Friday, February 27, 2015

5 Minutes Podcast: Episode One

Привет! Вы слушаете первый эпизод подкаста “Пять минут”. Это подкаст для тех, кто учит русский язык.

Меня зовут Евгения Власова. Я лингвист, я даю уроки русского языка по Интернету и веду блог ProperRussian. Я знаю, что в Интернете не очень много аудиоматериалов для тех, кто изучает русский язык, поэтому я решила делать свой подкаст. Новые эпизоды будут выходить по пятницам. Продолжительность каждого эпизода – пять минут, отсюда и название - “Пять минут”.

Каждый эпизод будет посвящен какой-то одной теме. Сегодня мы будем говорить о погоде.

На календаре последние дни февраля. Это значит, что те, кто живёт в северном полушарии, особенно в холодной его части, устали от зимы и хотят, чтобы поскорее наступила весна. Я тоже соскучилась по тёплой погоде. Снег уже надоел. Надоело надевать на себя несколько слоёв тёплой одежды, надоело мёрзнуть. Там, где я живу, то есть на юге Канады, уже несколько недель держится необычно холодная для этих мест погода. Температура опускается до минус тридцати по Цельсию, то есть до минус двадцати двух по Фаренгейту. К сожалению, прогноз погоды не обещает, что скоро станет тепло, но мне хочется верить, что весна уже близко.

Кстати, когда начинается весна? Во многих странах началом весны считается 20 марта, весеннее равноденствие. В России весна начинается первого марта. Конечно, всё это только условности. Весеннее тепло приходит в Россию не по календарю. Морозы бывают даже в апреле, а снег может выпасть и в мае. Но солнце в марте светит ярче, дни становятся длинее, и зимняя усталось уступает место лёгкой весенней эйфории.

В Сибири, где я родилась, среди зимы бывают оттепели. Оттепель – это когда после сильных и долгих морозов вдруг становится тепло. Это длится всего несколько дней, но даже эти несколько дней дают возможность отдохнуть от холода. Во время оттепели воздух пахнет талым снегом. Вам знаком этот запах? Так пахнет весна.

А сейчас несколько слов, которые могут вам понадобиться, если вы захотите поговорить о погоде:

  • Ясно — Clear – это когда на небе нет облаков.
  • Пасмурно — overcast — это когда облаков много, и всё небо серое.
  • Облако — a cloud — обычно светлое, белое.
  • Если облако тёмное и несёт с собой дождь или снег — это туча.

Когда идёт снег и дует сильный ветер, начинается метель. Есть несколько слов для такой погоды: метель, пурга и буран. Все три означают примерно одно и то же: сильный ветер и снег.

Я живу на Юго-Западе провинции Онтарио. Посмотрим какую погоду обещают здесь на первое марта. Я зачитаю прогноз погоды так, как это делают на российском радио. Итак...

Первого марта ожидается температура минус один – минус семь, это по Цельсию, ветер слабый, юго-западный, облачно, временами снег. Да, не очень похоже на весну, правда? Немного лучше погода на понедельник, второе марта: температура ноль – минус девять, преимущественно ясно, без осадков, но к вечеру ветер переменится с юго-западного на северный, и все следующие дни нас ждёт минусовая температура.

А сейчас я расскажу, как работать с этим подкастом. Сперва послушайте всю запись. Если вы поняли не все слова – не останавливайтесь и не переживайте. На сайте ProperRussian вы можете скачать текст, послушать этот выпуск ещё раз, параллельно читая и переводя незнакомые слова. Попробуйте повторять некоторые слова и фразы за мной – это поможет вам улучшить произношение и привыкнуть к русским интонациям. Пять минут — это совсем немного, но если регулярно, хотя бы пять минут слушать передачи на русском языке, вы сможете понимать русскую речь гораздо легче.

Вы слушали первый эпизод подкаста “Пять минут”, с вами была Евгения Власова. Большое спасибо Кристоферу Фергюсону за музыкальные джинглы! Если у вас есть вопросы, пожалуйста, не стесняйтесь, пишите мне или оставляйте свои комментарии на сайте ProperRussian.

