Laura Janda and Tore Nesset

Russian Language Technology: Tomorrow’s Russenorsk?


Thursday 7 November, 10.30-12.00, AUD2

Session paper  by Laura A. Janda and Tore Nesset  CLEAR group at UiT  (CLEAR = Cognitive Linguistics: Empirical Approaches to Russian) 

Although the boundary between the two countries is very small on land (only 195.7 km), the relationship between Norway and Russia is a defining feature of life in the High North. In 2011 the 44-year-long dispute concerning the marine border was settled and plans are underway to facilitate increased border traffic. We thus expect political, social, scientific, and economic relations across this border to become stronger. Given this situation, it is important that top-quality Russian language training be available in northern Norway. At the same time, administrative fusions of universities in this region will centralize scholarly and teaching resources, giving UiT a more focused leadership role. 

Given this situation, it is appropriate to ask the following questions. What can researchers and language teachers at UiT contribute to helping Norwegian society cope with this relationship in the future? How should ongoing changes in society inform what researchers at UiT do? 

For about 150 years (18th-early 20th century), a pidgin language called Russenorsk was the linguistic vehicle for transactions between Norwegians and Russians across their border. The last know use of the language was in 1923. Ninety years later it is time for us to build new kinds of resources for this dynamic environment. Practical language proficiency directed toward business and translation is a place to begin, but we need serious competence that is theoretically informed and makes sense of culture. Top-notch research shows how the various pieces such as language, technology, culture, history, and geography come together. 

Through support from UiT, the Norwegian Research Council, and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, we have worked on a number of projects that provide concrete resources, such as our Exploring Emptiness website on the use of Russian verbs. We are also developing computational resources for Russian grammar and lexicon that will lead to electronic dictionaries, parsers, learning materials, and machine translation resources that are far superior to those currently available. In response to societal needs we can expand some of these resources in special directions with focus on topics such as mineral resources, fishing, coast guard and border control. 

This presentation will engage the audience in a strategic discussion about the role of Russian in Norwegian society both now and in the future.