Guest Editor's Introduction, Volume 6(1)
David R. Andrews, Georgetown University
It is with great pleasure that I write the Introduction to this eagerly anticipated special edition of the Heritage Language Journal devoted to Russian. In the six informative articles that follow there is, I believe, something for everyone. While our specific foci are Russian as a heritage language and Russian heritage-language teaching, there is much here of interest to scholars and teachers of other heritage languages and to specialists in language pedagogy, language contact and shift, and socio-, psycho- or neurolinguistics. All of us, authors and editors alike, have striven to make this volume as reader-friendly as possible. Non-Russianists will benefit from transliteration and translations of all Russian texts and, to the extent possible, from explanations of specific features of Russian structure. Furthermore, because Russian-language teachers vary widely in their exposure to theoretical linguistics, we have also attempted to explicate the more technical aspects of the linguistic analyses and/or experimental techniques used herein. Finally, as several of the articles address, there is the persistent question of what the terms "Russian heritage speaker" and "Russian heritage learner" really mean.
Who exactly are these people, and is it one population or many? The discussions in this volume encompass a full range, from low- to high-proficiency speakers and from active learners in the Russian-language classroom to individuals with no formal training in the language. Each contributes to a broader understanding of the topic as a whole.
I envision this Introduction as a sort of User's Guide to the volume, in hopes of further enhancing its utility to the reader. The first two articles deal with different issues involving computer-based learning by heritage speakers. Following them are three articles based on experimental data in several areas of Russian morphology and syntax. While the first five articles all concern Russian as a heritage language in the United States, the sixth takes the reader to Finland and examines the particular problems of and opportunities for Russian heritage speakers there. In the paragraphs below I will take the articles in their order of appearance and introduce the problems they investigate. As I hope the reader will agree, each has much to offer.
In 'Computer Mediated Communication: Tools for Instructing Russian Heritage Language Learners' Carla Meskill and Natasha Anthony describe what the latter actually did when confronted with an unanticipated classroom situation: several orally fluent heritage learners were enrolled in an advanced Russian language course together with traditional American students. After interviewing the heritage learners both orally and in written form and determining their needs and desires, Anthony excused them from the aural/oral portion of the course in favor of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), in this case by using threaded on-line discussions. The heritage learners were thus able to develop the higher-level written skills they had lacked and also to learn from one another, but always under the guidance of the instructor as monitor. This approach, of course, is possible only for relatively high-proficiency students, but it does present a model of what an instructor might actually do when no formal track or separate courses exist for heritage learners, which because of relatively small numbers is certainly the case in the majority of Russian programs in the United States.
Meskill and Anthony's article is also noteworthy for the attention it pays to the sociocultural component of teaching heritage learners and, more broadly, to immigrant language attitudes in general. The on-line discussions they describe focused mostly on cross-cultural comparisons between Russian and American lifestyles, concerning both concrete matters like food, dress and sports and more abstract ones like notions of proper behavior and patterns of friendship. The students' postings clearly demonstrate the assimilation pressures on what Polinsky (1996) calls the "first-and-a-half generation" and the difficulties of navigating two cultures simultaneously, a topic that has figured prominently in my own work (e.g. Andrews 1999; 2000; 2001). These sociocultural factors must also be taken into consideration when teaching the Russian heritage learner. Heritage speakers constitute an ever-increasing percentage of the student body in many Russian-language classrooms, but they will not remain there if we are unable to address all their needs with the required sensitivity and understanding.
In 'Overcoming Aural Proficiency: Pitfalls for Heritage Learners in Russian Cyberspace' Donald Loewen treats an issue that is probably unfamiliar to the majority of non-native teachers of Russian, at least those not raised with the Internet and/or who do not regularly surf the Russian Web. Perhaps even more so than English-language users, Russian Web aficionados delight in deliberately distorting spelling and grammar for humorous or satirical effect. Just as an English speaker might write author as awther in an ironic posting, so would a Russian spell avtor ('author') as aftar, i.e. the way it actually sounds with vowel reduction and regressive consonant devoicing. The Russians, however, have gone further down this path. Indeed, the padonki, or 'low-lifes' (another deliberate distortion of the standard-Russian spelling, podonki), highly literate users of the Web who have raised such distortions to an art form and proclaim their own "dialect," are an integral part of Russian Internet culture. This is especially important to remember when teaching heritage learners, for one of their biggest problems is ear-spelling, both word internally and in grammatical endings.
Loewen quickly discovered this phenomenon when he asked heritage learners to give oral reports on topics in contemporary Russian culture, politics and entertainment. Knowing that the Web would most likely be the first means of research for this generation of students, he wanted to familiarize himself with the resources they might use. He documents some of the most interesting examples from Russian chat-rooms and the blogosphere, as well as the specific "dangers" they present to heritage learners. The article is much more than a catalogue of such postings, however. Loewen describes the language of the Web from a sociocultural perspective and in the context of the new Russia. He also provides guidance for teachers in selecting appropriate websites, examples of actual assignments, and a discussion of the use of the Web at various levels of instruction.
