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Language issues - Russian and Ukrainian

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 4 Aug 2022, 17:07

As often, the London Review of Books has an interesting blog posting related to some of the language issues regarding the invasion of Ukraine and how language choices may often reflect the social realities (Hanafin 2022).  The writer is studying Russian in Paris.

One point that is made is that Ukrainian is very different from Russian.  I am trying to learn Ukrainian on Duolingo and my previous knowledge of Russian is a great aid in this but I am struck by how much is different.  The language distance seems as great as between Russian and Slovak.  Incidentally, there is mention of the language/dialect distinction and this is always a political rather than a linguistic one (there is a famous quotation that a language is a dialect ""a dialect with an army and a navy" (attributed to Weinreich, RLG 2010).

A second point that resonated was the way that teaching examples might change.  So, Hanafin describes how his teacher is adding points about how people and institutions referred to in the texts used for teaching are affected by the war.  This seems to be a reminder that texts used for teaching are not politically neutral and presumably ignoring the war would be a political choice that for Russians would be tacit support for the war.  In a similar way, many language teaching texts address political issues such as climate change.  Language teachers may not be politicians but they do have political as well as language and teaching interests.

Hanafin refers to the way some refugees he encounters "couldn't or wouldn't speak Russian".  The latter seems more plausible to me but of course, I do not really know.  I can imagine that many Ukrainians may now have a negative attitude to the language of the invaders.  This slightly reminds me of a more trivial example I experienced in Hungary.  I do not speak Hungarian and encountered a waiter who did not speak English and seemed apologetic about this, I tried French and again he seemed apologetic but when I tried Russian, he seemed indignant that I asked. 


Hanafin S (2022) Translation exercises LRB Blogs at https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2022/july/translation-exercises?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20220803blog&utm_content=20220803blog+CID_dc3d5ac355cacfedc0624ee8c34eefb4&utm_source=LRB%20email&utm_term=Read%20more {accessed 04/08/22}

RLG (2010) Of dialects, armies and navies The Economist August 4th 2010 at https://www.economist.com/johnson/2010/08/04/of-dialects-armies-and-navies {Accessed 04/08/22}

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A language awareness quiz

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This is an intriguing quiz on Open Learn.

https://www.open.edu/openlearn/languages/could-you-be-super-linguist

I got all parts correct apart from one although a few were guesses.

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 28 Sep 2021, 17:39)
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Choice of languages to be taught in schools

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 11 Aug 2021, 16:52

There has recently been some discussion of increasing the numbers of schools that teach Latin - see https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/aug/08/requiescat-in-pace-no-need-to-resurrect-latin-in-schools for a response to this.  This seems to be an ill thought out response to the crisis in language teaching in this country.

I studied Latin at school for a couple of years although I never got to a high standard.  I can see the value of learning Latin for its intrinsic interest as a language and for the access to history.  However, of the languages I have studied (French, Russian and Chinese), it is the only one I have not made an effort to maintain (I am currently practising the latter two on Duolingo and read some texts and watch films in French.

There seems to be an argument that most learners will have less investment (Norton 2000) in learning Latin than modern languages.  There might, for example, be an incentive for schoolchildren to learn languages like Polish or Urdu.  These would be languages that would seem relevant in many communities where pupils might hear the languages or see shops with words written in those languages.

These languages would be at least as intellectually challenging as Latin (e.g. Polish has cases) but would have the advantage of seeming relevant to the modern world.

Norton, B. (2000) Identity And Language Learning: Gender, Ethnicity And Educational Change, London, Pearson Education.

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 13 Aug 2021, 14:14)
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Korean in Central Asia

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 12 Jul 2016, 10:22

I have come across the following article about Koreans and the Korean language in Kazkhstan - Koreans in  Uzbekistan are also mentioned in passing.

http://roadsandkingdoms.com/2016/32826/

I was aware of quite a large community of people of Korean origin in Tashkent as I had been there in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  For example, Korean style pickled cabbage was a significant feature in the markets.

The article is interesting but seems naive in some ways.  Some of the comments made me feel uneasy because of the way the language seems to be seen as inferior.

There are interesting comments about language change.  It discusses the way the Korean language has changed in these new contexts.  According to the article, the variety of Korean derives from one that used to be spoken in the north of Korea.  This reminded me of the way that American English has some things in common with older dialects of English.  For example, "fall" was commonly used to mean "autumn" in Britain but has almost died out.

The changes seem to be seen negatively - the writer refers to languages "deteriorating" and to this variety as being "broken" and that there was "grammatical decay".  However, she also refers to "grammatical aspects of the language changing", which could also be seen as an indication of vitality.

This is an interesting case of how languages evolve in different contexts and can be compared to the way that the English language has evolved in varying contexts..

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National Associate Lecturers in Languages Conference Part 2, Stephen Bax

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 28 Apr 2016, 14:35

The second talk at the conference was by Stephen Bax, a fairly recently appointed professor at the OU.

He gave some background on his experience and interests.  He has experience of working in Arabic speaking and also studied the language. It seems that this interest in Arabic and the Arabic speaking world might become influential within the OU in the near future - I hope so as it is clearly an interesting and important part of the world.

He discussed his interest in languages more generally and referred to the mysterious language, Voynich (the name sounds Russian as "voina" means "war" but I think this is just a coincidence).  Apparently, it still has not been decoded although he has attempted parts of the manuscript.

He then referred to his role in encouraging research and referred to the important research that the OU is engaged in.  This is highlighted at http://www.open.ac.uk/creet/main/research-themes/language-and-literacies  He suggested that research is not intrinsically complicated although some of the details are.  He explained about his interest in eye movements while reading.  He referred to some very sophsticated equipment that can track these movements and showed some of the results demonstrating that effective readers move around a text rather than in a linear way.  This is quite familiar in principle from what I have read on reading as a skill but it would be useful to know more of the detail.

Permalink 3 comments (latest comment by Sharon Hartles, Thursday, 5 May 2016, 10:55)
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