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I have been studying Russian for about a year now as a bit of personal edification, but I would like to be able to talk about and write about mathematics in Russian, as well. I find it enhances my understanding of things if I connect different disciplines in meaningful ways. I am proficient, though not expert, but I am improving.

I would like to (eventually) be able to read preprints and original books in Russian (e.g., Shilov, Markov, Kantorovich, etc.), and to be able to interact with Russian colleagues in their own language (without having to pester them about terminology day in and day out).

I have found these resources, so far:

This from the University of Bonn, and this, a dictionary file for Polyglossum (which I had never heard of until this thought struck me), and two books: Russian for the mathematician (S.H. Gould, 1972), and Russian for the scientist and mathematician (C.A. Croxton, 1984).

Has anyone been in a similar situation, or know of other good materials to use while working toward my goal?

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While browsing in the library a couple weeks ago I came across "Russian for the Mathematician" by Sydney H. Gould. This might be what you're looking for. There appear to be very cheap used copies available if your library doesn't have it. –  Michael Lugo Jun 20 '11 at 5:18
    
@Michael As it happens, my university library appears to have that, and a book by Clive A. Croxton called Russian for the scientist and mathematician. Quite a fortuitous find on your part. Thank you. –  Jack Henahan Jun 20 '11 at 5:25
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You're probably aware that many articles and journals were systematically translated by the AMS, see e.g. AMS translation Journals. I think a rather quick way of picking up quite a bit of specialized terminology non-systematically is to choose articles you're interested in and read the original and the translation next to each other. Working through introductory books will certainly also help (that's how I picked up the terminology in several languages). You don't need much acquaintance with the language itself for that. –  t.b. Jun 20 '11 at 5:41
    
@Theo That looks like a very good resource. I'll have to double-check with my department to see if we have a subscription to the translation journals. If not, I can always just examine the free archive and whatever I can find on MathSciNet. Thank you very much. –  Jack Henahan Jun 20 '11 at 6:06
    
Several Russian-English and English-Russian dictionaries are mentioned in answers to this related question. –  Martin Sleziak Jun 29 '12 at 13:31

3 Answers 3

I've been in your situation and will address several points from your question.

  1. You write that you've been studying Russian for a year and are proficient. What does that actually mean? For example, how well do you understand Russian verbs: aspect, verbs of motion, transitive vs. intransitive, conditional using бы? Reading a lot will definitely improve your understanding of these grammatical points over time, but I would not have considered myself proficient after just 1 year of study and you do, so I'm curious how you judge that you are proficient now. Can you have conversations with native speakers about random topics already?

  2. The link you give from the Univ. of Bonn has all the accent marks stripped off the Russian words. The person who created that webpage explains at the top -- in Russian -- why that was done, but for English speakers it's a bad idea not to have the accent marks because you should learn how to correctly pronounce words. (There will still be important subtleties, e.g., конечно in math.) You should get the offline version of the Lohwater dictionary, which has the accent marks. Also look at Gould's Russian for the Mathematician.

  3. You say that your understanding is enhanced by connecting different disciplines in meaningful ways. I don't understand what you really have in mind here. Do you expect to understand the snake lemma better by knowing Russian? Frankly I don't think you're going to improve your understanding of math in a meaningful way by learning Russian unless your goal is to read something in Russian that has not been translated into English, and what might that be? The textbooks you mentioned by author names are already translated into English and you're not going to have a series of amazing mathematical insights by reading the original book instead of the translation. (I'm talking about math, not literature.) [Edit: I would agree that you can improve your Russian by reading math which interests you in Russian, so in the direction math ==> Russian I see that one discipline can assist the other. Reading math in Russian improved my grasp of several grammatical concepts, which I then used in conversations about everyday non-math topics.]

  4. You say that you want to be able to speak, write, and read math in Russian. You left out listening, which goes together with speaking. These are four very different skills. Reading is the easiest: start reading Russian books with an English translation nearby and that way you can pick up new terms -- paying attention to the grammar along the way. Dictionaries are not as helpful for writing (correctly) as they are for reading because to write (correctly) you need to generate the Russian yourself, and in particular you must know mathematical phrases instead of individual words. One resource for this is a book by Sosinskii, Как написать математическую статью по-английски. You can find it online at http://www.ega-math.narod.ru/Quant/ABS.htm, although there are some glitches in the text-to-html conversion, so I think a physical copy of the book is better. Buy it at the Independent Univ. of Moscow bookstore. :) At the end of the book Sosinskii lists many mathematical phrases in English followed by their translation into Russian. That was meant to help Russian readers (the intended target audience of the book) learn what standard math phrases in English mean, but you can use it in reverse to learn how to write English phrases in Russian. To speak math in Russian you have to overcome an additional hurdle: learn how to pronounce mathematical notation in Russian (Latin and Greek variables, integrals, infinite series, rational functions, etc.), and that is essentially impossible without having native speakers around to help.

You write that one of your goals is to speak with Russian colleagues without having to pester them about Russian terminology all the time. The most efficient method to avoid bugging them about their terminology is to speak to them in English. For the most part they don't need you to learn Russian in order to communicate, since most (not all, but most) of them are going to speak English already. They'll certainly all be able to read English.