In the first of the three articles involving experimental work, Maria Polinsky addresses peculiarities of low-proficiency speakers in 'Gender under Incomplete Acquisition: Heritage Speakers' Knowledge of Noun Categorization.' One of the most prolific scholars of what she has labeled "American Russian," Polinsky first presents an excellent introduction to the problem of heritage speakers as incomplete acquirers of a language. She also emphasizes that low-proficiency speakers are an equally intriguing area of investigation and demonstrates that even if English-dominant, they nevertheless may differ considerably from typical L2 (second-language) learners.
As the title implies, Polinsky investigates heritage speakers' mastery of the three Russian genders (masculine, feminine and neuter) and their respective manifestations in nouns and attributive adjectives throughout the six Russian cases. She makes comparison to L1 learners, i.e. children acquiring Russian as their first language, as well as to L2 learners and determines that heritage speakers differ from both. Essentially, she concludes that they have a two-gender system, unlike even very young L1 learners and certainly unlike L2 students, who receive explicit instruction in Russian gender from the outset. The results of her two experiments, one eliciting gender forms and the other testing the acceptability of gender assignments, provide clues not only to the teaching of gender to heritage learners but also to the best ways of facilitating their full acquisition of the Russian case system. Polinsky especially zeroes in on the most difficult categories for heritage speakers and fully explores the underlying reasons.
In 'Lost in Between: The Case of Russian Heritage Speakers' Ludmila Isurin and Tanya Ivanova-Sullivan provide a detailed analysis of sequential narration by three groups of subjects: college-level heritage speakers, L2 American learners at the graduate level, and a control group of native speakers in St. Petersburg of approximately the same age. They elicited speech samples by using several pages of a children's picture book and asking the subjects to tell the unfolding story; these materials had been used previously in several studies of childhood language acquisition and heritage languages, but with different goals. Recognizing that heritage speakers are diverse not only in Russian-language proficiency but also in their age of arrival in the United States, continued exposure to the Russian language, ties to the homeland and motivations for language maintenance, the authors had this group of subjects fill out a detailed questionnaire that they later used to inform their analysis.
In their cross-group comparisons Isurin and Ivanova focus on three specific structural features: verbal aspect in conjunction with tense, patterns of case errors, and mastery of the VS (verb-subject) word order typical of standard-Russian narration. They demonstrate that heritage speakers fall between the L2 learners and native speakers in all three areas and, like Polinsky, argue that they are a unique group transcending traditional L1 and L2 parameters. The authors also provide other interesting data on Russian heritage speakers, such as their general range of vocabulary, use of semantic extension (e.g. constructions with the verb brat' 'to take'), conceptual shifts in expressions of emotion, and non-native repetition of pronominal referents. The well-informed teacher should be aware of all these deviations from the standard.
Natalia Romanova's 'Mechanisms of Verbal Processing in Heritage Speakers of Russian' is another psycholinguistic study comparing heritage speakers, L2 learners (who, in this instance, had completed one year of formal study) and native subjects. In her introduction the author points out that morphological processing has received almost no attention in the literature on Russian as a heritage language and that Russian conjugation provides a particularly fruitful basis for investigation. As a theoretical framework she reviews various hypotheses of how regular and irregular inflectional forms are learned and produced by native speakers. She then describes an experiment in which she tested all three subject groups on the production of correct conjugated forms from infinitive prompts of 50 real and 30 nonce (made-up) Russian verbs.
Romanova takes into consideration type frequency (the total number of words exhibiting a given inflection) and token frequency (the actual prevalence of specific forms in speech) and the resulting probabilities that subjects would choose a particular conjugational pattern. As in the other two experimental papers here, she concludes that heritage learners differ both from native speakers and L2 learners and that this fact has distinct pedagogical implications. Of particular interest, she notes areas in which heritage learners may need even more explicit instruction than typical L2 learners and explains why. She also demonstrates that even a small degree of literacy in Russian can affect heritage learners' morphological processing; therefore, it is incumbent upon the teacher to inquire into the educational background of such students.
I hope that Ekaterina Protassova's 'Teaching Russian as a Heritage Language in Finland' will have the same profound effect on other American readers that it had on me: to wit, if our own country devoted even a fraction of the attention and budget to the preservation of heritage-language proficiency, we would not be facing the dire shortage of experts in critical world languages that we are today. Of course, the situation in Finland is very different from our own. The country has a Finnish-Swedish bilingual heritage, a long common border with Russia and a well-established "Old Russian" community in addition to the many newcomers of the last twenty to thirty years. Nevertheless, I was astonished by the resources available to minority-language children in the public educational system from day-care/kindergarten through university, with the dual goals of native-language maintenance and full integration into the language(s) and culture of the host country. The government also helps support minority-language media and cultural institutions.
