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James Meek on Ukraine

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I am fascinated by the language situation in Ukraine and the recent article by James Meek in the London Review of Books  ( https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v45/n16/james-meek/every-field-every-yard) helps to feed this interest.

Meek refers to those who have changed from using Russiand to using Ukrainian and gives the example of a singer, Ruslan Kuznetsov, who used to sing in Russian but now usees Ukrainian.  He surprised Ukrainian speakers by using it so well so for many Russian speakers this change will be a challenge.

Meek also refers to the way that English is playing a more important role and how it might be more sensitive to try English in Ukraine first rather than Russian if a person only knows English and Russian.

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Linguistic creativity in reaction to the invasion of Ukraine

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I had read about the term pашизм (literally transliterated as "rashism") being used as a way to refer to the ideology that justifies the invasion of Ukraine and I had assumed that it was mixture of Russian (just represented by the "r") and fascism (represented by the rest of the word).

In this article  https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/22/magazine/ruscism-ukraine-russia-war.html Snyder argues that it is more complex than this and that the "ra" links to the way that Russia is pronounced in Russian (it is written as Россия but pronounced more like /ræsiːjə/.  He also suggests that the pашизм links it more closely to the English pronunciation of Russia/Russian.  As a result, he thinks the transliteration should be "ruscism".  I am not sure that I am completely convinced by this but it is an interesting hypothesis.

There is also much interesting discussion of the role of bilingualism in the Ukraine and presumably this means that there is great potential for cross linguistic puns and creative language.

As someone who knows Russian quite well and has just started learning Ukrainian, I am struck by how much of the lexis is diffferent and Snyder gives examples of this but I am finding I get most sentences correct when doing Duolingo as the grammar seems so similar.

Snyder T (2022) "The War in Ukraine has unleashed a new word" The New York Times Magazine April 22nd 2022 Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/22/magazine/ruscism-ukraine-russia-war.html (Accessed 27/04/2022)

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 27 Apr 2022, 18:43)
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More on Ukrainian, Russian and the invasion of Ukraine

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I greatly admired Ilya Kaminsky's long poem "Deaf Republic" and so I was interested in his views of language and writing about the situation in Ukraine at https://lithub.com/ilya-kaminsky-on-ukrainian-russian-and-the-language-of-war/

He refers to Russian speakers now choosing to use Ukrainian as a reaction to Putin's threats and of course what later turned out to be actions.  There is a sad account from a poet of how:

"I have never felt discriminated against because I spoke the Russian language. Those are myths. In all the cities of Western Ukraine I have visited, I spoke with everyone in Russian—in stores, in trains, in cafes. I have found new friends."

So, the language itself is not the problem and it was often a way of bringing people together.  This also undermines Putin's argument that he is protecting Russian speakers from discrimination (but, of course, this is just one account).

An even more interesting and tragic point is made about a Ukrainian poet:

"Just as Russian-language poet Khersonsky refuses to speak his language when Russia occupies Ukraine, Yakimchuk, a Ukrainian-language poet, refuses to speak an unfragmented language as the country is fragmented in front of her eyes. As she changes the words, breaking them down and counterpointing the sounds from within the words, the sounds testify to a knowledge they do not possess. No longer lexical yet still legible to us, the wrecked word confronts the reader mutely, both within and beyond language."

It seems that the way to express the broken world is to use language that is as broken as the world it represents.

Kaminsky then reflects on the issue of himself writing in English and presumably this reflects another angle and other ways of representing a perspective on the events.

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Language and the invasion of Ukraine

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 28 Feb 2022, 11:41

There has been much talk that the capital of Ukraine should be written in the style used in Ukrainian Kyiv rather than the Russian Kiev - see, for example 


I can see the argument for this but it also has to be considered that many Ukrainians are Russian speakers and many of these are also proudly Ukrainian.  I wonder whether insisting on the new spelling/pronunciation might have the unintended consequence of alienating some from their Ukrainian identities.

