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The Future of Russian project is well represented in the most recent, fifth, issue of the online academic journal Digital Icons. Two articles, a mobile phone ringtone (!), a report from the latest Future of Russian conference, a review of From Poets to Padonki and a review written by one of the core group members, means that this issue gives a good impression of what the project group has been up to lately.

Michael Gorham’s article “Virtual Rusophonia: Language Policy as ‘Soft Power’ in the New Media Age” explores two state-sponsored attempts to use language and new technology as tools for creating new spaces of ‘Russianness’ online — the ‘Russian World Foundation’ (Fond ‘Russkii Mir’) and the ‘.rf’ Cyrillic internet domain project. Gorham argues that “they present quite different, if not mutually exclusive visions, each fraught with tensions between the de-centred nature of web-based communication and the top-down, paternalistic penchants of the Putin-era political elite.”

In a German language article Henrike Schmidt turns to the evolving Russian e-book market in her article “LitRes. A Critical Review of Russia’s e-Book Seller No1“. She discusses how one of the leading Russian e-book book stores, LitRes, has had to position itself between various free-of-charge online libraries in its attempt to establish a legal service for e-books.

Roman Leibov’s contribution to the issue is tje self-made mobile phone ringtone Leviton. Leibov explains why “this pretty boring primitive and otherwise horrible melody” reminds him of “the summer of 2007, intertextual  studies, the awful taste of Russian beer Staryi mel’nik iz bochonka, and of the fast pace of frivolous life.”

In addition the issue contains Daniel Müller’s report on the RuNet in a Global Context conference, Galina Miazhevich’s review of the From Poets to Padonki volume of the Slavica Bergensia series, and Martin Paulsen’s review of the two books Internationalizing Internet Studies: Beyond Anglophone Paradigms and Internationalizing Media Studies.

Last week three Futurants took part in the Week of Russian Literature in Oslo, an event that aimed at making contemporary Russian literature and culture better known among Norwegians. Several acknowledged Russian writers attended the event, which saw the launch of several translated contemporary novels and three collections of translated Silver Age poetry.

In addition to research, outreach is a cornerstone in the Future of Russian project. Contributions by participants of the project in different media can be found on our web site.

During last week’s event Ingunn Lunde and Tine Roesen participated in a seminar on Vladimir Sorokin’s literary style, where Roesen talked about her translation of Den’ oprichnika into Danish. The seminar was opened stylishly, when Lunde and Roesen, together with the Norwegian translator Hege Susanne Bergan, staged parts of Sorokin debut novel Ochered’.

Hege Susanne Bergan reads from her translation of Sorokin under the master’s watchful eye. Tine Roesen listening.

Lunde also interviewed Aleksei Slapovskii about his newly translated novel Oni. Martin Paulsen interviewed Vladimir Makanin about the novel Andegraund, ili geroi nashego vremeni, and chaired a seminar on the search for a Russian identity in contemporary Russian political movements. Later Paulsen interviewed Slapovskii during an ensuing event at Hå outside Stavanger in south-western Norway.

The event came with a pleasant surprise when it was announced that Annika Bøstein Myhr won the first price in a competition among young Norwegian translators for her translation into Norwegian of Andrei Gelasimovs short story “Nezhnyi vozrast”. Bøstein Myhr did her MA within the framework of the Landslide of the Norm project that preceded the Future of Russian.

Later this year the Landslide project will be remembered in an event that again links research with outreach. The highly successful Russian writer Mikhail Shishkin has accepted an invitation to give the Annual Landslide of the Norm lecture on Thursday 22 September, and the evening before he will talk about his recent novel Pismovnik in the Bergen Student Club.

The Cyrillic letter ë (pronounced “yo”) is a matter of widespread debate in Russian society. It has for a long time been a less priviledged member of the Russian alphabet, frequently replaced by e.

In recent years, language purists of different backgrounds have gone to great lengths to revive the letter, seeing it as a symbol of Russian uniqueness. There has even been set up a site, yomaker.ru for the promotion of the letter ë in Russian.

Recently the Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov released a hybrid car entitled ë-mobile, exploiting the letter for commercial purposes. The release led to a long discussion on the web site snob.ru about whether the letter is necessary in the Russian alphabet today. Most of the contributers to this discussion were strongly for the continued use of the letter, and some even wanted to make it compulsory. The discussion raised questions of the importance of identity (ë as a symbol of Russian uniqueness) and technology (it is not always easy to find the letter on a computer keyboard).

The yearly convention of the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian studies (formerly known as American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, or just Triple A double S) was held in the far away Los Angeles this November.

