The Russian government is proud of its efforts to promote the Russian language abroad. The website of the Rossotrudnichestvo aid agency touts the federal Russian Language program for 2016-20, saying "thousands of people are today studying Russian in the offices of Rossotrudnichestvo in many countries of the world."
But Nizhny Novgorod Russian-language teacher Tatyana Gartman thinks more attention should be paid to grammar problems closer to home. She says the abuse of Russian, fundamental grammar mistakes, and, particularly, misplaced stress in commonly used Russian words by hosts and moderators on state television is driving her batty.
So, like any concerned citizen of the 21st century, she started a channel on YouTube. She calls it a "humanitarian war" against TV personalities who have a less-than-intimate relationship with the language of poet Aleksandr Pushkin.
Gartman posts a weekly video in which she notes four or five instances of Russian-language mutilation and corrects the moderators in the same way that she corrects her grade-school students, occasionally even reciting helpful mnemonic devices.
The Russian word "pozharnik," she tells one moderator, is a type of beetle, while "pozharny" is a firefighter.
"Incidentally, practitioners of that noble profession get really offended when they are called insects," she notes.
Open To Debate
Like many of Gartman's criticisms, this one is open to debate. "Pozharnik" is a conversational term for firefighter. The website Russkiiyazyk.ru says that "in contemporary Russian, the words pozharny and pozharnik, in the sense of firefighter, are synonyms."
Gartman acknowledges such nuances sometimes, but insists that individuals featured on state television must be held to the highest standard.
In one video, she takes well-known journalist Vladimir Pozner to task for confusing two words: "yazykovy" (with the stress on the penultimate syllable), meaning related to the tongue, and "yazykovoi" (with the stress on the last syllable), meaning related to language. She notes that in one program, Pozner incorrectly uses the former for the latter several times and that, after he does so, his on-air guest begins making the same mistake.
"Apparently, the authority of the journalist had a strong influence on him," she says.
Gartman so far has produced five videos, issuing one each Monday. She has already picked up 11,000 subscribers and hundreds of thousands of views, and each video garners dozens of favorable comments from viewers who are similarly distressed to hear twisted Russian coming from their TVs.
Ultimately, Gartman's target audience comprises the TV personalities -- including Ivan Urgant, Artyom Sheinin, and Vyacheslav Nikonov -- that she upbraids, and some of them have already begun taking notice.
In one episode, she criticizes Aleksandr Pryanikov, host of a game show for children called We Are Literate on the Culture channel, for incorrectly declining the number 200,000.
Pryanikov took to social media to complain that she misheard him and to demand that she apologize publicly.
So, in a subsequent episode, although she maintains she continues to hear the mistake when listening to the tape, Gartman offers an unqualified apology. She then thanks him for a second social-media post in which Pryanikov "returned the favor" of offering unsolicited advice by suggesting that Gartman should lose 20 kilograms "or else you will have problems with your back." That post, Gartman notes, showed Pryanikov to be a "respectable, cultured man worthy of the [Culture] television channel for which he works."
She then immediately takes him to task for another, even more basic and indisputable, mistake in his latest program.
In another episode, Gartman takes Rossia-1 host Vladimir Solovyov to task. Asked about the incident by a local Nizhny Novgorod website, Solovyov turned the criticism back on Gartman.
"The good lady could call all of her [teaching] colleagues and ask, 'How is it that we taught them all so poorly?' he said.
Gartman ends each episode with the optimistic hope that it will be her last because "maybe suddenly all Russian moderators will begin speaking without mistakes."
"But if that doesn't happen, I'll see you next Monday," she adds.
The authorities in Russia have come under harsh criticism in recent months for perceived abuse of the country's vague law on extremism to punish political undesirables. In one case, a woman in Smolensk was fined for "disseminating Nazi insignias" for posting a World War II-era photo of her then-occupied city showing a Nazi flag and several uniformed Nazi officers.
It remains to be seen if similar penalties apply in Russia for being a grammar nazi.