Book Prize Winners for 2008

Best Contribution to Language Pedagogy

Benjamin Rifkin, Shannon Spasova, Viktoria Thorstensson, Nina Familiant, and Dianna Murphy, for: “The RAILS: Russian Advanced Interactive Listening Series Project.” Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2006. (

RAILS gets advanced web-delivered interactive listening right and serves as an exemplar not only for Russian materials but for web delivery of pedagogical content for all foreign languages. The stellar success of RAILS is owed to harnessing what the web does best: pulling together a set of audio and video materials that is at once
  • authentic, but part of a defined and succinct topic set
  • well scaffolded in an interactive environment
  • usable in the classroom, as add-ons, or by independent
  • available to all using off-the-shelf technology
  • extraordinarily modular, both horizontally (across topics) and vertically (activities within each topic)

Finally, RAILS not only represents a rich set of modular materials for listening comprehension (expandable into other activities); its by-product was an authoring system made available virtually for the asking.

In a field where sixth months is an eternity, RAILS, in it conceptualization and execution, will stand as a model to emulate for years to come.

Best Contribution to Slavic Linguistics

Neil Bermel, for: Linguistic Authority, Language Ideology, and Metaphor: The Czech Orthography Wars (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2007).

Within the anthropological and psychological frameworks that have largely shaped the field of linguistics over the past century, spoken language has often been regarded as the primary object of study, and written language as secondary insofar as it is an imperfect representation of speech. Neil Bermel’s Linguistic Authority, Language Ideology, and Metaphor: The Czech Orthographic Wars recognizes the system of norms governing written language as an independently valuable object of study, and his book stands out as a contribution both to the historiography of Czech and, more broadly, to the study of attitudes toward orthography as a branch of socio-linguistics. Dr. Bermel’s research rests on a close reading of primary sources, which he evaluates from the perspective of orthographic reformers, orthographic reforms, and the Czech linguistic and cultural community that must ultimately respond to those reforms, whether through adoption, rejection, or adaptation. While everyone thinks of himself or herself as an expert on spelling, Dr. Bermel demonstrates how proposals for spelling reform and public responses to such proposals may reveal deeply held beliefs about language, and how the fortunes of orthographic proposals and the nature of responses to those proposals may reflect developments elsewhere in society.

Best Book in Literary/Cultural Studies

John Randolph, for: The House in the Garden: The Bakunin Family and the Romance of Russian Idealism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007).

In The House in the Garden, John Randolph writes intellectual and cultural history as an experience of family and of place. In this dense, yet clear study, Randolph follows the Bakunin family, men and women, through several generations, placing the history of the family in a thick cultural context that embraces daily life on a country estate, family relations, friendly circles, intellectual culture, and literary writings. Moving through diverse topics, from Russian inheritance laws to Hegelian philosophy to pastoral genres, Randolph remains in control. His skillful use of original archival sources enriches his exploration of cultural and familial history. The House in the Garden integrates sophisticated readings of literary and non-literary texts both skillfully and elegantly, offering unique insights into economic, legal, bureaucratic and other important aspects of early-nineteenth century estate life.

Best Translation into English

Stephan Pearl, for his translation of: Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov (New York, NY: Bunim and Bannigan, 2006).

In Stephen Pearl's vigorous, imaginative, and resourceful rendering, Goncharov's great comic novel Oblomov has at last received the translation it deserves. Pearl sweeps away the cobwebs of nineteenth-century translatorese to reveal the book's full humor and charm. Through careful attention to diction and detail he proves what scholars have been saying for quite some time now, namely, that neither Oblomov nor his creator was a fuddy-duddy. Pearl's flexible and colloquial style—wiithout favoring one side of the Atlantic over the other—gives the book a thoroughly engaging immediacy. His exceptional gift for dialogue highlights the drama of even the smallest interaction. Subsidiary characters are energetically alive; the complexity of Oblomov's emotions is palpable. At once poetic and ironic, the translation itself embodies the tension inherent in Goncharov's depiction of oblomovshchina, both his affection for its powerfully seductive pleasures and his gentle but relentless satire of his hero's parasitism.

Although Oblomov has a humanity that needs little in the way of footnoting, anyone curious will find ample orientation in the foreword by Tatyana Tolstaya, the substantial introduction by Galya Diment, and Stephen Pearl's illuminating note on his translation. For the twenty-first century reader, he has breathed new life into a classic.