Spring AATSEEL meeting

Another AATSEEL meeting has occurred. Today in Tucson at the U of A we met and it was one of the better meetings I’ve been to, and I’ve been going twice a year since the early 70s.

In addition to meeting new people and exchanging academic gossip, the following presentations prompted many comments, often from me (surprise!).

The analysis of the phonetics of Russian poetry has been so facilitated by computers that many things can be done but there are limitations. One of them is that Russian vowels devolve into other vowels when unstressed and since stress shifts within paradigms e.g. from nominative to oblique, from singular to plural, from 1st person to 2nd person, etc. Voiced consonants devoice when final. Nevertheless, fascinating patterns of sound correspondence emerge when subjected to such analysis.

Bloggers reveal patterns of identity construction as they write. Six Russian bloggers had their entries analyzed in terms of self-expression and strong contrasts were seen based on how they constructed their blog IDs.

The cyrillic alphabet is coded for transactions of money and so is the Latin alphabet. A problem arises when letters that are identical in lower case between the two alphabets are coded as separate items. Somehow (way beyond me), this allows hackers using a technique known as ’phishing’ to make items that look just like your Bank America e-mails and can get enough of your personal information as you respond to empty your bank account. Lovely.

Then a two-pronged version of human rights was presented, one as Human Rights Watch understands them and one as Vladimir Putin understands them. Rights come from the state, according to the statist view. Putin’s rhetoric sounds good to the West, but he is operating out of a different tradition.

At several ACTFL conferences I have been blessed with amazing conversations with Katya Ites at Amherst. Her knowledge of Russian semiotics is endless. So when I heard a presentation on Russian folk tales used at upper levels to promote conversation, I was prepared to understand some of the issues. Of particular interest to me were the fossilized and archaic forms found in folk tales.

The grammar freaks among us (I think that was all of us) loved the presentation on the use of numbers. I will not go into Russian numbers here; suffice it to say that Russians go out of their way to keep numbers in the nominative case. It’s complicated enough that way without going into the oblique cases. Part of my cryptogrammar blog category will be the fact that four animals in Russian require special usage: the mare, the sheep, the cow, and the goat; what do they have in common? They are all milked, at least in Russian and Central Asian cultures. That may or may not be the reason for the grammatical distinction, but something has to explain it (I offered that they are seen as objects to be purchased).

Finally, my favorite was a repeat of an earlier presentation from about 10 years ago that I have mentioned frequently on listservs and in my blog: the fact, FACT, I reiterate, that so many students of Russian cannot use the language. The presenter has taken groups of Russian students at various levels of study to Russia for the past forty years and they represent 100 different schools. He knows whereof he speaks.
The reason they don’t know Russian is because they have not been taught for ACQUISITON. They must be able to create with language. How often do we hear such talk among Russian teachers? It’s all grammar all the time. We are so obsessed with getting students to memorize declensional endings, stess patterns, conjugational variants, and so on that students are left with a handful of rules (quite a few handsful, actually) and noway to use them b/c they haven’t internalized a model of Russian. Great stuff.

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