Due to some very unfortunate circumstances the Future panel was reduced to one presenter. Our dear colleague Daniela Hristova, who was supposed to give a paper on the linguistic specifics on Russian Internet advertisements, very sadly and unexpectedly passed away just a month before the conference. In addition Aleksandr Berdichevsky, who should have given a paper on some quantitative distinctions between oral speech, written speech and instant messaging in Russian, caught a flu and could not make the trip.

This meant that my contribution, a paper on the politics of Cyrillics on the Internet was the only one at the panel, with Michael S. Gorham serving as discussant. In the paper I showed how Belarus, Russia and Ukraine have reacted very differently to ICANN’s invitation to establish so-called Internationalised Domain Names. While the Russians grabbed the opportunity straight away and have already set up the country code top level domain “.рф”, the Ukrainians have so far been unable to register “.укр” and the Belarusians have ignored the process completely. Russian president Medvedev has connected this process to the interests of the Russian language, and in my opinion the reactions of relevant actors in the three countries show that the Cyrillic alphabet means more to Russians than it does to their Slavic neighbours.

Michael S. Gorham and Dirk Uffelmann, members of the Future of Russian research group, presented papers on other panels at the conference. The representatives of the Future project were well received, and on several occasions recognized as part of “that Bergen group,” an indication that LA is perhaps not as far away after all.

It is not often that Russian literary works are given Latin letter titles. The young Valerii Pecheikin’s short story “ICQ” from 2008 is a rare exception together with Viktor Pelevin’s novel Generation “П” and Sergei Minaev’s Духless. In fact Latin letter titles and digital media seem to typical features for Pecheikin, he has also written the short story “YouTube“.

Pecheikin, who was awarded the literary price Debut in 2007, has written a short story situated in an Internet café. The intrigue revolves around the appearance in this very juvenile setting of an old lady, Marina Andreevna, who would like to send a letter to her sister, with whom she has lost contact. She has been told that through the Internet you can get in touch with everyone, and makes this last attempt to find her long lost sister. The literary value lies in Pecheikin’s ability to show the tension in the meeting between the young administrator of the Internet café, Timur, who ends up typing down Marina Andreevna’s hand written letter on a computer, and the old lady.

The short story contrasts the linguistic resources of the young computer geek, which do not allow for the description of tragedy (he has to make do with phrases like “Tipa prikol. Tol’ko ne prikol.”), and the old lady who tries the impossible speech act of reestablishing contact with her sister and telling her that their common sister has recently died, while at the same time reprimanding the addressee for having turned her back on them.

Two different sets of linguistic resources clash when Timur types Maria Andreevna’s letter. “Здравствуй, Наташа!” becomes “Здравствуй Наташа. :-)”, and the rest of the typed text is showered with smilies in different variants. This undermines the tragedy of Maria Andreevna’s life story, while, one could add, it increases the tragedy by leaving her unable to convey her grief. The smilies are thus an integral part of the story.

As are the Latin letters. Both the title and the nick names that appear when Timur and Maria Andreevna enter the ICQ instant messaging program to search for the latter’s sister, are symbols of the digital technology and signals that this technology is the domain of the Latin alphabet. In addition, the vulgar phrase “Nah?” is written in Latin letters to avoid digital censorship. Still phrases like “и-мейл” and even “зи энд” are written in Cyrillic letters. The latter example is somehow ironic and demonstrates the opportunities for creative linguistic play opened by the co-existance of the two alphabets in contemporary Russian.

There appears to be an insurpassable gap between Maria Andreevna’s handwriting and Timur’s digital typing, a technological gap that duplicates the traditional generational gap. Pecheikin succeeds in transfering this into good literature.

The Future of Russian project was represented by two of its core group members, Ingunn Lunde and Martin Paulsen, at The 18th Congress of Scandinavian Slavists in Tampere, Finland last week. Lunde, head of the Future of Russian-project, and the University of Bergen, came to play central roles in the general assembly that marked the end of the congress, as Lunde was elected head of both the Norwegian and the Scandinavian association of slavists, and the University of Bergen was given the task of organizing the 19th Congress of Scandinavian Slavists in 2013.

Both Lunde and Paulsen participated in the PhD seminar that preceeded the opening of the congress. Lunde gave a plenary lecture with the title “Philology, New Philology, New Philologies: Reflections on the “Humanism” of the Humanities” where she discussed the relationship between traditional philology and the new philology of recent decades, and the place of the humanities in contemporary society. Paulsen contributed to a round table discussion on Scandinavian slavistics with the presentation “Is there a Scandinavian niche in Slavic studies?”

