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Sandra Birzer (Regensburg)

Sociolinguistic Specificities of Russian Transliterated E-mail Messages

Transliteration is usually used for academic purposes and follows highly normative conventions. However, during the early stages of e-mail communication many laymen used transliteration due to technical reasons (lacking Unicode compatibility of Russian characters etc.). These users are not aware of the academic transliteration norms, which makes transliteration an experimental ground for them.

Based on a corpus of texts from eight selected respondents (4 males, 4 females, 4 below thirty years of age, 4 over thirty years; all university graduates) we detected and explored five issues that are typical of transliterated e-mails and allow to draw conclusions about the varying linguistic behavior of males and females:

  1. transliteration variants and their stability: in academic transliteration systems, each Cyrillic grapheme comes with only one transliteration equivalent, whereas our respondents use several transliteration variants for one Russian grapheme, varying from 1.1 to 2.2 transliteration variants (at an average) for one Russian grapheme.
    Among females the average ranges between 1.0 and 1.5, among males between 1.1 and 2.2. Irrespective of the stability of transliteration equivalents, the Library of Congress transliteration system serves as basis for the transliteration systems of all respondents, probably due to language prestige.
  2. orthographic maccaronism: the word stems are spelt according to the orthographic conventions of one (donor) language that uses Roman script, whereas the Russian inflectional ending is transliterated.
    Words displaying orthographic maccaronism can be split into two groups: foreign words (e.g. the internationalism notebook > ноутбук (should be: noutbuk) > e-mail: notebook, French Champagne > шампанское (should be: šampanskoe > e-mail: champanskoe) and orthographic maccaronisms that are due to language contact, e.g. the transliteration v Bibliotheke by a Russian native speaker with a command of German. Orthographic maccaronisms are used by both genders equally.
  3. phonetic transcription: Russian graphemes representing some highly frequent sound combinations are not transliterated but rendered in a very basic phonetic transcription, e.g. the infinitive of reflexive verbs: -ться (should be: -t’sja) > -tsa. Only male respondents used phonetic transcription.
  4. regularity of intervocalic {j}: Some Russian vocalic combinations such as {ae} in читает (čitaet ‘read-3sg’) are pronounced with an intervocalic [j]. In transliterated e-mails some respondents represent the intervocalic [j] graphically. In some cases the intervocalic {j} is used hypercorrectly, i.e. in vocalic combinations where [j] is not phonetically realized. The regularity rate of intervocalic {j} among tokens of one vocalic combination type is significantly lower among males.
  5. transliteration variants of Russian {щ}, or [ʃ] vs. [ʃʲː]: generally, the Russian grapheme {щ} represents the sound [ʃʲː], yet according to orthoepic norms, помощник (pomoščnik ‘assistant’) is one instance where {щ} is depalatalized to [ʃ]. Our respondents consistently chose transliteration variants of {щ} that imply the phonetic realization [ʃ] in many more contexts, e.g. еще (ešče ‘still’) > eshe. Quite interestingly, the opposition [ʃ] vs. [ʃʲː] does not form minimal pairs. Therefore the consistent rendering of {щ} by a transliteration variant implying the phonetic realization [ʃ] might be a first indicator for the general depalatalization of the sound represented by {щ}. Males consistently use transliteration variants of {щ} implying the phonetic realization [ʃ].

From a gender-linguistic point of view, our data corroborate the well-known sociolinguistic hypothesis that the language behavior of males is more innovative, but also more inconsistent than the language behavior of females.