“It’s thrilling to realize that after only two years of study (or one academic year and one summer of intensive study in this case), I have already found some keys to begin unlocking literary texts in Russian.” -Erin Gilbert
Songs are a wonderful way to learn language–they are easy to remember and build understanding of the cultural context of the language. In Summer 2018, University of Washington Foreign Language & Area Studies (FLAS) fellows studied seventeen languages in eighteen different countries on four continents. This is the fifth in a five-part series of posts with songs contributed by FLAS fellows and which capture summer moments from across the world. Click on the purple flags in the map for individual songs. This post features Russia and Central Asia.
Abigail Mayhugh (MA Russia, East Europe & Central Asia Studies, FLAS: Ellison Center, Russian) spent the summer studying Russian in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan with the School of Russian and Asian Studies program. She writes:
I chose the song ‘Medina’ because it is popular throughout the region, including Russia. Jah Khalib is an Azerbaijani singer who is from Kazakhstan but sings in Russian. The recent video he made for ‘Medina’ shows a Silk Road-era Central Asian city/trading post (the song itself is in Russian). The director of the video, Aisultan Seitov, is actually a well-known Kazakh director who makes music videos in the Russian entertainment sector. It’s a beautifully-shot video and quite popular!
The most-streamed song in Russia in March¹, and Number 2 on the tophit.ru ‘Top Radio & Youtube New Russian Hits’ chart this summer, ‘Medina’ is about a warrior who is separated from the woman he loves, and overcomes betrayal to be with her. The video was shot near Almaty, Kazakhstan.
While studying Russian and Soviet styles of music, we listened to and studied a few songs in the Soviet musical genre of “авторские песни.” (“Author Songs”) This song (“После Дождичка”), which describes the music and memories of the past, was written by one of the founders of the genre and remains quite popular.
The song I learned this summer that first springs to mind is a silly children’s song about a lion cub and a turtle who lie in the sun together watching other animals go past, like the rhinoceros (walking) and the crocodile (swimming). The video I’ve sent is is an old Russian cartoon about it.
One of the reasons why we learned the song was because it uses several Russian verbs of motion that we were reviewing in class. Something that’s been really fascinating for me about learning Russian is the way that the language handles the movement of bodies through space. With so much meaning embedded in various simple verbs of motion, and then many prefixes that indicate something about the starting point and ending point, degree of containment on each end, distance, the subject’s intention, and what the speaker knows or focuses on, I think that Russian probably has the capacity to convey more information more concisely (and precisely!) about movement and position than English. One of the things I love about language learning is this kind of revelation—while verbs of motion can be the ingredients in a fun children’s song like Как львенок и черепаха пели песню (How the lion cub and turtle sang a song) in a literary text they can betray how an author is directing the reader’s attention to particular details, so learning about verbs of motion gives me some tools for analyzing a text in a meaningful way. It’s thrilling to realize that after only two years of study (or one academic year and one summer of intensive study in this case), I have already found some keys to begin unlocking literary texts in Russian.
FLAS Fellowships are funded by the International and Foreign Language Education Office of the U.S. Department of Education. FLAS fellowships support undergraduate, graduate and professional students in acquiring modern foreign languages and area or international studies competencies. Students from all UW departments and professional schools are encouraged to apply. Find out more about the FLAS Fellowship here.