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Regular version of the site

‘Teaching Linguistics to Russian Students – A Real Pleasure’

One of the founders of formal semantics, Professor Barbara Partee of the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently celebrated an anniversary at the Higher School of Economics. For approximately 20 years, she has been teaching at various universities in Russia. This year, she took part in the Summer School on Pronouns: Syntax, Semantics, Processing, which was organized by the School of Linguistics at HSE. Professor Partee recently spoke with the HSE news service about why she considers the linguistics programme at HSE to be one of the best in Russia, as well as about the differences she sees between Russian and American students.


Barbara Partee

I have taught in Russia for almost 20 years, one semester each year starting in 1996. I taught a course on Formal Semantics and the Typology of Anaphora at HSE in the spring semester of 2014.

I think HSE has already established itself as one of the two top programmes in linguistics in Moscow, and one of the top three in Russia. The faculty are first-rate; the programmes, both undergraduate and graduate, are well designed; and the students are very strong. The MA programmes are starting to attract international students, and I expect that trend will increase as the department becomes more well known abroad. 

A third-year Russian linguistics student generally has a much stronger background in linguistics than a third-year American student

Undergraduates in the U.S. don't have to specialize until their last two years; before that they take a wide variety of courses — that's the ‘liberal arts’ education. Because Russian students specialize from the beginning, a third-year Russian linguistics student generally has a much stronger background in linguistics than a third-year American student. And the linguistics programmes in Moscow all require the students to study some logic and mathematics, which is not the case in the U.S. Another big difference is the rich tradition of ‘linguistic expeditions’, going back to the early expeditions of Aleksandr Kibrik, Sandro Kodzasov, and their colleagues, to Dagestan, Tuva, Pamir, Kamchatka, and other places. That tradition is still alive and well, and it gives Russian students really exceptional experience in fieldwork and typology. All of those things make it a pleasure to teach linguistics to Russian students — they are well trained in linguistics, have some mathematical background, and are likely to be acquainted with a number of diverse and interesting languages.

In the 19 years since I started teaching formal semantics in Russia, I have seen big changes in the students (and not only in the students, of course). The biggest changes all revolve around the emergence of Russia from its state of relative isolation from the West to its full participation in the international intellectual world.

One of those changes is in the students’ knowledge of English. At the request of my department heads, I have always taught in English; I always gave the students rather complete handouts of 10-14 pages, also in English, to help them understand. And we always had a ‘seminar’ session, where they could ask questions and we could work on homework problems together, and they were free to use either English or Russian for discussion, and also for doing their homework assignments. In the early years, there were few students who had a good enough command of English to be comfortable using English for homework or for speaking in class. But over time, that changed greatly, and most students in recent years have been glad to use my class as a chance to write project reports and give class presentations in English, and the overall level of English proficiency now tends to range from good to excellent.

I have seen big changes in the students (and not only in the students, of course). The biggest changes all revolve around the emergence of Russia from its state of relative isolation from the West to its full participation in the international intellectual world

A related change is in access to and familiarity with the scientific literature in English-language books and international journals. In the early years, almost the only articles on formal semantics that the students had access to were papers that I photocopied for them myself. Then after some years, almost all students had computers and I could put a much larger amount of literature onto a course CD, which I made copies of and gave to them. Then when the internet became accessible, I could make even larger amounts of material available online; since about 2005, all of my courses had course websites, including links to readings and handouts and advice on how to find many more things online. Gradually the students became ever more adept at finding things online, and they would sometimes give me advice.

As a result of these and related changes, Russian students and scholars move much more freely between countries and between universities, participate more widely in international conferences, host international conferences here in Russia, publish in international journals, go abroad for study for a year or for a summer school or for their Ph.D., participate in multinational collaborations, etc. In these respects, Russian students, and Russian scholars more generally, are more similar to students and scholars in the rest of the internationally connected world than they used to be.

