Thursday, March 26, 2009


Our friend Chuck has been in the Ukraine with the Peace Corps for about a year now. He keeps us posted as to how he's doing and what life is like for him with occasion emails.

He volunteers at the library and was asked to read some poetry (in english) with a translator. He got his picture in the paper! Scroll down a little - he's holding the microphone alongside his lady interpreter.

He says:
I've learned just enough Russian to be in awe of the interpreters who sat between Washington and Moscow during the Cuban missile crisis in the early 1960s. Clearly, they were linguistic geniuses....otherwise the world would have been blown up.
Short example/favorite story. Word order does not matter in Russian. The way you know what's happening in a sentence is by the (mostly) two-letter endings that are applied to words. One of my teachers uses the example of a three word sentence composed of the words "bear," "I/me," and "kill." The order in which the words are written tells you nothing. And two different two-letter word endings change the meaning from "I kill the bear" to "the bear kills me." And just to make it interesting for an English speaker, to our ears those different endings sound pretty much the same.
The phonetic differences between the verb "to write" and the verb "to piss" are extremely subtle for an English speaker. This leads to some....well, you can imagine...
I'm quite sensitive to language issues because I spend a lot of my time "translating English into English." That's what I call it when English speaking Ukrainians ask me to "edit" or "polish" texts they've written. Sometimes, it's fairly easy but more often I must completely rewrite to give the words rhythm and clarity.
He is working with some students at one of the more prestigious universities in the Ukraine. He says:
The next entering class will be the first student cohort to have lived their entire lives in a free Ukraine.
Here's an example of their work, based on a project based at the Beloit College: "The Mindset of students entering University in the Fall of 2009." Some of them are clearly cultural and I don't really get but others are universal.
Most students in the class of 2013 were born in 1991. They are the same age as our country and are the first generation born in independent Ukraine.

Communism has always been 'the dark yesterday' and never 'the bright tomorrow'.

They never wore Pioneer ties. (I had to google this one to find out more)

As infants, they wore disposable diapers.

Most have been abroad or know someone who has.

Whatever language they spoke at home, Ukrainian has always been the official language of the country.

Their parents have always voted in parliamentary and presidential elections.

The dollar has always been “the second national currency.”

They can not imagine empty counters in shops.

There have always been multiple supermarkets in Nikolayev.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi have always been available.

The martschrutka has always been the only vehicle. Trams and trolleybuses are for old and homeless people.

Sonya is a type of telephone ("Sony Ericsson") rather than a girl’s name.

A mouse is part of a computer, not an animal pest.

They cut-and-paste and type faster than they write.

They do research for their home tasks with a computer, not a book.

Email has been around so long that no one even knows when it was invented.

They are sure to have a page on "" or “"

McDonalds has always been on ул. Советская.

They never tasted chocolate or cola flavored chewing gum.

Madagascar is a cartoon, not a country.

Radio stations have always broadcast music in Russian, Ukrainian and English.

Television programs have always been in color and have always been interrupted by commercials.

They have never seen a радиоточка.

Black-and-white pictures are a special effect.

KVN (“Club of the Happy and Inventive”) teams have always cracked jokes about “Krivoe zerkalo” ('Distorting mirror') and vice versa.

There has always been “Comedy Club”.

They know about Mickey Mouse, but not Капiтошка.

Thanks to comedian Михаил Задорнов, they are sure that Americans are stupid.

They have never watched a Hollywood movie with a one-voice translation by Volodarsky.

Sobchak has never been mayor of St Petersburg; Sobchak has always been a Moscow celebrity.

They think St Petersburg and Leningrad are different cities.

They have always greeted each other 'Preved medved' (Превед медвед).

They believe Viktor Tsoy is alive (В. Цой - жив), but have no idea who he is.

“French manicure” has always been available at beauty salons.

They do not know that their grandmothers used coal for mascara.

Everyone knows what AIDS is and no one is surprised when condoms are distributed at school.

They do not know what a Гном tricycle is.

Milk has always been sold in bags, boxes or plastic bottles; but never in glass bottles.

They studied the Iliad, but some believe that Homer is the father of Bart Simpson.

This list was prepared in November 2008 by students of Business English (Groups 441-1, 441-2, 441-3 and 542-M) at Black Sea State University named for Petro Mohyla.

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