Some parts of what I've written above are kind of harsh, but that's because I think you need a reality check: reading Russian math after you know the grammar is a pretty straightforward skill to pick up by reading a few math books or articles where you are already familiar with the subject matter (so you can focus on the grammar and words and not the depth of the math). However, you seem fixated on the idea of speaking math in Russian and I think learning that skill is a complete waste of time for a non-fluent speaker unless you are going to visit Russia for mathematical reasons soon. Any Russian mathematician you meet in the US -- you are a student now in Vermont -- will speak English and trying to talk about math with them in Russian is not necessarily going to work out the way you expect: I know one prominent Russian mathematician in the US who forgot how to speak about math in Russian because he had done it only in English for so many years. Even in Russia you can get by discussing math with most mathematicians in English (at least in Moscow and St. Petersburg). Until you have a good reason to be speaking math in Russian you're probably also not going to find much practical use in writing math in Russian either (e.g., preparing lecture notes). The only exception I can think of is if you find a Russian pen pal for a language exchange (you write in Russian, the pen pal writes in English, and you correct each other) and the pen pal is interested in discussing math. That would give you a good reason to write math in Russian.

On a personal note, which explains where I am coming from in my assessments above, I could read math in Russian and have non-math conversations in Russian for about 20 years without having much of an idea about how to speak math in Russian (esp. pronouncing the notation) until I taught a math course in Russia last year to undergraduates, some of whom were not comfortable hearing English (but all of them could read English). While there I had a pretty strong incentive to learn how to talk about math in Russian because I had to do that on a regular basis with students. All the professors I met there spoke English.

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By turns: 1. Using the ILR scale, Reading-3, Listening-2, Speaking-2+, Writing-2+ 2. I'll have to look into the Lohwater dictionary. Thanks for the pointer. 3. I find it easier to pick up a language if I can use it in a pursuit I enjoy. I don't intend to gain some mathematical insight by reading the original texts, I just want to educate myself for the sake of educating myself. 4. Thanks for the link. I'll have to look at that, as well. I don't mean to suggest that they might need me to speak Russian, I just want to. I enjoy learning languages. –  Jack Henahan Jun 20 '11 at 7:52
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As for "waste of time", while it may be so from a practical standpoint, I've never felt my time wasted. It's not something for my CV. It's just something I want to do for my own enjoyment, you know? Also, the comment about pestering, I intended in the sense that I wanted the working knowledge rather than having to fumble for the words. Since, as you suggest, English verges on being the lingua franca for much of mathematics, I could probably just substitute the English word. That just feels a bit like cheating, though, no? :D –  Jack Henahan Jun 20 '11 at 7:53
    
Concerning your first comment on motivation, I agree with you. I found Russian math books a lot more interesting than the reading assignments in the language classes (although language exchanges with a native speaker about real life are also more interesting the course assignments). I understood some constructions with Russian verbs a lot better after seeing them come up over and over in Russian math books than seeing them in the reading from the language class. –  KCd Jun 20 '11 at 9:14
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@Jack: I can second absolutely everything Keith said. I am a native Russian speaker, I have read pretty much all the Russian classics that you may think of, but I cannot talk Math in Russian. My former PhD adviser is also a native Russian speaker and we speak Russian with each other, but about half of the mathematical terms are inserted in English (it sounds ugly and I am working on rooting out the English words, one by one). I have said it elsewhere on this site before: as far as motivation goes, Russian literature and cinematography are much better reasons to learn Russian that math is. –  Alex B. Jun 20 '11 at 10:17
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@enthdegree: It depends what it is you want to do. Such material is written for an audience that already knows the language, so I think there is too much going on grammatically for you to pick up the language this way in order to use it yourself. Also, the vocabulary you meet wouldn't help you communicate with anyone in real life (nothing is in the first person), and if you can't talk to people then your language experience is going to be very isolated. Reading math in Russian, French, etc. is far easier than using it since there's no motivation to pick up grammar well. –  KCd May 14 at 16:44

You can use very good book by Glazunova, Russian for mathematicians. It is very good idea to speak russian with Russian mathematicians, even if they know english. It is excellent exercise and we apreciate that a lot. I think KCd'answer is very aggressive and wrong.Personally, I have no reason to doubt that you are proficient in Russian if you say so. Do not let anybody discurage you: жeлaю вaм больших успeхов!

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In my answer I did not say Jack shouldn't speak Russian with native speakers, whether they are mathematicians or do something else. By all means he should practice speaking with any native speakers who are nearby as soon as he wants. I've never met native speakers who did not appreciate it if I started speaking Russian with them. But usually we wouldn't talk about math! I was in Jack's position myself and wrote in detail based on my own experience, so I don't consider my answer to be wrong at all. I agree it was aggressive, which is clear since I raised the matter myself in the answer. –  KCd Jun 20 '11 at 9:52

Frankly I cannot be more right than Keith. While I determined to put all my spendable time into language study, my professor simply scoffed at me. He said you will get none of them--maths and foreign languages. After ten years of struggling, I found he was damn right :P

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