Courses

“Russia Beyond the Russians”

Russia is home to 180 nationalities; over 100 of them still retain their indigenous languages. In this course, we consider the rich tapestry of ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups living in the Russian Federation today. Some groups, like the Veps, have been largely acculturated by the Russians, but have left an indelible mark on such aspects of Russian culture as folktales and traditional embroidery patterns. Other groups have been significantly diminished by the uniformity-seeking policies of the Russian state, first under the Tsars, then under the Soviets, and most recently through President Vladimir Putin’s quest for the “national idea” aimed to unify the entire country. Many groups still carry the collective memories of the atrocities that were committed against them in the past and most such groups seek to gain a recognition of their ethnic and cultural uniqueness, increased autonomy, or even full independence, often taking very different approaches ranging from the peaceful Circassian movement to the much more violent Chechen resistance.

 

Old Church Slavonic

Old Church Slavonic was first written down about 860 A.D. by the first missionaries to the Slavs from the Eastern Church: Saints Cyril and Methodius. Some existing manuscripts date from before 1000 CE. In this OCS course, we learn the alphabet(s) and the grammatical structure of the language, and read selected texts, chiefly from Bible translations.

 

Language, Thought, Culture: A Reassessment

If Eskimos have several words for snow, do they perceive it differently from us? Are the Piraha, a tribe in the Amazon rainforest whose language lacks number words, not able to keep track of exact quantities? And do speakers of Australian aboriginal languages, who say ‘north’, ‘south’, ‘east’, and ‘west’ rather than ‘left’ and ‘right’, have better spatial orientation than English speakers? In short, does our language affect how we think and perceive the world? Or are there universal aspects of human language and cognition that transcend linguistic divisions?