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.

Those of you who are interested in language change (and aren’t we all?) might also find a neighbouring field of language evolution studies worth attention. I’ve just written a popular article about a recently published study.

A new seminar has started at Vinogradov Russian Language Institute in Moscow: “Проблемы кодификации норм современного русского языка” (Problems of codification of norms of the modern Russian language). Seminar leaders are Alexei Shmelev and Yelena Beshenkova, some materials are available on the webpage.
It is interesting if their purpose is just theoretical research or some practical results — like new reference materials — as well.


Lebedev and Tolstaia during the interview (picture Eugene Gorny)

Last Saturday, Columbia University´s New Modes of Communication Group – a group with whose members the Future of Russian collective is well acquainted – invited both the renowned writer Tat´iana Tolstaia and her son, designer-cum-blogger Artemii Lebedev, for a double interview at the Harriman Institute. Our colleague Eugene Gornyi blogged about the event, adding photographs and a podcast of the entire interview. The latter – to be found here – is worth listening for the full 1,5 hour: it brims with intriguing (and, as was to be expected from the Tolstaia-Lebedev tandem, provocative) comments on the Russian-speaking Internet and new/social media.
UPDATE 08.04.2010: a video recording of the interview is now available online. A quick glance suggests that the quality of the recording is more than OK. Enjoy!

A group of Belarusian bloggers recently celebrated the “Week of the Belarusian Latin alphabet”. This is already the third year in a row this occasion is marked by using the Belarusian variety of the Latin alphabet to write blog posts, comments or whatever one needs to put down on paper or hard disk.

The Latin alphabet has a long history in Belarus, and was used widely until approx. 1910, when the choice was made for Cyrillic, which is now the norm. Recently the Academy of Sciences established an official form of the Latin alphabet to be used when writing geographical names on international maps and official documents, but it is not used in the latter context, because the official organs find it technically difficult to use this alphabet on their computers.

Adherents of the Latin alphabet claim that it is genuinly Belarusian and linked to the souls of true Belarusian patriots. They suggest that the Week of the Belarusian Latin alphabet helps convince more people that this is true.

Establishing the number of Internet users in a specific country will always be a difficult task. Finding ways to compare the level of Internet use between countries even harder, as statistics are often based on conflicting criteria in different countries. This has been the case for Belarus, where the number of Internet users was reduced by 3 mln from 2007 to 2008, which amounted to a reduction of more than 50% of the total number. The reason was simply that the statistics for 2007 had been completely wrong. The Ministry of Statistics had based their statistics on the registered number of users in the capital Minsk, which was bound to give a wrong number as the difference between Minsk and the rest of the country in terms of technical development is huge.

The corrected figures for 2008 are 3,1 mln users, or a third of the population in the 10 mln country. This puts Belarus on par with Russia (45,2 mln users) in relative numbers, but much higher than Ukraine (4,8 mln users), where only one in ten use the Internet, according to statistics by the International Telecommunication Union. Given the uncertainty related to these numbers one could expect the actual figures for Ukraine to be higher.