В следующую пятницу я расскажу вам про восьмое марта, международный женский день. До скорой встречи!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Word Order In Russian

If you are learning Russian, you might have heard that in Russian, word order is flexible. What exactly does this mean? To what degree is Russian word order flexible? And does it make Russian a bit easier to learn since you don't have to memorize a specific word order for simple sentences and questions?

At school, we were taught to identify subjects and verbs, but the formal analysis is not the only possibility, and also, it is not the most helpful when it comes to studying foreign languages. Not all languages follow the formal S-V-O structure, and even if they do, they may do it inconsistently. Russian, for example, formally has the S-V-O structure, but it breaks it here and there, playing frivolously with the rules. It is very common in Russia that the object goes before the verb, the subject may go last and so on. Why does this happen? Is there any logic behind the Russian word order? The good news is that yes, there is some logic behind the flexibility of the Russian word order. I'll try to explain it here.

Each sentence (in English, French, Russian - doesn’t matter) consists of two parts: the topic (sometimes called thema), i.e. what you are talking about, and the comment (rheme or focus), i.e. what is new about the topic. The old, known part of a sentence is its topic. The new part is its focus. Here is what wikipedia says about it:
“The difference between 'topic' and grammatical subject is that topic is used to describe the information structure, or pragmatic structure of a clause and how it coheres with other clauses, whereas the subject is a purely grammatical category. For example it is possible to have clauses where the subject is not the topic, such as in passive voice. In some languages, word order and other syntactic phenomena are determined largely by the topic–comment (theme–rheme) structure. These languages are sometimes referred to as topic-prominent languages.”

In Russian, word order is determined largely by topic-comment structure, and though I didn’t read any scientific articles specifically focused on topicality in the Russian language, I believe Russian is at least partially a topic-prominent language.

What does this mean practically? When you build a sentence in Russian, you have to think about what exactly you are going to say about the topic. For example, the simplest sentence “I saw her” can be translated into Russian in three different ways:
Я видел её (simply stating that I saw her)
Я её видел. (With the accent on the first word, it would state that it was you, not anybody else who saw her; with the accent on the last word, you would insist that you saw her - intonations play along with word order)
Видел я её. - I saw her, meaning that you physically saw her, did not just chat online or talk on a phone.

There are two ‘strong’ positions in a sentence where you can put your comment/ rheme - the very beginning or the very end. In both cases, you have to help to convey your message with intonations. So, figure out what is your rheme and build and articulate a sentence accordingly.

Post scriptum: for the Russian ear, English intonations sound very monotonous. It took me a few years to learn to hear different emotions and communicative accents in English behind the relatively calm flow of English speech. Russian intonations, on the contrary, are always up and down. My English-speaking friends told me that they thought Russian sounds too dramatic, too emotional. Now you know why: with intonations, Russian language indicates the main focus of a sentence helping others to figure out what exactly you wanted to say.

Post post scriptum: It is very common in English to ask “what are you saying?”. In Russian, it is not that common. I suspect, because in Russian, you can actualize what you are saying with the word order and intonations.

Yoda Star Wars
Photo by Chris

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Chess

Chess is a very special game. It has a charisma and is surrounded with an aura of intellectual elitism (in a good sense). Perhaps these days chess means less than what it used to a few decades ago, and chess world champions are less popular than local baseball stars. However, I remember the times when chess players were celebrities. I had chess classes in elementary school. There were chess clubs almost in every school. It wasn't mandatory to take those classes, but many liked the game. My dad taught me chess when I was 6. Neighbours played chess for pleasure (and sometimes even for money) gathering around a checkerboard in common courtyards of high-rise buildings during warm summer nights. Not everybody was exceptionally good in chess, but the game was definitely among the most popular back then.

Why chess? Because for the Soviet Union of the Cold War era chess was much more than just a sport. Chess world championships were a question of national pride and a way to prove the superiority of the socialist state over the West. The political confrontation found its way to the checkerboard. Chess became a symbol of the political games, the pure visualization of the black and white world. Thus, the state needed excellent chess players and possible winners, thus great efforts were made to nurture ones. If anything good were ever made by the Soviets it is promoting chess.

