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Ekaterina Kudryavtseva: Everything Great Is International

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Ekaterina Kudryavtseva: Everything Great Is International

22.06.2015

Ekaterina Kudravtseva
The project titled “Great Russian Foreigners” is aimed at helping the Russian diaspora in the study of the Russian language and Russian culture but in a nontrivial manner: it is oriented toward demonstrating the international significance of Russian culture. The project examines the fates of many peoples and nationalities which deserve credit for the emergence of such Russian things (which is how they are perceived in European culture) as, for example matryoshka nesting dolls, the samovar and pelmeni. It also entails the study of the biographies of great figures in Russian culture and history who have foreign origins.

More than 1500 people from some 30 countries have already taken part in the project. Using an innovative online poster card technology, more than 200 illustrated e-posters for reading in Russian have been created. The author of this initiative, Elena Kudryavtseva of the Yelabuga Institute of Kazan Federal University and the Institute for Foreign Languages and Media Technology of the University of Greifswald, spoke to the Russkiy Mir portal about the project.

– You selected an unusual format for the Great Russian Foreigners project e-posters on social networks. Is it working?

The computer learning program Great Russian Foreigners is a sort of picture game with interchangeable commentary. It is built on positive knowledge stereotypes about Russia and consists of both famous Russians with foreign heritage Pushkin, Dal, Catherine II as well as about Russian words which were adopted from other languages, like caftan and belyash.

Why e-posters? This project is intended for the upcoming generation of Russian-speakers which reside outside Russia. And this format is comprehensible to children. After all, first of all, they live in the diaspora and, secondly, they have no direct ties to the Russian-speaking community. So a nonstandard approach was needed. Furthermore, there is a third global factor: contemporary children are growing up in a multicultural environment in a multilingual mobile world where they are important parts in network communities. And so that’s how it fell into place: just like the web is in essence international and does not recognize border, so too are great Russian minds who often are not Russian or only Russian in origin and who overcame existing boundaries by achieved world renown in their fields. It seemed alluring to me to combine the web with great people of Russian culture. After all, both the web and authoritative figures of a global scale motivate the upcoming generation to communicate, to expand their horizons and to use media in their education.

Does this approach work?

Judge for yourself. More than 1500 people from 29 countries took part in the project. More than 200 innovative e-posters were created for reading in Russian. The top 50 illustrated texts were selected.

You selected the famous Russian foreigners on the basis of their international origins, but what principle did you use to select the Russian words which are known around the world? Did they too need to have foreign or interethnic origins?

Not necessarily. They had to be Russian words which the world knows. It wasnt important if they were of Russian origin or adopted from other cultures. What was important is that having become Russian, they acquired a status in the world which does not require translation. For example, the words pelmeni and samovar clear are of non-Russian origin. However, they became widely known only after becoming established in Russian culture. Or the Russian word Cosmos is understood in the world without translation because it has become international.

The point of our project is to examine the fates of many people and nationalities which played a role in the emergence of such things as matryoshka, nevalyashka, ushanka hats, ballet, pelmeni, etc. These words are known around the world and they often are not translated from Russian. However, few recall that these things and phenomenon came to the fertile Russian soil from other countries and cultures, were transformed and enriched with the Russian ethno-cultural experience and then again transmitted to the world. And these words cosmos, matryoshka or samovar then enrich the worlds cultural space.

Do you think that Russian foreigners could have realized their potential in another language and anther cultural environment?

History, as they say, does not know the subjunctive mood. It has been proven time and time again that everything that is great is from the very beginning and ad infinitum international. For example, the Russian language as a language of intercultural communication belongs not only to the Russians. And Russian culture is enriched by the cultures of other nationalities and peoples of Russia, which makes the Russian language an indelible part of the worlds historical, cultural and contemporary space.

The same is true of great Russian people. Vladimir Dal did not have one drop of Russian blood, but it is difficult to find a more Russian person than him. It is difficult to assess his contribution to Russian culture and the culture of Russian speech. How many such geniuses have been born on Russian soil: Pushkin, Lermontov, Fet, Tsvetaeva, Bagration, Bering, Krusenstern, Brodsky you cant list them all. What we place an emphasis on in this project is that their origins and the origins of their predecessors are international while their upbringing and coming of age took place in a multicultural environment. This also makes them not only phenomena of Russian culture.

You have said on several occasions that the Great Russian Foreigners project helps the diaspora with the study of the Russian language. How does it do this?

Children in the diaspora most often prefer to study English as their first foreign language, and often no time, means or even desire remains for studying Russian, their native language. The example of our great compatriots, incidentally, sometimes people who began studying the Russian language only as adolescents, provides children motivation for the study of their native language.

The situation with adults is also somewhat complicated. In a foreign language environment, their Russian, in the best case scenario, fails to further develop and, in the worst case, becomes more impoverished. I have observed on multiple occasions how Russian foreigners strive to speak more proper Russia or almost like Russians, and it turns out like in a bad book lifeless. For example, many former compatriots avoid the use of idioms or overuse them or treat them like rare antiques.

Isnt that a normal occurrence for someone who has been taken out of a Russian-speaking environment?

If we want to preserve and develop living Russian speech, then we must admit that, for example, idioms have practically died out in the Russian-speaking diaspora of Germany. Similar processes are happening in the Russian diaspora throughout Europe. Another more complicated problem is linguistic interference, or the mutual influence of languages in a bilingual setting. Here our objective, including for the Great Russian Foreigners project, is to hinder language interference.

Are you satisfied with how your project is going?

I am pleased that the e-posters are being considered by various educational systems of different countries as a part of subject studies. The project is used by schools in Russia, in certain CIS countries and elsewhere largely in Europe. These posters make the knowledge of language and culture relevant, by turning studies into an education and turning lessons into an engaging project. Teachers who have used these in practice have understood that they incorporate well into new education technologies and provide a chance to reinforce the living Russian language among those who study it.

Anna Loshchikhina
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