Olga's BlogAt the time of this project, Olga Dmitraschenko was a sixteen-year-old native Muscovite and incoming freshman to Moscow State University, one of Russia's most respected educational institutions. She served an internship with SRAS during the summer of 2006 as a research assistant on issues of popular culture. She stayed on afterwards with SRAS as the primary author of Olga's Blog, a series of language lessons based on modern Russian life and written in the language of Moscow's young, well-educated college students. The native Russian text has been glossed by the School of Russian and Asian Studies for vocabulary, cultural implications, grammar, and some youth slang.

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Olga's Blog: Жаркие экзамены
Lesson 4, Part 1

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Note that all bold words and phrases have annotation below. Red words and phrases indicate the subject of this blog entry's grammer lesson. Any asterisks indicate slang.

Note that Olga's blog has already covered the general topic of exams before. This blog entry, therefore, is designed to be slightly more advanced then the previous and not all vocabulary is repeated. Students are advised to read Lesson 1, Part 2 before advancing to this entry.

"Шпоры" are sometimes handwritten, sometimes typed.  

Майская жара накрыла Москву. Столбики термометров поднимались до температуры 35 градусов С! Палящее солнце обжигало плечи, духота и зной мешали привычному образу жизни. Охлажденные напитки расходились в считанные часы, на центральных площадях били фонтаны.

Однако накаленная обстановка была не только на улице, но и в университетах. Ведь, как вы знаете, начало лета – это сессия!

Нам, первокурсникам факультета мировой политики МГУ, уже не было так страшно, как зимой, однако все нервничали. Зимой то у нас было всего три экзамена, а сейчас – целых пять! После того, как все семь зачетов были сданы, и в зачетке появился штамп – «ДОПУЩЕН К ЭКЗАМЕНАЦИОННОЙ СЕССИИ», наши мысли полностью переключились на экзамены. Подготовка кипела. Кто-то делал билеты сам по книгам, кто-то делил работу пополам с приятелем, уже сдавшие группы отдавали свои конспекты и лекции оставшимся. Мозги работали в ускоренном режиме, даже по ночам организм накапливал не энергию, а знания.

Печатались и резались шпоры. Кстати, о шпорах – это неотъемлемая часть подготовки к экзаменам. Студенты делают их не только для того, чтобы все скатать, а в большей степени для уверенности. И вот к первому экзамену – философии мы все были экипированы.

Философию наша группа сдавала самой первой, потому, что наш преподаватель собирался в отпуск. В головах были сосредоточены полученные за год и выученные ночами знания, а карманы топорщились от свернутых шпор. Зайдя в кабинет, мы оставили свои зачетки, вытянули билеты и сели готовиться.

Несмотря на отсутствие страха и хорошую подготовку, из нашей группы шесть человек были отправлены на пересдачу. Пересдавать предмет можно три раза. В случае полного провала в университет вызываются родители, и собирается комиссия. Поднимается вопрос об отчислении. Но такого в дальнейшем ни с кем из моих однокурсников не случилось.

Философию я сдала на четыре и приступила к подготовке к английскому. Здесь все было намного проще. Можно сказать, к нему я подготовилась за один вечер, и благополучно получила пятерку. Одну девушку из нашей группы отправили на пересдачу – увидели на ее коленках шпаргалку. Оставалось еще три экзамена – экономика, информатика и история России. Но больше об этом в следующий раз!

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Vocabulary and Cultural Annotations