The politics is (and always has been) dirty and ugly. Chess is a noble game even if it is politicized so strongly. The metaphor of the Cold War inspired Tim Rice to write the musical called Chess. Tim Rice invited Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, formerly of ABBA, to work on the musical. The three great talents created a masterpiece that immortalized the era of political chess. This is what wikipedia tells about it:

“The story involves a politically-driven, Cold War-era chess tournament between two men—an American grandmaster and a Soviet grandmaster—and their fight over a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other. Although the protagonists were not intended to represent any real individuals, the character of the American grandmaster (named Freddie Trumper in the stage version) was loosely based on Bobby Fischer, while elements of the story may have been inspired by the chess careers of Russian grandmasters Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov.”

I personally like the version where Josh Groban plays Anatoly Sergievsky, The Russian.



I think, I should attribute my intellectual curiosity and academic success to chess. I don’t play chess anymore, but I still like this game. I'm a bit nostalgic about the times when politics was made with chess, not tanks.

Here is a chess glossary for you:
  • Chess - шахматы
  • Checkerboard - шахматная доска
  • King - король
  • Queen - ферзь
  • Bishop - слон
  • Knight - конь
  • Rook - ладья
  • Pawn - пешка

To finish this talk about chess, I wanted to boast a bit: My husband and I, the children of the late Soviet Union, designed a few t-shirts to celebrate chess and praise human playing mind. Lovely, aren't they?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Borshch

Borshch (борщ), a cabbage and beetroot soup, is known in many, if not every, Slavic cuisine. I wouldn't be wrong to say that this soup all-Slavic. Borshch is delicious, nutritious and can be stored in a fridge for a few days without losing its taste. It actually becomes better the next day than on the day you cook it.

There are many variations of borshch. Ukrainian borsch is different from Russian, and Siberian is different from both. Not only every place but every cook has its own preferences and secrets. I once even took a master class from a local chief on how to cook a perfect borshch. Let me tell you without false modesty: my borshch is really good. My husband can confirm it. Here is my secret recipe, enjoy!

Ingredients:
  • Meat broth
  • One medium beet
  • Tomato paste - 3 tbls
  • Apple vinegar - 1 tbls
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 Onion
  • Cabbage - chopped, about 2 cups
  • 2 medium potatoes
  • Garlic - 1 bit
  • Dill
  • Bay leaf, allspice - optional

Borshch is not an appetizer, it is a main dish, so make sure your broth is strong. I prefer beef broth made of a shoulder part (bone and quite enough of meat on that, I normally take 0.5-0.7 kg of meat for 2-2.5 liters of water). Ukrainian recipes, as far as I know, are usually based on duck or chicken broth. When the broth is ready, take the bones out of the broth. You may use vegetable broth if you like. You can also use a ready-made broth to save time, however, if you want to experience the true taste of the borshch, invest an extra hour and make a broth at home.

Meanwhile peel a beet root and chop it into strips (approximately 1-inch long). Saute it for 10-15 minutes in low heat with a tablespoon of a vegetable oil, three tablespoons of tomato paste and one tablespoon of apple vinegar. Tomato paste and vinegar help the soup keep its deep red color, so your borshch won't turn colorless when boiling. Add the beet to the broth when the broth is ready.

Chop a carrot and an onion. Saute them together until light-golden and add them to the pot, where your broth has turned red because of the beet. Let the flavors blend in the pot for sometime.

The next step is a cabbage. Take about 1/4 head of a cabbage and chop it into strips. Add the cabbage to the soup. Add garlic.

Wait until the beet, carrot and cabbage are soft and then dice 2 medium potatoes into 1-inch cubes. Add the potatoes to the pot.

When the potatoes are cooked, add freshly chopped dill. bay leaf, and allspice and cover the pot with a lid. Turn off the stove and let the soup sit for 20 minutes - it takes time for the flavor to develop. On the next day borshch tastes even better, just make sure you put the pot into a fridge for a night. You can cook a large pot of borshch and enjoy your soup for 3-4 days. Russians always serve borshch with a sour cream. Dark bread and pickles also go well with the soup.