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).
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.
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[SOURCE: UT Arlington Magazine]