Studying Language in Vivo: Russian Linguistic and Cultural Heritage in Alaska
· Language, as seen by modern linguistic approaches, is a multifaceted phenomenon belonging to the three realms of human existence: biological, psychological, and social. If we want to understand how it functions, we need to view it not as an object, but as an activity. The activity that brings together all the three mentioned constituents is communication. The central concept in studying communication is “context”, as most if not all features of the communication process are determined by various contexts in which it occurs. In order to construct and reconstruct meanings as it happens in communication, in order to be able to describe the language as means of this communication process, we need to be able to fill out all the contextual gaps: who, when, where,whyor what for, and how.
In this course we will answer these questions within a specific case study that demonstrates various directions of linguistic research when studying language ‘in vivo’. The case study deals with a project to compile a dictionary of an endangered language dialect - Alaskan Russian – and is aimed at preserving cultural and linguistic heritage of the Russian America.
It is based on fieldwork and demonstrates how culture and physical context (history of the region) may shape linguistic form and influence the lexicon via borrowings and other processes.
The theoretical part of the course can be seen as an ‘alternative introduction to interdisciplinary studies of language’ and aims at providing information on both linguistic and intercultural communication data and methods. To that end, an Intercultural Collaboration Project using distance online based team work with American students is an essential part of the course.