Heritage Language Rosources at the University of Toronto Libraries – Russian

The University of Toronto Libraries have an abundance of resources for both speakers of heritage languages and those interested in learning about these languages, including Russian.

Libraries at the University of Toronto hold 180849 publications in Russian, over 4000 of which are about the language itself. These include materials on all aspects of the language: grammar, morphemics and word formation, morphology, syntax and punctuation, vocabulary, synonyms and antonyms, style and phraseology, phonetics and phonology, linguistics and many other topics. Textbooks for learners of Russian as a native language or second-language learners who have reached a level high enough to use textbooks written in the language are present as well. Speakers of the language might also be interested in reading other materials in Russian: works of literature, as well as books about history or geography, politics or economics, science or engineering, culture or art. All of these and a multitude of other resources, including periodicals and audio recordings, can be found at the libraries at the University of Toronto. Therefore, here, at one of the leading research library systems in North America, every speaker of Russian can find something that suits his/her interests. Whether one is a student searching for materials on Russian language and linguistics, or any other field, such as sciences, humanities, etc., a community member looking for classic Russian literature to read, an educator requiring aids in teaching the language to native, heritage or second language learners, or any other person, one will always be able to discover a lot using the collection of the University of Toronto Libraries.

Heritage, native and second language speakers of Russian alike would find it useful to use a word formation dictionary, such as the “Word formation dictionary of contemporary Russian language” (editors M. B. Baklanova and O. S. Verkhovaya), to expand their vocabulary. Did you know that 58 words came from the word “земля” (‘earth’), while the word “игнорировать” (‘to ignore’) gave rise to only three new words? While exploring this dictionary, people will be able to find out this and other interesting facts.

Native and heritage speakers of Russian (with advanced reading abilities) and advanced second language learners can head to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library to read some historical artifacts, such as the weekly newspaper “The Week” from the Russian Empire. A collection of these newspapers from the second half of 1897 is available at the library. In addition to reading about the news of the time period from the perspective of a contemporary of that period, readers will be able to experience the language of that time. It is not much different from contemporary Russian language, which makes the newspaper relatively easy to read. However, there are aspects that have changed since then: ‘ъ’ is no longer written at the end of every word that ends with a consonant, Genitive singular endings for adjectives and participles are now -ого/-его, not -аго/-яго, two letters, ‘Ѣ’ and ‘i’, that expressed the same sounds as letters ‘е’ and ‘и’ respectively, have disappeared, and hyphens are no longer written as often as they used to be. Language and history enthusiasts would be able to see that for themselves when they read the newspapers.

Just over 6000 publications, primarily books, about Russian language are available at the University of Toronto Libraries. Most of these are in Russian, but more than 1000 are in English, while smaller fractions are in German, French, Polish, Ukrainian and other languages. These materials include those on various aspects of the language, from grammar to style, as well as textbooks for second-language learners of Russian. Students and educators of Russian have access to a great variety of useful resources held in the libraries at the University of Toronto.

Those interested in linguistics and culture would find the book “Russian language and out-of-language reality” by A. D. Shmelev an interesting, but challenging read. Among many other things, the book explains the difference between the concepts of “истина” (‘istina’) and “правда” (‘pravda’), both of which are translated into English using the word ‘truth’. While “истина” (‘istina’) is an idea, a notion about the world that is real, “правда” (‘pravda’) is information that somebody knows, but might not necessarily tell others (Shmelev, 2002).

Electronic resources available through the University of Toronto Libraries also present a great deal of interesting information. Heritage language speakers-learners and their instructors, along with people interested in heritage languages in general, might find it interesting to read the article “The Role of Motivation among Heritage and Non-Heritage Learners of Russian” by Anna Geisherik. The article mentions, among other things, the fact that heritage learners with no or low reading and/or writing abilities in the language, when placed in the same classes with second-language learners, are mistaken in thinking that their advantage (being able to speak the language already) will help them achieve higher results than they would have learning another language. It is also noted that the main reason heritage speakers study their language is to preserve it in the family, which results in them placing a higher importance on speaking rather than reading and writing skills (Geisherik, 2004). These findings are undoubtedly very interesting.

Unfortunately, there are very few resources specifically about Russian as a heritage labguage in Canada. There are much more articles regarding this topic in the United States. An interesting observation was made by O. Kagan and K. Dillon in “Russian Heritage Learners: So What Happens Now?”. They note that the 9/11 terrorist attacks made the US government realize the need to encourage heritage speakers of all languages to preserve their mother tongues (Kagan & Dillon, 2006).

In short, the University of Toronto Libraries is a great place to explore Russian language and its use in other fields, as well as its historical development. A multitude of resources is available for everyone – native, heritage and second language speakers of Russian, as well as those who do not speak Russian, but are interested in this language or heritage languages in general.


Baklamova, M. B., & Vekhovaya, O. S. (Eds.). (2008). Word formation dictionary of contemporary Russian language. Moscow, Russian Federation: Ast.

Gaideburov, P. A. (Ed.). (1897). The Week: weekly newspaper with enclosures of monthly books of the week. Saint-Petersburg, Russian Empire: Neva Publishing.

Geisherik, A. (2004). The role of motivation among heritage and non-heritage learners of Russian. Canadian Slavonic Papers, 46(1-2), 9-22. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/85559517?accountid=14771

Kagan, O., & Dillon, K. (2006). Russian heritage learners: so what happens now? The Slavic and East European Journal, 50(1), 83-96. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/stable/20459235

Shmelev, A. D. (2002). Russian language and out-of-language reality. Moscow, Russian Federation: Languages of Slavic Culture.

Last updated: January 18, 2014.

Valeriya Mordvinova


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