See also:

HSE University-Developed Linguatest System Launched in Nizhny Novgorod

Linguatest, Russia’s first foreign-language certification system, has been launched in the Nizhny Novgorod region. The system was developed by specialists from HSE University in cooperation with the National Accreditation Agency and the Prosveshchenie group of companies, who are providing certification and publishing support for the project. Nizhny Novgorod is the first city after Moscow to offer testing under the system.

'The Applied Linguistics Programme Allowed Me to Try Something I Was Interested in While Continuing What I Am Passionate About'

Austin Garrett-Sites, from the US, is a master's student of the Applied Linguistics and Text Analytics programme in Nizhny Novgorod. Students from around the world to come to Russia to get a European education in English with viable employment prospects. Austin spoke about his impressions after the first year of study and his favourite places in Nizhny Novgorod.

What’s It Like to Work as a Computer Linguist

The IT industry is rapidly developing and incorporating new professions. Zoya Mazunina and Arina Mosyagina, linguists with Seldon and graduates of the HSE University Fundamental and Applied Linguistics programme, met with university applicants to talk about the computer linguist profession, issues of automatic language processing, and how linguists use the knowledge they gain at HSE University.

Towards Finding Practical Solutions to Socially Significant Healthcare Problems

The Centre for Language and Brain in Nizhny Novgorod started operations in September 2020. Today, it is comprised of a team of linguists - teachers and students - who are researching the relations between speech and parts of the brain. The Director of the Centre, Natalya E. Gronskaya, spoke to the HSE Look about how the neuro-linguistic laboratory appeared in Nizhny Novgorod, as well as current tasks and prospects the Centre can offer the students and the region.

Predicting Grammatical Properties of Words Helps Us Read Faster

Psycholinguists from the HSE Centre for Language and Brain found that when reading, people are not only able to predict specific words, but also words’ grammatical properties, which helps them to read faster. Researchers have also discovered that predictability of words and grammatical features can be successfully modelled with the use of neural networks. The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Weaving Languages Together: Why Megacities Need to Preserve Multilingualism

Moscow, like any modern big city, attracts migrants from different regions and countries. Some of them speak very little or no Russian. Their adaptation and successful integration depend in part on how fast they can learn Russian and in part on whether the city makes an effort to accommodate other languages. According to linguist Mira Bergelson, this latter factor is particularly important if the city is to benefit from immigration.

‘Reading’ with Aphasia Is Easier than ‘Running’

Neurolinguists from HSE University have confirmed experimentally that for people with aphasia, it is easier to retrieve verbs describing situations with several participants (such as ‘someone is doing something’), although such verbs give rise to more grammar difficulties. The results of the study have been published in Aphasiology.

‘We Have Not Yet Fully Understood How Languages ​​Work, and We Are Already Losing 90% of Their Diversity’

Why might a grandmother and her grandson not understand each other? Why would linguists want to go to Dagestan? Is it possible to save the less commonly spoken languages of small nations and Russian dialects? Nina Dobrushina, Head of the Linguistic Convergence Laboratory answered these questions in an interview with HSE News Service.

Former HSE Exchange Student Returns as Post-Doc in Linguistics

Originally from Pavia, Italy, Chiara Naccarato developed an interest in Russian early on in her studies, completing her undergraduate and master’s degrees in Russian Language and Linguistics at the University of Milan. She recently joined HSE as a postdoctoral researcher in the Linguistic Convergence Laboratory after completing her PhD studies in Linguistic Sciences at the Universities of Pavia and Bergamo.

Lecture Series Explores Communicative Supertypes, Russian as a Reality-Oriented Language, and Language & Culture

On March 19 and 22, Per Durst-Andersen, professor in the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School, gave three lectures at the Higher School of Economics on topics that fall under his current research interests, which focus largely on cognitive linguistics; communicative and linguistic typology; language, culture and identity; semiotics; and the philosophy of science. A well-known expert in cross-cultural pragmatics and specialist in business communication, Professor Durst-Andersen delivered the lectures as part of the ‘Language in the Universe of Culture: Russian Communicative Style’ course.