At the conference proper, which gathered around one hundred participants (mainly) from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, Lunde gave a talk on metalinguistic reflections in Evgenii Popov’s novels Nakanune nakanune (1993) and Podlinnaia istoriia zelenykh muzykantov (1999), entitled “Fra remake til fotnoter: Evgenij Popov og 1990-årenes russiske språkkultur (om Nakanune nakanune og Podlinnaja istorija zelenykh muzykantov). Lunde showed how Popov’s perspective changed in the six years that passed between the publication of the two novels, and while the first novel describes a linguistic state, in the latter the author is more involved in the linguistic debate.

The title of Paulsen’s paper was “Det kyrilliske alfabetets digitale utfordring” and it dealt with the macroeconomic preconditions for the adaptation of digital technology to the needs of the Russian language society. Paulsen found that compared to other language societies with non-Latin alphabets like the Arabic and Greek, the Russians have better conditions for the adaptation of digital technology. This might be the reason why translit seems to be less widespread among speakers of (digital) Russian than the similar phenomena in the Greek and Arabic language societies.

The University of Bergen was also represented by Lillian Helle and Margje Post, and now the four delegates will need to sit down with the rest of the colleagues in Bergen to start the preparations for 2013.

The 2010 Conference of the International Council for Central and East European Studies (ICCEES) was held in Stockholm last week. More than one thousand participants discussed matters of culture, politics and economy related to countries in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union. The Future of Russian project contributed with two panels.

The first panel took place on Thursday, and was chaired by Michael Gorham. I had the pleasure of opening the panel with a paper on the technological challenges of writing Cyrillic letters on computers and digital devices, where I argued that while the challenges persist today, they are being countered by programmers and governments in the East Slavonic language communities. Daniela Hristova presented a paper on the role of Latin letter phrases in Russian on-line commercial ads, where she suggested that the Latin letters gain an iconic significance in these ads. Varvara Christie rounded up the panel with a talk on Russian amateur subtitling on YouTube. She gave a typology of different translation strategies and discussed their significance. Unlike professional translations, which are often colored by the culture of the language they are translated into, amateur translations are more dependent upon the culture of the source language. Dirk Uffelmann had some very insightful comments in his role as a discussant, and the contributions from the audience ensured that the following debate was very lively indeed.

On the following day Michael Gorham opened the second panel, which was chaired by Hristova. He talked about two attempts by Russian authorities to influence language culture through the Internet: The Russian World Foundation (Fond Russkii Mir) and the political campaign to promote Cyrillic URLs. These are examples of a more proactive attitude towards language politics from Russian authorities. Gesine Strenge compared the metalinguistic discourse in off-line media to that in the new, on-line media and concluded that the debate on English loanwords is as active in on-line media, but it is also more personal and subjective. Vera Zvereva’s paper dealt with the language of Russian teenage girls’ blogs on Liveinternet.ru. She demonstrated the great degree of linguistic creativity in these blogs, and showed how these norm deviations relate to texts written in Standard Russian by the same girls.

For some of the participants the ICCEES conference signified the beginning of summer holidays, whereas for us here in Norway it marked the end of the summer and indicated that it is time to return to the office. In a couple of weeks the Norwegian participants of the Future of Russian project will go to Tampere, Finland to take part in the 18th Congress of Scandinavian Slavists.

Do you know the difference between IP and TCP? Ever asked yourself who rules the Internet? Then you might want to check out Roger Clarke’s writings. His article “An Internet Primer: Technology and Governance” is a surprisingly legible account of the technology and administrative layout of the Internet in a historical perspective. It was published as a chapter in the volume Virtual Nation: The Internet in Australia and is available through Google Books.

In the long and proud Russian tradition of writing letters of complaint to the top leader, members of the organisation ZaRIA (“For the Russian Language”) in Ulianovsk have written a letter to the president of Nokia, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, asking to have the Cyrillic letter “Ё” returned to the keyboard of the Finnish company’s mobile phones.

The purpose of our letter, is to inform the president of the cooperation that the problem exists, says the head of ZaRIA, Maksim Terliaev. – It is possible that he doesn’t even know about it, and that the letter “Ё” has been removed from the keyboard by those specialists who work on the adaptation to the Russian market.

It remains to be seen how the Nokia president reacts to this kind of customer feedback.

Belarusian authorities are now, in accordance with the Presidential decree No. 60 which will come into force on 1 July, registering so-called internet resources. Out of some 60 applications for registration, only 20 resources have so far successfully completed registration. Among the reasons for not registering the remaining 40 resources, government officials mentioned “orthographical mistakes” in the applications. Internet is obviously important for official language standardisation in Belarus.