Soviet authorities warn youth: 'Votch out' for Americanisms in speech
Moscow — Label. Watch. Father. Button. Bag. No, your Moscow correspondent, tunneling from under a mountain of back copy from Tass, has not despondently turned to stream-of-consciousness narrative.
These seemingly harmless, English words are the latest focus of concern for those Soviet officials who keep watch on the less orthodox of Soviet teenagers.
With an extra dipthong here and there, the occasional ''v'' sound traded for an English ''w,'' the seemingly unrelated nouns are part of the piecemeal, schoolyard ''Americanization'' of the Russian language.
The kids no doubt think they sound cool, ''with it,'' in sprinkling their Russian speech with shavings of Americana, admits a commentator from the Communist youth newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. But, he asks, is all of this ''really so harmless?''
Of course not.
Nor, other Soviet commentators point out, is the weakness of some teenagers for Linda Ronstadt shirts, or for small, decorative crosses.
The offenders, it is promptly noted, are still in the minority. ''Milkmaids'' and farm boys, commentators sigh with relief, still seem largely immune. So are a lot of city kids. But, Komsomolskaya Pravda cautions, the problem is serious all the same.
Brushing aside perfectly good Russian words - indeed defiling ''the treasures'' of the Russian language - Soviet youngsters are now apt to peek at a ''votch'' to find what time it is; to ask ''fazer,'' that is, dad, for permission to stay out late; or to brag about the ''lebyl'' on their blue jeans.
The communist youth daily, as it happens, left a few of the more recent Americanisms off its list:
* ''Gerla,'' as in the disco date for a boy.
* ''Drinkat,'' to drink.
* Or even, occasionally, ''khau mach'' for, yes, ''how much?''
The danger is self-evident. As Komsomolskaya Pravda puts it, ''mastering of the Russian language, knowledge of its riches, a careful attitude toward the language. . . All this is directly linked with the idea of patriotism.''
Resorting to ''vulgar Americanisms,'' the article points out, ''is far from the proper way to build up your image among friends. . . ''
One of the nice things about such Soviet press commentaries is that they tend to suggest remedies for problems. An Izvestia piece on T-shirt Americana a few months back wondered out loud whether one cure might be to strengthen the Soviet T-shirt industry. Komsomolskaya Pravda, for its part, suggests better Russian-language instruction.
The question, of course, is whether linguistic pollution has gone too far, too deep, to be reversed.
The ''Russian'' word the youth journal uses for subversive American slang is ''zhargon.'' In American (or English, or French), we say ''jargon.'' The pesky little word seems to have got its start about six centuries ago - then meaning the ''twittering of birds'' - with a non-Russian chap named Geoffrey Chaucer.