It is always difficult to compare language situations but Swansea are not called Abertawe in the Football League.  The supporters who speak English are no less Welsh than those who speak Welsh.  Using Russian for Kiev/Kyiv does not immediately seem to reduce support for the multilingual country of Ukraine.
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I am addicted .....

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 20 Jun 2023, 19:27

.... to duolingo.

I started practising Russian and Chinese last year on duolingo last year.  These are both languages I have studied before (in the 1980s) and I lived in China from 1986 to 1988 and Russia from 1989.  Duoloingo provides a good chance to practise for free and I think I do benefit to some extent although the practise is very decontextualised.

For any readers unfamiliar with Duolingo (https://www.duolingo.com/), the basic version is free.  A large number of languages are available but there are several gaps (eg Bulgarian).  There are a large (but finite) number of short "lessons" in each language taught - they are more like tests than lessons, though, in most cases.  The user starts with five "hearts" that are needed to access the lessons.  Each time they make a mistake, they lose a heart and when all are lost, they either have to do a practice lesson or wait for a period of up to four hours.  There are also "gems" that are needed to access some content and they are added as rewards for some achievements.

Users are put into groups who are encouraged to compete.  Users get messages that they might be relegated or that someone has overtaken them.  It is interesting how seriously I take not being relegated although it does not affect my learning at all (I get no change in what is available for me).  My wife and brother who also use the app are also anxious not to get relegated.

There are also frustrations.  Sometimes I write a translation that seems reasonable but the app rejects it.  It is possible to report this with a menu item "My answer should have been accepted" and sometimes I get emails saying my suggestion has been accepted but I still lose "hearts" which means that I cannot continue for a period of time. 

Another problem is sometimes the app crashes and I lose hearts and/or gems through no fault of my own.

I have more or less finished the Chinese course.  I have done the basic lessons and only have some lessons to get "legendary status" (legendary for who? 😀) left to do.  I have done some of these but I have to preserve my gems to access these.  It is interesting that there is some fairly key vocabulary not taught.  Despite several lessons on food, the words "soy sauce", "vinegar" "leek" and garlic" (fundamental ingredients) have not been mentioned.  There is a very difficult lesson on "net slang" that features "otaka" (the app seems to think this is an English word - it seems to mean a person who plays computer games all day).

I am well through the Russian course and I recently started Norweigan as a new language - I decided on this because I am interested in the writer Knausgaard but I imagine it will be a long time before I can read him in the original.

Does any of this give me insights for my own work as a teacher?  I think the ability to do short periods of learning is useful for students and is something I should emphasise to students of language.  My choices of language show that outside factors such as interest in cultures are important.  I do feel frustrated by the lack of context.  Sometimes the sentences taught raise questions it would be interesting to discuss (eg one question taught was "Which presents should not be given to Chinese people".  I know partial answers (eg I have been told clocks are unsuitable for retirement) but it would be interesting to have more.

The example of Duolingo is discussed in L161 so it is useful to have experience of it as a "consumer".

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Russian as the language of space travel

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It is interesting to listen to Helen Sharman at about 58 minutes of this programme describing how the first few months of her training to go into space were devoted to learning Russian and physcal fitness.


She seemed very matter of fact about the need to learn it.

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Briton in space, multlingualism and intercultural competence

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 16 Dec 2015, 17:44

I suppose I am showing my age if I state how interested I have always been by space exploration.  So, I have been very interested in newspaper coverage and television coverage of Tim Peake's flight.

One of the aspects that drew my attention was his need to study Russian during his training,  This was not surprising as he is traveling in a Russian craft and the Star Gazing programme last night mentioned how Russian is naturally the working language for the Soyuz flights although English will be used on the ISS.  The international nature of the ISS also presumably means there would need to be a high degree of intercultural competence on the part of the cosmo/astronauts.

Probably most viewers would have been aware of his physical, psychological and scientific skills but linguistic and intercultural competence must also be vital for these cosmo/astronauts.

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 17 Dec 2015, 09:45)
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