The second half of the article examines actual language use by Finnish-Russian bilingual children, including conversations of younger children at play and a case study of one teenager's spontaneous (i.e. self-taught) literacy. For the latter the author provides a detailed analysis of the young lady's divergence from the standard in orthography, vocabulary, morphology and syntax. The author of many books and articles on Russian as a heritage language from socio- and psycholinguistic perspectives as well as a major contributor in the development of teaching materials and pedagogical strategies for the Russian heritage learner in Finland, Protassova is an exemplar of the marriage of theoretical and practical concerns in her overall work. Her article here is thoroughly informed by these complementary perspectives.
We have entered a new era in the study of émigré Russian. When I first began investigating this topic in the early 1980s, there were only a handful of scholarly treatments, e.g. Benson (1957; 1960) and, later, Olmsted (1986). Among Slavic linguists in the United States, it was a rather outré topic, out of a mainstream which then favored either traditional diachronic research or transformational approaches to the contemporary languages. Someone even told me at an AATSEEL convention that my own work was not really linguistics at all, but rather sociology. I bring up this issue not out of pathos but to emphasize that especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union, interest in Russian as a heritage language has blossomed. There are too many examples to list in this short Introduction, but a particular milestone for the United States was the publication of the textbook Russian for Russians(Kagan, Akishina, & Robin, 2002). Of course, the current volume itself testifies to this renewed prominence, as does the recently released special edition of the Journal of Slavic Linguistics (King & Polinsky, 2006). Also noteworthy is the work of scholars in the former Soviet Union, for whom the very subject had once been taboo, e.g. Granovskaja (1995), Zemskaja et al. (2001), Golubeva-Monatkina (2004a; 2004b), and of Russians living abroad, e.g. Protassova (2004), Zelenin (2006). Surely this is a subfield that has now become mainstream, both in the West and in the former Soviet Union.
I would like to conclude with words of acknowledgment. First, to the authors of these six articles, I offer my sincere thanks for your research on a variety of compelling topics. You have clearly demonstrated just how diverse and thought-provoking this area of inquiry is. I would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their rigor, critical eye, and many useful suggestions. I am grateful to Olga Kagan and Kathleen Dillon, permanent editors of the Heritage Language Journal, for inviting me to be the guest editor of this special edition. It has been a most worthwhile learning experience, and I have acquired many new perspectives for my future work. Finally, a very special thank-you goes to managing editor Susie Bauckus, without whose assistance in every conceivable way this volume would never have been possible.
Andrews, D. R. (1999). Sociocultural perspectives on language change in diaspora: Soviet immigrants in the United States. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. (Impact, Studies in language and society, 5)
Andrews, D. R. (2000). Heritage learners in the Russian classroom: Where linguistics can help. ADFL bulletin, 31(3), 39-44.
Andrews, D. R. (2001). Teaching the Russian heritage learner: Socio- and psycholinguistic perspectives. Slavic and East European Journal, 45(3), 103-114.
Benson, M. (1957). American influence on the immigrant Russian press. American Speech, XXXII(4), 257-263.
Benson, M. (1960). American-Russian speech. American Speech, XXXV(3), 163-174.
Golubeva-Monatkina, N. I. (2004a). Russkaja èmigrantskaja reč' vo Francii konca XX veka: Teksty i kommentarii. Moskva: Editorial URSS.
Golubeva-Monatkina, N. I. (2004b). Russkaja èmigrantskaja reč' v Kanade konca XX veka: Teksty i kommentarii. Moskva: Editorial URSS.
Granovskaja, L. M. (1995). Russkij jazyk v "rassejanii": Očerki po jazyku russkoj èmigracii pervoj volny. Moskva: Rosijskaja akademija nauk.
Kagan, O., Akishina, T., & Robin, R. (2002). Russian for Russians: Textbook for heritage speakers. Bloomington: Slavica.
King, T. H., & Polinsky, M. (Eds.). (2006). Journal of Slavic Linguistics, 14(2).
Olmsted, H. M. (1986). American interference in the Russian language of the third-wave emigration: Preliminary notes. Folia slavica, 8, 91-127.
Polinsky, M. (1996). American Russian: An endangered language? Ms. University of Southern California. Available at http://idiom.ucsd.edu/~polinsky/pubs/american-russian.pdf
Protas(s)ova, E. Ju. Fennorossy: Žizn' i upotreblenie jazyka. Sankt-Peterburg: Zlatoust.
Zelenin, A. (2007). Jazyk russkoj èmigrantskoj pressy (1919-1939). Tampere: Tampere University Press.
Zemskaja, E. A., Glovinskaja, M. Ja., & Bobrik, M. A. (2001). Jazyk russkogo žarubež'ja: Obščie processy i rečevye portrety. Moskva/Vena: Jazyk slavjanskoj kul'tury. (Wiener slawistischer Almanach, 53).
David R. Andrews
Department of Slavic Languages
Washington, DC 20057-1050