Today concluding this interview with Russian Linguist/Philologist Maxim Kronhaus. Where we left off, reporter Denis Nizhegorodtsev asked Kronhaus if it were possible to satisfy the feminist need for feminizing suffixes without creating words that sounded derogatory.
Maxim: The idea is to, not only regularly form feminizers for all possible professions of a person, but also (parallely) to get rid of words which have a derogatory nuance. For example, there is the Russian word авторша (“avtor-sha” = female author). I wouldn’t say that it is derogatory, but it is definitely colloquial. And therefore those feminists who occupy themselves with this problem, want to get rid of it and replace it with a new feminizer word авторка (“avtor-ka”), relying partially on the Polish and Ukrainian languages, which have such a word. To the Russian ear this word sounds strange, and there is a debate swirling around how to employ such suffixes.
Denis: Your prognosis: In the foreseeable future, 10 or 12 years from now, will the majority of commonly-used Russian words, including those of professions, which currently have only a masculine declension — will they also then have feminine analogues?
Maxim: I think so, yes. Because this is the process of the normal development of society, language serves as a reflection of that process. On the other hand, there are certain internal problems with the language itself, regarding morphology. It is not possible to simply avoid these problems, in the hope of achieving equality between men and women in the language sphere. Okay, let’s stipulate that if a word ends in -or, then we slap on the suffix -ka or -sha, it does not sound right most of the time, and we often get a negative reaction.
[yalensis: Okay, I am going to butt in here and just offer a wee suggestion: how about you don’t slap on a suffix, and just call everybody an “author”, male or female?? I mean, everybody who actually is an author…]
Maxim (continuing after the rude interruption): But if you take new professions or any new activities undertaken by women, then we don’t receive any negative associations, for example if we are talking about different types of athletes, whose callings end in –ist. In that case, it is very easy to form words like “shtangist-ka“, “futbolist-ka“, “khokkeist-ka” [weightlifter, football player, hockey player], and nobody objects to these words.
Denis: And do we also have, in the Russian language, professions in which there is, on the contrary, only the feminine form, and so a masculinizing suffix would be needed?
Maxim: Yes, there is a small number of such words, of professions which were historically allocated to women. But nowadays men are mastering these professions as well. For example, there is the word няня (“nanny”). If a man gets a job as a nanny, then he is in fact called a nanny (няня – same word). And there is nothing humiliating about this. Although I do recall a Soviet film called “Nanny with a Moustache” [“Усатый нянь“, employing a made-up word with a masculine declension нянь]. But that was just a play on words.
Denis: Can we realistically expect to see a Russian Prezident-sha around 20 years from now? Or at the minimum, such a word.
Maxim: I believe that by that time, some type of linguistic consensus will have been reached. Either we will in fact have created a word Prezident-ka (although here Prezident-sha actually sounds more natural); or by then it will be considered normal to use a word of either gender, in this case masculine, for either men or women.
Denis: What do we know about other countries? Have they also travelled this path of doubts concerning the use of feminizers?
Maxim: Oh yes. They had this discussion, and they created lots of new words, artificial feminizers, and then in fact got used to them. I am primarily speaking of the Germanic languages: English, German, the Scandinavian languages; and I am speaking about the end of the 20th century, starting roughly in the 1980’s. This active change was associated with the concept of Political Correctness.
Denis: Are you saying that, in English for example, there is feminine analog to almost every term?
Maxim: No, they also followed in two paths. Even in the English language this was a complicated process. Let’s take, for example, the word “policeman”. Initially there was the attempt to create a word “policewoman”. And this word was even used by people. But then they switched to a more neutral word “policeperson”, which could be employed to reference either a male or female. The process is the same as ours. People can form pairs (or words), and then come to an agreement to just use a neutral word (instead).
Take German, for example, they (also) went the route of forming pairs. And nowadays, when you talk about mixed groups of young people, they are obliged to add “female students” to “male students” in an expression such as Studenten und Studentinnen. It being the case that the original (plural) word for students (Studenten) used to denote a general group of youngsters, no matter which sex. Different languages take different paths.