Upcoming Courses: The Glamour of Grammar, English Accents, and the Russian Revolution

It’s that time of the year: the new academic year is impending and it’s time to advertise the upcoming courses I’ll be teaching this Fall. So…

The Glamour of Grammar: An Online Course

@ Stanford Continuing Studies, Sep 25—Dec 8, Registration opens on 08/21/2017

School teaching of English grammar often makes this subject appear dull and dreary. Writing manuals like The Elements of Style further confound even the most curious reader with their arcane prohibitions against using passives, split infinitives, or “negative form.” Unsurprisingly, many people still view grammar as “mysterious or occult,” which is exactly what the word “grammar” originally meant. (“Glamour,” as it happens, comes from the same root.)

In this course, we will examine the principles behind English grammar and will dispel many a mystery surrounding it. We will ask: Why is there “stupidity” but not “smartity”? Who decides what is a word anyway? How do we put words together into meaningful sentences? How do we interpret sentences to mean more than is being explicitly said? How do children acquire the knowledge of these grammatical intricacies? And how do adults learn them in a foreign language? By looking at these and similar issues, we will develop a subtler and more thoughtful approach to grammar. While the focus of this course is on English, we will also see that other languages possess grammars that are based on the same principles and constraints. So in addition to learning many fascinating (and glamorous!) things about our own language, we will gain new tools that will be helpful in learning another language—any language.

For more information and to register, click here.

Why English Sounds Like It Does: A One-Day Study of the Colorful World of English Accents

@ Stanford Continuing Studies, Sunday December 3, 10:00 am—4:00 pm, Registration opens on 08/21/2017

English, like all other languages, changes over time and varies according to place and social setting. The way a person sounds—such as with the “southern drawl” or dropping their “r’s”—immediately conjures up a sense of the place where they come from. But the way we speak is influenced by many factors: not only our geographical roots, but also our social and educational background, our working environment, our friends, our own sense of identity, and even our political views all affect how we sound. In this one-day workshop, we will examine English dialects and accents around the country and around the world, and how they changed over time. We will wonder what Shakespeare really sounded like, and how we can know that. We will observe how English speakers can manipulate the way they speak to emphasize their identity. We will hear Bostonians and New Yorkers, posh and working-class Londoners, Scots and Irishmen, Canadians and Australians—and then come back to Northern California and look at its changing linguistic landscape. Students will develop a better appreciation of the variety of accents and dialects in English, the people who speak them, and how we react to people speaking in different ways.

For more information and to register, click here.


100 Years of the Russian Revolution

@ SCU OLLI, Friday, October 27, November 3, 10, and 17, 1:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Registration Opens at 10 a.m. August 22

100 years ago, in November 1917, the Bolsheviks led by Lenin took over the power in Russia in a largely bloodless coup; but the Russian revolution was more than just a change in who exercised political power. Followed by several years of civil war and foreign intervention, the revolution changed not only the political structure of the country, but its economy, its social fabric, and even the nature of the most personal relationships among its citizens. In this course, we will consider how the socialist revolution set Russia on the course for planned economy, repressive dictatorship, and imperial aggression. We will examine in what ways post-Soviet Russia continues with economic, political, and social models that were established by the Soviet regime. We will explore why the majority of Russians today admire Putin despite a growing economic crisis; why they are so intolerant of homosexuality; why Russian women hate feminism; and other similar issues that perplex a Western observer. By evaluating the balance sheets of the last century of Russian history, we will ponder the future of Russia and its role in international affairs.

For more information and to register, click here.

Looking forward to seeing you in one of those classes!


New OLLI Course: “Experiencing Russia Through Film” (Spring 2017)

This week I’m starting to teach a new (and very novel for me) course, “Experiencing Russia Through Film”, at Santa Clara University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. This is my first time teaching a film course although I’ve done Russian history and culture courses before.

Course Description:

Lenin famously called cinema “the most important of all art forms”. In this course, we will explore Russia’s political and cultural history, its institutions, social norms and everyday life through the lens of the Russian cinema. We will immerse ourselves in different time periods and will try to re-imagine what it was like to live in Stalin’s Soviet Union, during the Great Patriotic War, in the time of the Khrushchev Thaw and the Brezhnev “stagnation period”, and in post-Soviet Russia by watching emblematic feature films such as “The Circus” (1936), “The Cranes Are Flying” (1957, winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival) and others. All films will be shown with English subtitles, and the classes will be a combination of lectures, discussions and watching selected films. The films will also be available on YouTube and/or Netflix. We will also contemplate how the state may control people’s behavior and worldviews through cinema as an instrument of propaganda, and how the ways in which people react to films change with time and place. Parallels and contrasts with American cinema will be highlighted.

The first film we’ll be watching is “The Circus” (“Цирк”) from 1936: