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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.

Our colleague Alexander Berdichevsky gave a very interesting interview to the Russian radio station Russkaia sluzba novostei. One of the topics raised in this interview was whether linguists can inflict harm on the development of a language. Some of you might have guessed Sasha’s answer already (the rest of you are welcome to download the interview…), but as interesting as the response itself is the reference to an ongoing public debate in Russia about the relationship between professional and lay linguistics. A key document in this debate is a paper given by professor Andrei A. Zalizniak “O professiona’noi i liubitel’skoi lingvistike”.

Interestingly, an adjacent debate has surfaced on the thread of comments to Dmitrii Medvedevs video blog. A linguist under the nick of Niva accusses the president, as well as premier minister Vladimir Putin, of giving in to the widespread notion that changes in the language are due to the meddling of linguists with the language:

Тем не менее не могу молчать, поскольку вижу в этом еще один момент непонимания между наукой и властью. Я имею в виду сказанную Вами фразу, приведшую меня и моих коллег в недоумение: «На одной из моих встреч с учителями ими было правильно замечено: “Хватит уже переставлять ударения в словах, надо заняться реальными проблемами, которых в нашей стране достаточно”». […] Сегодня кто-то в эфире задал В.В. Путину вопрос про йогурт, и очаровательная ведущая тут же припечатала это выражением «реформа языка» (кстати, неверным по своей сути). К клевете на науку мы начинаем, увы, привыкать. Дмитрий Анатольевич, лингвисты — не враги народа, а тоже граждане России и тоже имеют право на защиту чести и достоинства. Мы уже устали быть без вины виноватыми.

I believe the last word has not been said in this debate…