Friday, March 9, 2018

Commonplace book assignments

Hey guys!

While I was in Moscow last semester, there were some assignments that I had to do for my "Moscow in Transitions" course that I did online with my advisor back home at Beloit, and since some of them reflected certain experiences that I had and things that I learned quite well, I decided that once the class was done and my final grade was in, I'd share them with you all.

One of my weekly assignments that I had to do was to write lists of at least five words or expressions that I had learned or appreciated in some way from a linguistic standpoint, which we called our "commonplace book." Here are a couple of my favorite entries about words I learned in Russia, for your enjoyment.

Ты замерз? (Are you cold, literally "have you frozen?"): 
On my first weekend after classes, Qiao (one of my two fellow Beloiter exchange students) and I find ourselves whisked away on an adventure outside the city with Alisa and Liuba, Beloit's two RSUH exchange students from last semester, with a big group of their friends and other international students in toe. It consists of a cookout on the shores of a man-made lake in the forest out near Domodedovo Airport. Anya, one of their friends, a friendly and boisterous character, notices me shivering as the darkness sets in, in spite of the bonfire among us, and introduces me to this phrase as she hands me a white blanket. I like it right away; something about the way it rolls off the tongue strongly feels satisfying to vocalize. And li like the imagery of turning to frost from an almost literary standpoint (more than I would the actual feeling, I'm sure). And the fact that I'm getting introduced to such a phrase now, barely two weeks into my time here in mid-September, does not bode well for the oncoming winter. 

Россияние vs. Русские (two different adjectives both meaning "Russian," but with a more country-wide and ethnolinguistically specific connotation respectively): 
This distinction in the citizenship/provenance and ethnic variations in the term "Russian" is mentioned in a discussion on identity in my first speech practice class by the professor Maya. It reminds me right away of an equivalent distinction for "Turkish" that I learned over the summer during my time in Azerbaijan - some of my friends' language parties were ethnically Kurdish international students in Baku from southeastern Turkey, who identified far more with the term "Türkiyeli," meaning "from Turkey," instead of "Türk," simply meaning an ethnic Turk. I like this equivalency between two countries, cultures, and languages so close to my heart and academic path. 

Передумать (to change one's mind): 
From my very first class at RSUH, for a grammar course with my (so far) favorite on campus professor of the semester, Evgeniya, I'm interested in the slew of thinking verbs that she introduces us to. I like that they take prefixes which are shared with verbs of motion, almost as if acknowledging the movement and flexible nature of thinking itself. Something that resounds with me greatly as I attempt to perceive and process everything new around me. 

Язык сломаешь (literally "you'll break your tongue," used to refer to things that are difficult to pronounce): 
This was a phrase that I first heard of long before I came anywhere near formally studying Russian, in a Lonely Planet phrasebook, and even after two years of study it remains immensely relevant. At times I feel confident in my slowly solidifying speaking skills, but more often than not, especially when trying to ask strangers for help in public or trying to tackle unfamiliar vocabulary or complex concepts whose descriptive grammatical structures I'm unsure of, my mouth mutinies. Any semblance of my normally decent pronunciation dissolves into bumbling, incoherent stutters. And my tongue, figuratively, does indeed break. 

Авария (accident): 
Being in Azerbaijan trying to study Turkish was honestly highly frustrating at times, as the communities and spaces required to facilitate organic and effective Turkish acquisition are hard to come by. But perhaps one of the more unexpected and pleasant surprises that came out of my CLS Turkish experience in Baku was, somewhat ironically, how it culturally and linguistically equipped me for living in Russia in ways that Turkey admittedly could never have. Still to this day, I keep finding words I heard on a daily basis in Baku that I just sort of assumed were Azerbaijani are in fact Russian borrowings. They feel familiar, like throwbacks that followed me across the Caucasus. 

Ботаник ("botanist," used as a slang term resembling "nerd"):
This comical slang term meaning something along the lines of "nerd" reminds me a lot of one of my aspiring botanist friends from back home (hi Leslea). We call each other "nerds" affectionately, and remembering how much she tried to convince me to take botany over zoology as my 4U (Beloit term for a science related gen ed requirement), I think she'd appreciate this one for sure.

Бесплатный сыр бывает только в мышеловке ("you can only find free cheese in a mousetrap," meaning good things don't come easy):
One of my favorite on-campus classes is speech practice; aside from the relaxed and fun atmosphere, it presents a unique opportunity to converse about diverse topics in Russian and worry only about doing that, learning unknown and clever proverbs like this in addition to fortifying formal vocabulary. It's wry and ironic nature is comical, and I find myself both amused and pensive at the idea of effortless and easy gains only being available in a dangerous place. 

Надоело ("tired of" or "fed up"): 
This word comes from a recent grammar lesson, included within our book. Expansion of vocabulary is always helpful, and it feels especially good to have a new word under my belt to describe frustration, be it my slow computer, noisily early-rising roommate, or the endless darkness as the subject. 

Сердечка (literally "little heart," a delicious heart shaped vanilla cookie with half dipped in chocolate):
In the past few days, I unexpectedly discovered a gem - a bakery on the road between campus and the nearest metro station called "Frau Brotchen." In reality I passed by it on many occasions prior to trying it for the first time, and now I can't stop going. the cheap and tasty pastries and coffee comfortably couple the quality of the Starbuck's across the street and the prices of the university cafe. One of my new favorite treats are their serdyechki, which I've continued to pronounce incorrectly while ordering. The halves of them covered in chocolate dipping warmly crumble and melt in my mouth. I can already tell I'll be missing them. 

Творожное кольцо ("tvorog rings" - tvorog is a uniquely Russian sort of cottage cheese that can be induced in both savory and sweet foods):
Another high-calorie slice of heaven introduced to me by the fine folk of Frau Brotchen. 
When I tried my first one, it was love at first bite. The outside, encrusted with a slight layer of powdered sugar, has the tiniest crunch, like a churro. The fluffy, sweet tvorog on the inside tastes like a cloud, and goes just right with one of their cappuccinos. 

Абхазия (Abkhazia, a region that Russia and Georgia went to war over in 2008, remains disputed today, internationally recognized as part of Georgia, but Russia holds is an independent nation): 
In a recent conversation about politics and geography with my Québécois friend Olivier, we somehow find ourselves looking up the capital of Abkhazia (it's Sukhumi). It prompts a series of interesting recollections in my mind, as I remember talking nearly a year ago to my friend Sofiko, a Georgian international student back home at Beloit, about her memories of living during Russia's 2008 war with her country. It rendered Abkhazia (and the territory of South Ossetia too for that matter) countries with a similar status to Russia as Northern Cyprus's to Turkey: little, barely recognized territories, existing largely due to support and recognition from a far larger and more influential one. I kind of want to look for some guidebooks about these two places before leaving, as I always find it fascinating to read materials written about territories considered countries in one place but not in another, comparing and contrasting them. 

Thank you guys for reading, and I hope that this was enjoyable or informative in some way. 

I've got other assignments from Moscow in Transitions that I'm interested in sharing, and am well at work on updates about my trip to Italy over the holidays and my time so far in Finland, so expect more to come. 

Take care all!

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