Thursday, July 30, 2015

Roots of the Russian Language: An Elementary Guide to Wordbuilding

Wandering around Facebook this morning, I saw another #fluentshelfie post meant to participate in Fluent's Summer Giveaway. (The contest ends the day after tomorrow.)

Though most of my language books are on my Kindle Fire these days, I do have a few paperbacks strewn all over the house. They aren't in one place because I'm using them regularly enough they get moved a pile in the computer room, a stack on the nightstand, and the rest are (of course) all neatly stored on a bookshelf in one easy to photograph place!

Enough about the contest...

The photo today reminded me that since I have a blog that I've been using to talk about learning languages, I've been meaning to put up a "virtual bookshelf" pointing out some useful (or not so useful) books that I've found.

I'll start with a quick and simple review of the book Roots of the Russian Language: An Elementary Guide to Wordbuilding by George Z. Patrick. Here's the description: "Designed to help students of Russian increase their knowledge of wordbuilding and, as a result, increase their vocabulary. 'Roots of the Russian Language' includes 450 of the most commonly used roots of the Russian language. After mastering Russian prefixes and suffixes, students develop an ability to construct words and terms from a given Russian root."

In my Russian vocabulary studies, I'm experienced enough that it was definitely time for me to purposefully learn more about prefixes and suffixes. I'd run across yet one more language learner cautioning people about how difficult Russian verbs are to memorize. They had a list of verbs like купить, покупать, накупить, подкупать, and прикупать. I know about myself that I'm not so interested in memorizing lists of verbs. I'd rather understand how prefixes alter the verb in general so I can apply that meaning to new verbs I find.

In theory ... great idea!

In practice ... I'm still at the stage I double check in my dictionary all the time.

But thanks to regular use of  the book Roots of the Russian Language: An Elementary Guide to Wordbuilding, I am gaining more knowledge. I'm also gaining confidence in my ability to define words I come across. I've only tried to construct a few words on my own. This is book is definitely turning out to be a great resource I'm using regularly in my study of the Russian language.

I think new learners to Russian could use Roots of the Russian Language as a compliment for a basic course book like The New Penguin Russian Course: A Complete Course for Beginners by Nicholas J. Brown. Though I already had a lot of experience reading, and I understood the basics about cases and verbs when I purchased this book, I think beginners will find a book like Roots of the Russian Language helpful as they improve their reading skills.

I find Roots of the Russian Language most useful as a resource to study words than a book to read from cover to cover.

Below collage photo illustrates how I've been using this book.

Today I picked out the root желт-, which means yellow.

You can see in the sample image that the book lists some common words using желт- along with definition and sample sentences.  

Roots of the Russian Language: An Elementary Guide to Wordbuilding

Today I read all the vocabulary words and sample sentences for the root I've picked.

For help with pronunciation, I checked

Then I'll pick one of the words for further study. Today I picked the Russian verb "to yellow" or желтеть for further study.

In my language learning notebook, I took the time to look up and write out the conjugation of желтеть.

Then I wrote my my own sample sentences using different conjugations and pronouns. To help this exercise, I searched for different conjugations of the verb on Twitter. Twitter is a great place to see how "real Russian speakers" are using words in their daily lives.

Today won't be the end of my study of this verb. A few weeks from now, I'll read through old entries in my language learning notebook and see if I remember what I wrote. In a few weeks, if I don't remember what желтеть means, I can look up a whole new round of sample sentences on Twitter or go find some videos on YouTube. I suspect that because желтый is so firmly in my long term memory, I won't have to review the other words with the same root extensively.

Two weeks (or so) out in the future will also be a great chance to do this this exercise with one of the other words made up of this root желт- such as the adjective for yellow ... желтый.

Today, a quick look at Twitter lets me know that the leaves are yellowing a little early this year around Russia. I found a young lady lamenting she never had the change to wear her summer dress. I saw another girl say she was turning yellow with the leaves. This made me wonder if she was being poetic, or would other Russians talk about turning yellow as an emotional state. I don't have the answer to that one yet! I'll have to look around a bit more.

Where I live, fall is not a concern in the slightest. But, my world is yellowing as well. Here in the desert is the hottest time of the year. I took the time to walk around in the backyard and talk to myself in Russian about the things I see turning yellow. I didn't just do this to get a 4th picture for the collage. I try to find ways to make the words I'm learning part of my life.

Трава желтеет.
Grass yellows.

Трава желтеет без воды.
The grass turns yellow without water.

Сорняки желтеют.
Weeds turn yellow. 


If you have time ... search for this phrase combination on Twitter "выполов колючие сорняки".


The description of the book suggests that Russian language learners will be able to construct our own sentences if we study the roots. To practice this theory I compared the adjective and verb with the root желт-.
желтый - желтеть

I know from experience that the verbs for other colors do exist in the language, but I don't have them memorized yet. So, I tried today to construct some verbs and tested the results looking up on Twitter.

красный - red
краснеть - to blush

я начинаю краснеть
I'm starting to blush.

зеленый - green

зеленеть - turn green

зеленеть от зависти
turn green with envy

розовый - pink 

розоветь - turn pink

Мои щеки начали розоветь.
My cheeks began to turn pink. 

оранжевый - orange

оранжеветь  - turn orange

This verb for turning orange isn't all that common on Twitter and the translation option doesn't really work. The last time someone tweeted the word was months ago when some guy talking about how his indoor citrus tree had new fruit that were turning orange.

черный - black

чернеть - turn black (or part of the name of a tufted duck)

I didn't go into all the uses for чернеть today. The word is part of a duck's name as well, so the translations are screwy!

волосы чернеть
hair is turning black (warning for bottle blonds, not a description of hairy ducks)

бананы чернеть
bananas going bad

белый - white
белеть - whiten

Ночи начинают белеть.

Nights are starting to turn white. 
(Where I'm from, in Alaska, the nights are also light in the summertime.)

голубой - blue
голубеть - turn blue

синий - blue
синеть - become blue

бронзовый - bronze
бронзоветь - to bronze

It's always good to check on these constructions...

лазурный - cerulean
лазурнеть - no such verb!