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National Research University Higher School of EconomicsNewsOn CampusFrancis Tyers – Drawn by Russia’s Linguistic Diversity

Francis Tyers – Drawn by Russia’s Linguistic Diversity

One of HSE’s newest faculty members is Francis Tyers, who will join the School of Linguistics on August 28 as an Assistant Professor. A native of Normanton on Soar, a small village in the south of Nottinghamshire in England, he joins HSE following a postdoctoral fellowship at UiT Norgga árktalaš universitehta in Tromsø in the north of Norway, where he worked on language technology for Russian and the Sámi languages. Prior to that, he completed PhD studies in the Department of Languages and Information Systems at the Universitat d'Alacant in Spain.

Like many talented new faculty members, Tyers had a number of open doors before joining HSE, but he felt drawn to the university. For him, it was ultimately HSE’s students that proved the deciding factor.

‘I had a few other options after finishing my postdoc, but the HSE offer really stood out’, he says. ‘I was fortunate enough to get a mobility grant to spend six months in Moscow at HSE last year and I really loved the university. The most amazing thing for me is the students. I have rarely met a more consistently motivated, bright, enthusiastic group of students in any university I've been to. It is a real pleasure working with them. The decision was easy’.

A rich linguistic milieu

Apart from the top quality of HSE’s students, the university also proved to be an attractive base for Tyers to pursue his research interests in language technology for marginalized and regional languages, as well as machine translation, which he taught in Cheboksary during a previous visit in 2012.

‘One of the things I like about Moscow and Russia in general is that it is very multilingual. Many people focus all their attention on English, and by those standards maybe it isn't quite like Scandinavia, but it makes up for it with diversity. Once I was in Chuvashia and I remember in one morning I had one conversation in Spanish, one in French, one in Russian and one in English. That was very much a pleasant surprise!’

‘Russia is blessed with a very linguistically-diverse territory and I am looking forward to continuing my work on all of its languages’, he says, adding that he has a personal interest in improving his own Russian-language skills. ‘My Russian, sad to say, is not wonderful, I'd probably estimate a B1 on the European scale, but it's good enough that I don't have to do day-to-day things in English. I'm looking forward to taking the classes that are on offer at HSE’.

Saving dying languages

Apart from an academic interest in linguistic diversity and marginalized languages, Tyers is also hoping that his work will bring practical benefits to people who speak minority languages.

‘Languages are dying out quickly, pretty much everyone agrees that if a language cannot be used online, and digitally in general, it significantly hastens its demise. So, I want to make it possible for anyone to use their native language online as equally as possible’, he says. ‘When Amazon starts shipping a version of Alexa that understands Chuvash and Chukchi, and when Yandex voice search works for Bashkir and Buryat, I think I'll feel that things are moving in the right direction’.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service

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