    Selected Programs Abroad:
    Палящее солнце обжигало плечи: The scorching sun burned (our) shoulders
  2. Духота и зной: Stuffy and sultry. Both words are most often used to describe the qualities of air. At the peak of summer, Moscow can experience heat of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with 100% humidity, carried down by winds from the Bay of Finland.
  3. Охлажденный: Cooling. In reference to drinks, it also carries the meaning of 'refreshing" and "quenching."
  4. Фонтаны: Fountains. Fountains are fairly common in major cities in Russia and their operation is a major symbol of summer for most Russians. Moscow students also have a tradition of jumping into the fountains after their exams are completed.
  5. Зачетка: Student's record book. Each student must carry and keep a small book of their academic history. The book is presented at the beginning of each exam, updated by the teacher after the exam, and returned to the student.
  6. Кто-то делал билеты сам по книгам: Some people make questions themselves from the books. "Билеты" are small pieces of paper with individual questions for each student. Usually each student has one question to answer, orally and in private consultation with the professor. Based on the results of the answer, the student receives his/her grade, which often accounts for the vast majority of the final grade received for the class.
  7. Кто-то делил работу пополам с приятелем: Some people divide the work in half with a friend. Essentially, they pair up as study partners, usually developing questions from the book and quizzing each other. Note that in Russian "кто-то," while singular, is often used in the same context that "some" or "some people" is used in English.
  8. Cдавшие группы отдавали свои конспекты и лекции оставшимся: Groups that had already taken the test gave their notes and lectures to groups who had not taken the exams. "Lectures" are usually written verbatim from what the professor said in class.
  9. Ускоренный: Accelerated.
  10. Даже по ночам организм накапливал не энергию, а знания: Even at night, our bodies did not accumulate energy, but knowledge. Here, Olga means that rather than sleeping, students would spend their nights studying.
  11. Печатались и резались шпоры: Crib sheets were written and cut out. Usually each "шпаргалка" (also known as "шпора" in slang) has one short answer and is cut from a larger piece of paper so that each can be kept separately in the pocket. The cutting process is needed because index cards are generally not used in Russia.
  12. ...в большей степени для уверенности: ...in large part for confidence. It seems to be a widely accepted belief among students that simply having the crib sheets in one pocket gives one a sense of confidence and thus helps one to pass the test. It seems that simply having the crib sheets would not be considered an infraction, as it might be in the US - so long as the crib sheets stay in the pocket.
  13. Наш преподаватель собирался в отпуск: Our professor intended to go on holiday. Most universities do not have a summer session and often university staff depart to dachas, relatives, and increasing are even traveling abroad during their time off. They may arrange with other teachers to time their testing period first if they wish to leave town earlier. Students occasionally do this as well, arranging to take tests early so that they can begin their travels earlier.
  14. Карманы топорщились от свернутых шпор: Pockets bristled with rolled-up cribs.
  15. Шесть человек были отправлены на пересдачу: Six people were sent to retake the test. If a student fails a test, he/she can retake the test at a later date. Also, if the student is unhappy with his/her grade, he/she can request a "пересдача," or "retake." Up to three "пересдачи" can be taken for each course.
  16. Вызываются родители, и собирается комиссия: They call (your) parents, and a committee gathers. This committee of faculty members from the department will give you essentially your fourth and final try to prove yourself on the subject.
  17. Поднимается вопрос об отчислении: The question of expulsion is raised. If the student is unable to pass a final exam, he/she may be expelled from the program. It is also worth mentioning that some students in some institutions attempt to bypass this possibility altogether by a process known as "подкуп" which means "purchase," though usually through less than moral means. While some students report that buying grades is still rampant at their universities (one student we spoke to stated that an "A" can be bought for around 5000RUR or about 200USD, though pricing varies based on the difficulty of the course of the grade you want - a "C" can be bought for less), others, such as Olga, report that practice seems to have disappeared at their institutions.
  18. Увидели на ее коленках шпаргалку: They saw her crib sheet on her lap. Of course, actually using the cribs during the exam is considered cheating. However, punishment for the offence usually only amounts to retaking the exam.


Grammar Focus 
Uses for Reflexive Verbs, Part 1


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Reflexive verbs are traditionally used in languages to form sentences wherein the subject and direct object are the same. These verbs are formed in Russian by adding a suffix to the verb. The suffix used is a reduction of the reflexive pronoun "себя" (oneself): "-ся" is added after verb forms ending in consonants; "-сь" is added after vowels.

English most often forms reflexive sentences by using a reflexive pronoun to indicate the direct object. For example: "The child threw itself to the ground." However, some verbs are automatically understood to be reflexive in the event that no other direct object is stated. For example, in the sentence "he shaves everyday," it is understood that he shaves himself everyday.

