Runglish: The mixture of ‘language’ spoken by astronauts on the ISS

Runglish is the unlikely hybrid ‘language’ created by combining elements of English and Russian. While some forms of this Frankenstein have been uttered by immigrant communities for decades, perhaps even centuries, it is most prominently associated with the everyday banter between English-speaking astronauts and Russian cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The ISS is a joint venture between NASA (US), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe) and CSA (Canada), but the US and Russia are considered the de facto leaders – and so . reflected in the language used here.

English is the main language on board the ISS, but all astronauts are expected to have some knowledge of the Russian language. This is because the Russian Soyuz spacecraft was the only way to transport astronauts back and forth to the ISS (before SpaceX arrived on the scene). As such, all buttons, signs and procedures on board the spacecraft during launch to and return from the ISS were provided in the Russian language.

Often the ISS crews do not fully understand each other’s language, forcing them to develop their own patchwork of pidgin language, which brings together words, sounds, phrases and expressions from both Russian and English.

“I’ve had different crews and depending on their language skills as a crew you arrive at a common language,” Peggy Whitson, an American biochemist who became the first woman to command the ISS twice, told the Cambridge University Press blog.

“For example, in one case, I knew that one of my Russian crew always mixed up Tuesday and Thursday, so I always had to distinguish between the two. So ultimately we develop some kind of common language that we can understand with each other,” she added.

“When we provide training in emergency procedures, it is very important that everyone understands what you are doing. So you have to know your crew well enough to know, okay, we have to talk about this in Russian, or I have to say this in both Russian and English. You start to understand what vocabulary works for everyone, and that’s really helpful,” Whitson explains.

As explained in a 2021 paper on the subject, there is no firm agreement on what defines Runglish. To some it is simply seen as poorly spoken English, while others argue that it is a pidgin language (in other words, a grammatically simplified form of a language) or a pseudo-dialect. Conversely, some believe that it borrows linguistic norms from both English and Russian to create new language forms of its own.

Since there is no single version of Runglish, nor a strict definition of it, it is difficult to give you an idea of ​​what it sounds like. However, as one definition puts it, “Runglish is a transformation of English words or phrases into Russian style by adding prefixes, suffixes, and endings to adapt English vocabulary for use in everyday speech.”

In all likelihood, Runglish is constantly changing depending on the language skills of the person speaking it. The ‘language’, if we can call it that, is not set in stone, but is constantly being reinvented.

Runglish has emerged numerous times in modern history whenever English speakers and Russian speakers came into contact with each other. One area where the hybrid language is particularly common is Brighton Beach, a New York City neighborhood with a high proportion of Russian-speaking immigrants.

Of course, Runglish isn’t the only example of people blending their native language with a second language. One of the most prominent examples can be found among people from Latin America who have immigrated to English-speaking countries and developed new ‘Spanish-speaking’ dialects.

These newly formed forms of communication can often provoke criticism from native speakers, who accuse the emerging dialect of being ‘sloppy’ or ‘lazy’. But as any linguist can tell you, languages ​​are constantly evolving in the face of new social and cultural forces – and their ever-changing form is part of what makes them so beautiful to understand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *