Intermediate Low At Professor’s Office

Grammar Notes

This episode makes it possible for you to observe a conversation between a University professor and a graduate student in academic settings. Visitors to Russia can’t help but notice that conversational etiquette in Russia varies from American one. It should be pointed out that the younger members of the academic community have to become completely dependent and subservient to their mentors. This is actually a source of frustration for many American students. Pay attention to this graduate student strategy and how she found a very effective way of dealing with the Professor’s irritation.

The Professor starts the conversation with a turn that may sound a bit formal or even abrupt and unfriendly. Foreigners find this hard to adjust to frequent use ‘you’ imperatives to form direct requests as in ‘Ну, где Вы ходите?’ The Russian habit of saying in a "commanding tone" sounds rude for English speakers. It is important to realize that there are major cultural differences in the Russian and Anglo ways of using ‘you’ imperatives. In English, imperative forms are often considered to be too direct and can only be interpreted as commands or orders given by the authority or someone trying to assume the authoritative stanza. Russians, on the other hand, often use ‘you’ imperatives to form direct requests as in ‘Давайте Вашу статью’. The use of imperfective aspect in the imperative as in ‘Пожалуйста, печатайте статью и приносите‘sounds less bluntly and therefore more polite than the use of the perfective, which tends to express instructions as in Напишите, пожалуйста, отчет ‘ or commands as in Пожалуйста, сделайте‘.However, imperatives of all sorts, including those expressed in the perfective, are softened by the insertion of ‘пожалуйста. Altogether Professor apparently sounds as having intimidating tone toward the graduate student, cf.:   Это мне не интересно‘, ‘Надя, это Ваша проблема‘, 'Вы думаете Вас там ждут?'.

Another feature of this professor’s speech manner is overusing the word ‘так‘. The handy word “так” is not as easy as it looks for it can carry many subtle meanings and be very efficient way to express the speaker’s attitude. The Professor uses this word with imperative intonation as in ‘Так, здравствуйте, уже 4 часаin which he expresses impatience and increases pressure on the graduate student. By using ‘так‘ (thus)  professor emphasizes that what the graduate student  says is irrelevant to the topic of their conversation and redirects the conversation with a request Так, что у нас?.  In other words, he seems to signal to the graduate student that she may not be doing enough.

Both of them frequently use modal должен’ ‘должна (the closest equivalent to English ‘must’). It is a special kind of adjective which has only one case, the nominative and four endings respectively for masculine, feminine, neuter and plural. However, this modal is used in various ways with different meanings.  Cf.: Я должна была написать сатью‘  -- the implied meaning of this phrase is  ‘I was to have written an article’. In Вы должны написать отчет‘ ‘должны is a marker of duty, more or less synonymous with 'must', whereas in Я должен туда позвонить, чтобы тезисы Ваши принялидолжен‘carries the meaning of necessity or even obligation as in 'I am to make a phone call'.

Pay attention that present tense is used to indicate that actions are to take place in the near future, e.g. Я еду на конференцию, потом у меня Ученый Совет, потом я пишу рецензию‘.

Analysis of speech manner reflects relationships between the professor and the graduate student. Although the professor is sounding coercive and empathizing, the graduate student is trying to bridge the gap and minimize his rudeness by being emphatically polite and accepting a subservient role. She did not want to be disrespectful to the professor and repeats Хорошо, Валерий Павловичto accompany agreement. Actually, repeatition of professor’s name is redundant but it appears to be very effective politeness strategy. The professor seems to have started making concessions and extended the deadline for sending an abstract to a conference.  He  even shows a solidarity with the student when he admits Сдайте, пожалуйста, отчет в отдел аспирантуры, а то у Вас и у меня тоже будут проблемы’.(Please, hand in your annual summary report to the Office of Post-Graduate Studies, otherwise you as well as I will get a problem





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