On-line course materials
These open in new windows.Mini-Videos
The Anthrax Diaries
The Russian Dictionary
The Human Body
Водитель для Веры
Интервью из России I
Интервью из России II
Дети из России
На атомной речке
Интервью из Швеции
Important Cornell links
These open in new windows.Word usage
Bilingual word usage
Abbyy Lingvo dictionaries
Словарь русского языка
Dictionary of Synonyms
Медуза/Meduza news, etc.
Study in Russia
We are in the News!
Russian 1125-101 (non-native speakers): Course Description
This description applies to sections 101 and 102.
This is a TBA course. TBA means "time to be arranged" (to accommodate as many students as we can). We hold an organizational meeting for all TBA courses at the beginning of each semester. The time and place of the meeting are posted at our home page, russian.cornell.edu, a couple of weeks before each semester starts. Click Welcome in the navigation bar to read it.
When two sections of this course are taught, one is for native speakers of Russian, and the other one is for students who learned Russian as a foreign language. The assignments are different in length and complexity, but other than that, the two sections are taught the same way.
As you read the stories with a good dictionary, compile your own glossary of words and expressions that seem to be common, or difficult, or interesting, i.e. create your own personalized guide for reading Russian journalistic prose. Newspaper and Web style involves certain devices and vocabulary items that are not common in other written styles or in speech.
Your notes and glossaries are entirely for your own use. They will not be collected or checked by the teacher.
Automated translation of text by a computer program--the so-called machine translation--used to be a linguist's challenge and is now a reality, albeit seriously flawed. The earliest one we recommended was called Babel Fish; readers of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy will recognize the reference. It is now extinct, but its story is interesting. Then came Google Translate, see below. Comparing automatic English translations to the Russian originals may be a source of interesting linguistic observations, especially on syntax. Sometimes using an automatic translator can save you time--but you always have to be critical of the interpretation that an auto translator offers. As a quick example, here is a machine translation of the famous slogan (attributed to Karl Marx) that has appeared for decades in the masthead of Moscow's Pravda newspaper: "The proletarians of all countries, be connected." And here is a "translation" of an even more ominous (and just as well-known in Russia) sentiment expressed by Joseph Stalin: "When the enemy does not surrender, it destroy." Do you know the Russian versions of these two slogans? Don't ask the auto-translators, ask your teacher.
There are certain syntactic constructions that automatic translators cannot deal with. Here is one example: Как нам их поженить? is translated by online angels as "How to us them to marry?"
Some syntactic ambiguities are built into Russian grammar because of the flexible word order of Russian sentences. To some extent automatic translators, like human translators, can resolve them by looking at word endings. When this fails, it fails miserably. Dick, who loves two women, would be happy to learn that this sentence: И Джейн любит Дик, и Джин любит Дик is machine-translated as "And Jane loves Dick, and Gin loves Dick," even though a human translator would probably not jump to that conclusion.
Not surprisingly, automatic translation yields uninterpretable results with idiomatic expressions.
How would you explain this "translation" from a famous Vysotsky song:
Perhaps a more serious drawback of using machine translators is that they will offer you only one of all possible meanings of a word. Whether or not it happens to be the right one, you're not getting the whole picture and therefore may be missing a lot.
These are only some of the reasons why you would be seriously short-changing yourself if most of your work in this course were reduced to reading the output from an automatic translator.
Dept. of Comparative Literature
Russian Language Program
240 Goldwin Smith Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4701, USA
tel. 607/255-4155 • fax 607/255-8177 • email email@example.com