Russian always indicates reflexive verbs with the suffixes described above. Also, if compared to English, Russian uses the reflexive much more often and for a wider variety of purposes. Reflexive verbs in Russian can be used in six different grammatical functions. This lesson will cover three, the next installment of Olga's Blog will cover another three.

Passive reflexive verbs

Russian reflexive verbs can be used to indicate passive voice. It very often removes the actor from the sentence and almost implies that direct object acted on itself to achieve the end result - rather than in the usual case of implying that the actor acted upon his/her/itself (but it is generally understood that the actor is simply not identified). The following two examples of this type of use of reflexive verbs occur in this month's Olga's Blog.

Печатались и резались шпоры. - Crib-sheets were printed and cut out.
Поднимается вопрос об отчислении. - The question of expulsion is raised.

The actor, if mentioned, is expressed in the instrumental case. For example, one could say "Печатались и резались шпоры cтудентами," or, "Crib sheets were printed and cut out by the students." "Students" is not the subject of the sentence in either the Russian or English variants here, but it is made clear within the grammar that the students were the actors in the process described. In cases such as these, the object usually starts the sentence and is followed by the actor. In these cases, the object of the sentence usually starts the sentence and the actor only mentioned later.

Examples from Literature and the Press:

Стипендии студентов московских вузов повысятся на 300 рублей. Gazeta.ru newspaper
Офицер бросает карандаш, поднимается. А. Panteleev
В журналах печатались стихи и песни. Lib.ru biography of A. Rozenbaum


Lexical reflexive verbs

Some verbs in Russian must be used in the reflexive. There really is no logical explanation for why this is (although, there are entomological explanations and theories for individual cases). These types of grammatical oddities occur in every language and must be simply learned individually and accepted. Before you get let yourself say "wow, Russian is really weird," remember that English is also peppered with these types of oddities. For example, we say "He sailed across the Atlantic Ocean" but we also say "He went fishing at Parson's Pond." Both the Atlantic Ocean and Parson's Pond are specific bodies of water. However, one requires that an article be placed before it. The other does not. Что делать? 

This month's Olga's Blog gives an example of a lexical reflexive verb:

Такого в дальнейшем ни с кем из моих однокурсников не случилось. -
This did not happen to even one my classmates in the following time period.

Other examples include several verbs that indicate or help indicate emotion (бояться, гордиться, смеяться - to fear, to be proud, to laugh), a few that indicate existential states (казаться, случаться - to seem, to happen), and some relating to sleep (сниться, просыпаться - to dream, to wake up). But there is no rule!  

Examples from Literature and the Press:

И снится им прекрасная, В улыбках солнца ясная Красавица весна. S. Esenin
Когда я сегодня проснулась, встала и умылась, то мне вдруг стало казаться, что для меня все ясно на этом свете. A. Chekhov.


Optative reflexive verbs

The optative mood suggests a desire or inclination to do something. Again, English does not use reflexive verbs in exactly this way, so the construction might seem strange at first. English often phrases the same thought with collocations such as "I would like to" or "I don't feel like."

While this month's blog does not give an example of optative reflexive verb, they are often used in Russian. 

Мне спится - I would like to sleep
Мне не хочется есть - I don't feel like eating 

Note that some verbs are sometimes preceded by the reflexive form of "хочеть," rather than being made reflexive themselves (in a construction that, in some ways, is more similar to its English equivalent). Students who have had little experience practicing with native speakers may want to rely on using the "хочется" form, as it is more often used in Russian. However, students should be aware that both forms may occur. For example, in the following poem by M. Manuilova, which mixes various reflexive forms and is meant to be humorous:

Мне не естся
И не спится,
Не сидится,
Не лежится,
Не смеётся,
Не поется-
Лишь душа
Работать рвется!
Как же на неё сердиться?
Слава ждет!
Пошла трудиться!

Other Examples of Optative Reflexive Verbs from Literature and the Press:

Он одинок. Живется ему скучно, его ничто не интересует. A Chekhov
А мне не хочется быть самым богатым на кладбище. A. Tabokov

More on Reflexive Verbs from AlphaDictionary!


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