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Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Language debate rages in Russia
A teacher reads a book for children
Russian spelling is not only a problem for children
Russians often feel slightly embarrassed when trying to cope with their mother tongue's notoriously complicated spelling rules, and recent debates on language reform may well have confused them even more.

Our country's economy is being rebuilt, so the language is still developing and has not yet settled down - therefore it is not yet ready for reform.

Lyudmila Putina
The controversy around the proposed changes is so huge that Russia's First Lady has become involved in the heated rhetoric.

President Vladimir Putin's wife Lyudmila said that the proposals - by a commission of the Russian Academy of Science - were "untimely and totally-self-serving".

"Our country's economy is being rebuilt, so the language is still developing and has not yet settled down - therefore it is not yet ready for reform," she told a conference on the Russian Government's linguistic policy in St Petersburg.

"So right now is not the time for reforming the language."

Antiquated rules

Her words must have signalled trouble for the orthographic commission which has been trying to simplify Russian spelling and accommodate foreign words that have flooded the language.

Lyudmila Putina
Mrs Putina says reforms are 'untimely'

After six years of work, the commission - under the Russian Academy of Science - has come up with specific proposals which it hopes will become acceptable for all.

"It's not reform. We're just trying to put things in order," Lyudmila Cheltsova, the commission's secretary, told the New York Times.

She said that nobody except the commission has looked closely at Russian orthography for decades, and that the proposals would trim antiquated spelling rules.

'Mini' and 'maxi'

One of the proposals is aimed at simplifying the spelling of certain words - like the Russian equivalents of "wounded" or "fried" - which can be different depending on whether they are participles or adjectives.

Lyudmila Putin de facto cancelled any attempts to reform spelling

Vremya MN newspaper

Other proposals are aimed at putting in order hyphenation for foreign prefixes like "mini" and "maxi", which have long been in common usage.

The commission also wants to standardise the capitalisation of certain religious terms, like "God" and "Easter", which are already frequently upper-cased.

The reaction of the public and academics to the proposals has been mostly negative, and one Moscow newspaper, Vremya MN, said Mrs Putin's remarks had "de facto cancelled any attempts to reform the spelling".

In any case, the proposals are still only a draft, after a government language committee decided to shelve them.

See also:

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28 Dec 01 | Europe
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