Linguistic Doctoral Student Enjoys Word Power, Word Play

Vitaly Voinov is a hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves kind of guy. That’s one rea­son he chose UT Arling­ton for his doc­toral degree.

“UT Arling­ton has a good blend of the­ory with prac­tice,” he says of the Department of Lin­guis­tics and TESOL. “I’m into lin­guis­tics because you can use that knowl­edge in many dif­fer­ent, prac­ti­cal ways.”

Voinov orig­i­nally wanted to be an arche­ol­o­gist, the Indi­ana Jones kind. Then before start­ing under­grad­u­ate stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia, he signed up for a summer arche­o­log­i­cal dig in Israel. “It’s not as excit­ing as the movies,” he confesses.

His inter­ests shifted when a pro­fes­sor com­pared shards of pot­tery to mor­phemes, the small­est lin­guis­tic unit with a seman­tic mean­ing. For exam­ple, “dogs” con­tains two morphemes: “dog” (canine) and “s” (plural).

Vitaly Voinov

Lan­guage diver­sity was already a big part of Voinov’s life. Born in St. Peters­burg, Rus­sia, and brought up in New York City, he spoke Russ­ian at home and Eng­lish at school, where he stud­ied French and ancient Greek.

He stud­ied the­ol­ogy at a sem­i­nary, fol­lowed by a related nine-year project in Siberia. While there, he immersed him­self in Tuvan, the lan­guage of Tuva, a mem­ber of the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion on the north­ern bor­der of Mongolia.

“Russ­ian is the dom­i­nant lan­guage there,” he says of Tuva. “Tuvan is not stud­ied much in the West­ern Hemi­sphere. There is only one English-language dis­ser­ta­tion on Tuvan. Hope­fully, mine will be the next.”

He returned to the United States in 2007 with plans to earn a doc­tor­ate in lin­guis­tics while doc­u­ment­ing the Tuvan lan­guage. UT Arlington’s lin­guis­tics pro­gram met his needs, and the finan­cial aid offer­ings were “very attrac­tive,” Voinov says. He received the Grad­u­ate Stim­u­lus Schol­ar­ship, which pro­vided $2,500 and allowed non-resident stu­dents to pay in-state tuition.

Dr. Colleen Fitzger­ald, Associate Professor and Chair of the department, says Voinov’s work with Tuvan has been an asset to UT Arlington’s lan­guage revi­tal­iza­tion work with tribal com­mu­ni­ties in Okla­homa. Why preserve a lan­guage when a com­mu­nity takes on a more dom­i­nant one, such as Russ­ian or Eng­lish? Fam­ily, Dr. Fitzger­ald says.

“Imag­ine if your grand­mother spoke one lan­guage and you couldn’t under­stand herm” she said. “The larger family of human­ity is another rea­son. Lin­guis­tics can show how peo­ple moved through­out time, let­ting one language merge with another.”

After earn­ing his degree, Voinov plans to con­tinue research­ing Tuvan. He also hopes to help save a dis­tantly related lan­guage in Moldova called Gaguz that may become extinct in a few generations.

Voinov’s hands-on atti­tude does have room for play. He recently won a research poster award. His topic: Words should be fun, using Scrab­ble as a tool for lan­guage preservation.

Read more on othe UT Arlington students.

[SOURCE: UT Arlington Magazine]

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