On language

Language is the best orthodontic tool. The language. The specialized English language that has been cultivated on the pages of orthodontic literature during the last one hundred years.

Two years ago, I started my blog with a question ‘Can we study orthodontics in a foreign language?’ I came to a negative conclusion then. I didn’t change my mind today. However, I want to share some thoughts on language again. Particularly on my mother tongue…

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A sculpture “Forward” by Erik Bulatov, a prominent Russian/Soviet non-conformist artist. Photo: courtesy to a/political and the artist

My first language is a sophisticated rapidly mutating at the moment tongue. It had been slowly evolving from the Old Church Slavonic up to the 19th century when it underwent turbulent changes that resulted in the emergence of a good portion of Russian classic literature. I am not a philologist of any sort, but I can’t help feeling that this progress has happened mostly due to the merits of one guy of Ethiopian origins, Alexander Pushkin. In 1817, he graduated from the Imperial Lyceum near Saint Petersburg, the main school for Russian nobility at the time. He then produced a colossal amount of literary work in a wide range of genres from folklore poetry to historical novels. He had an enormous influence on each and every Russian-speaking writer ever since, his birthday was chosen by UNESCO as the Russian language day. But what do we exactly celebrate on the 6th of June? A crystal clear and harmonious Pushkin’s grammar or a dull dialect we have been left with after 70 years of a Soviet linguistic experiment?

What do I dislike about Soviet dialect?

It is obvious for me, that Soviet dialect, a peculiar product of an unsuccessful cultural experiment carried behind the Iron Curtain, is still considered a standard in a post-Soviet world. But what is really wrong about it? In my opinion, its main handicap is the lack of focus. It has very vague structure, the sense is always dissolving, and continuous mindless borrowing of foreign words gradually worsen the situation.

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A sculpture by Erik Bulatov. Depending on intonation this phrase can mean both “Everything is not that frightening” and “Everything is wrong, this is frightening”. Photo: courtesy to a/political and the artist

I think we are dealing with a remote after-effect of a censorship. For decades, official language had not been naturally evolving, free press was banned, and independent literature had been surviving only in the form of Samizdat, an underground hand-crafted magazine. I can’t stop feeling that this is the reason why when I read or listen to Russian media today I can see and hear nothing but a Cyrillic noise…

To the point

Now it is time to give some examples relevant to orthodontics. The thing we value the most in our specialty is certainty. We want to know for certain where we are going and how to get there. As a result, we need a clear vocabulary for directions along the way. The absence of a useful vocabulary is a sure failure.

The words of spatial arrangement are essential in orthodontics. We have plenty of them to describe teeth movements in English: proclination, retroclination, tip, tilt, etc. In Russian there is the only word for all these movements: наклон (“naklon”). That’s it. Now please add here poorly translated orthodontic books, a constant confusion with the names of orthodontic instruments and, of course, the absence of any orthodontic program taught in English. Voila, now you know why Russians never smile.

Do we have a solution?

I first wrote about possible solutions two years ago in the Young Russian Orthodontists Manifesto. The pivotal point of which was the establishment of a good graduate program in English that will meet the guidelines by the World Federation of Orthodontists (WFO), which when should be accompanied by an integration with western institutions such as orthodontic boards and the WFO itself. Of course, it is a complicated and tedious journey that requires serious funds.

By now, I think it would be great if we at least stop calling our specialty orthodontiya. It is against both grammar rules of Russian language and contemporary evidence-based approach.

I want to finish this post with a quote from a prominent 20th century Russian language scholar, a linguist Dietmar Rozenthal:

“The names of exact sciences as physics and mathematics should be translated into Russian with a suffix ‘-ika’: “physika”, “matematika”. We should not use suffix ‘-iya’ for this matter. This one is more appropriate for the endings of the names of social phenomena or medical conditions: “collectivizaciya” (collectivization), “miopiya” (myopia)…”

I don’t state here that orthodotiya is a disease, let it be a social phenomenon. However, I hope that one day it will have been finally transformed into orthodontics, an evidence-based exact science. The first step to make this happen is to embrace the language, the specialized English language…

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