Basic Russian: A Grammar and Workbook

By Richards, Ron | Canadian Slavonic Papers, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Basic Russian: A Grammar and Workbook


Richards, Ron, Canadian Slavonic Papers


(ProQuest Information and Learning: Foreign text omitted)

John Murray and Sarah Smyth. Basic Russian: A Grammar and Workbook. Routledge Grammars. London and New York: Routledge, 1999. xi, 244 pp. $65.00, cloth. $21.99, paper.

Basic Russian: a Grammar and Workbook by John Murray and Sarah Smith, both of Dublin's Trinity College, begins by making clear exactly what it is and is not intended to do. It represents itself not as a "course book" per se, but rather as an additional resource, intended for a learner already familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet, one who commands a core vocabulary of at least 500 lexemes. It eschews the status of a primary introductory text, claiming only to be "an additional resource for teachers and learners," and must therefore be seen in that light.

The book is arranged thematically into seven major sections (Talking about people and things, Saying who does or did what, Describing people and objects, etc.), each of which is further broken down into four to six chapters dealing with specific grammatical phenomena, e.g. "Possession" (Unit 16), "Dates" (Unit 32), immediately followed by a concluding "revision unit," a summation of the units in that particular section. Even within the sections themselves, the authors remain faithful to the idea of presenting material thematically, with maximum emphasis on bow the material would be used in practical language situations. For instance, when we turn to the 8th through 11th chapters, which comprise the second major section (Saying who does or did what), we see chapters such as Unit 8 "When we do things," which concentrates on adverbs of time, and Unit 9 "Interacting with the world about you," which addresses the direct object.

Presenting the introductory units of a language in such a fashion is a complex and tricky affair, since it requires fitting these units, which are by necessity presented from simpler to more complex, into pragmatic language scenarios in a manner that does not appear forced. Said complexities aside, the authors apply this technique consistently throughout the work with a marked degree of success. While a pedagogical strategy such as this might frustrate the purist, it will come as a relief to that section of the target audience ("familiar with Cyrillic, 500-word vocabulary") which is put off, if not outright intimidated, by the grammatical and/or linguistic explications which typify many such introductory language works.

Each chapter has a small set of exercises meant to exemplify the main points of that chapter, exercises which, for the most part, are traditional in their format: fill-inthe-blank with the appropriate declensional or conjugational desinence, simple sentence composition, matching phrases in one column with their logical counterpart in a second column, etc. A key to all of these exercises is provided at the end of the book, along with appendices covering declension, conjugation, and spelling rules. The last sections are reserved for glossaries of "technical terms" (grammatical and linguistic), and conclude with a substantial Russian to English vocabulary section.

In reviews such as this one must take pains to distinguish between incorrectly vs. incompletely presented grammatical expositions. When dealing with a language such as Russian, notorious for the sheer number of "exceptions" with which it confronts not only the beginning student, but the advanced student as well, one is forced to pick and choose which of these exceptions will be addressed in an introductory text. Even the canonical English-language grammars of Russian (Borras and Christian, Russian Syntax, 2nd ed. [ 1979]; Unbegaun, Russian Grammar [ 1957]; Lunt, Fundamentals of Russian [1968]; Wade, A Comprehensive Russian Grammar [1992]) cannot account for every grammatical exception found in Russian, so certainly we could not expect an introductory volume such as this one to do this. Likewise, different scholars will employ different terminology to like phenomena and features.

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