Of Cultural Appropriation Of Loan Words. In & V. M. Shaklein (Ed.), The Russian Language in Modern Scientific and Educational Environment, vol 115. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 421-432). European Publisher.