Thursday, December 15, 2011

by Nancy Revak (

  The first edition of Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture will be
available shortly after the first of the year.  It was a long time in the making, but it was well worth the wait.  English speakers will now have an easy way to start learning to read, write and speak the Rusyn language on their own.   

What Took So Long? 
In case you're wondering, this is how it happened.  For more than 10 years, I had been working on behalf of C-RS to find ways to provide Rusyn language instruction—consistently a top request of C-RS members.  I researched endless possibilities—from providing classes locally, to conducting webinars, to developing a sophisticated, computer-based course through Rosetta Stone.  But all had obstacles that made them unfeasible—the major ones being cost and finding a native Rusyn language speaker who could also teach Rusyn to English speakers.  

In 2007, I met with Halina Malecka, a native Lemko Rusyn and high school Russian-language teacher who had been successfully teaching the Rusyn language to young schoolchildren and teens in Gorlice, Poland, for several years.  Halina agreed to develop a similar course for C-RS.  And in June 2008, she conducted the Rusyn Language Study Abroad program at the Ruska Bursa in Gorlice.  Student feedback about the course and Halina's teaching was overwhelmingly positive.  
With Halina's permission, I presented her 45-page student workbook and accompanying CD
demonstrating correct pronunciation to C-RS, proposing that we use them as the basis for developing our own elementary self-study course.  

After careful consideration, C-RS agreed.   Attorney Jim Kaminski (C-RS Vice President) and I  worked out a licensing agreement with Halina giving C-RS permission to use her work to develop a course for English speakers in North America.  Being a professional writer and instructional designer with many years experience developing self-study courses in the corporate world, I volunteered to develop the course for C-RS. 
Jim Murray, a retired language professor and linguist with a flair for the Rusyn language, volunteered to be the Rusyn-language subject-matter expert.  He and I were both educators.  And we both had attended Halina's class in Gorlice (and would later attend the 2010 Rusyn summer school in Presov, Slovakia).  So we had first-hand knowledge of the difficulties beginners had learning the Rusyn language. 

Instead of a scholarly work, the self-study course would be aimed at ordinary people who simply wanted an easy way to begin learning the basics of the Rusyn language without the need for an instructor.  Since Rusyns write in the Cyrillic alphabet, not the transliterated Latin alphabet found in some publications, the focus would be on teaching Rusyn Cyrillic—both printed and handwritten (cursive).  The course also had to be applicable for anyone wanting to learn the Rusyn language, regardless of the variant (Lemko, Presov, Transcarpathian, or Vojvodinian/Pannonian).  

The first thing Jim and I did was try to recall the things Halina had taught in class beyond what was in her workbook.  Then I set about redesigning the workbook, reorganizing some of the original content, creating a new layout and formatting to make it appropriate for self-study, and designing a new cover.

To set the stage, I decided to write a section about the Carpatho-Rusyns, their history and culture.  But first, I researched numerous books, articles and websites to collect information and interesting details not often addressed. 

Most beginners struggle with learning the Rusyn language simply because they don't know the Rusyn alphabet well enough.  So I developed a section devoted entirely to learning the Rusyn alphabet first, before embarking on the language lessons.  This foundation would enable learners to more easily recognize the Rusyn Cyrillic letters and sound them out so they could focus on learning words and their meanings instead of getting hung up on the alphabet. 

Next, I worked on expanding the language lessons by adding more topics, more information about the Rusyn language, many more words, more practice exercises, and important instructional material.  Jim provided the Rusyn grammar; verified the accuracy of all the Rusyn words, their spellings and meanings; and translated the reading passages from Rusyn into English.  To build the vocabulary, I sometimes gave Jim Rusyn words to verify.  Other times, I just gave him a list of English words, and he supplied the Rusyn words.  Every time, he referred to his various Rusyn language dictionaries, grammars and other resources to make sure everything was correct. 

Unfortunately, developing the course presented some unanticipated technical difficulties.  For instance: 

  • To develop the new workbook, I had to work from the electronic version of the original workbook.  But the original had been created in a Polish language version of Microsoft Word and contained Rusyn fonts and styles not available in my English version of Word.  
  •  We received the original workbook in PDF format, which had to be converted to be used.  But the conversion presented other problems.  The document retained its original formatting, fonts and macros, which could not be deleted and conflicted with what I had set up.  Many of the Cyrillic printed and written examples didn't convert and were lost.  So they had to be recreated.  For some unknown reason, big blocks of text would suddenly drop off and the formatting would go crazy.  As a result, I lost a lot of valuable time repeatedly re-entering lost text. fixing formatting and font errors, and cutting and pasting.     
  •  Not having access to the original software, keyboard and fonts, I was unable to enter Rusyn text as words and sentences.  Instead, I had to look up all the Cyrillic letters as symbols and insert them individually—one symbol at a time.  Not a speedy way to type.
  •  The Rusyn words pronounced on the CD referred to the unit and exercise numbers in the original workbook.  Since I couldn't change the CD or exercise numbers, I had to figure out how to add new topics, exercises, grammar and vocabulary without messing up the numbers on the CD. 
Development took a long time and many drafts. There was a lot of pressure to get the course completed faster.  But Jim and I were not willing to compromise quality for expedience—especially after all the time and effort we had expended trying to get things right.  We refused to put out something we wouldn't be proud of. 

Finally, in October 2011, I sent a complete mock-up of the course to John Righetti (C-RS President) to review and present at the C-RS Annual Meeting.  Even though the workbook was not yet perfect, the response was terrific.  John has since edited the workbook (with Mrs. Michalina Mihalasky verifying the Rusyn words), and I am starting to make the necessary revisions.  With time off for the holidays, I expect to have the final course ready to go in the beginning of 2012. 

What's So Special About The C-RS Course?
Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture is the first Rusyn language course of its kind.  In addition to being a self-study, it has a CD recorded by native Rusyn speakers that demonstrates correct pronunciation.  So you can easily start learning to read, write and speak the Rusyn language and building a sizeable Rusyn vocabulary. 

  • Here are some of the other course highlights.    Significantly Expanded Workbook.  The new workbook has more than six times the learning content of the original workbook, including a much larger vocabulary.
  •  Carpatho-Rusyn Background.  The information about the Rusyn people, their history and culture paints a colorful backdrop that makes the language lessons more meaningful.  It covers Rusyn life from early times, under serfdom, during World Wars I and II, under communist rule, to the present day. It also addresses the Lemko resettlements to Ukraine and Akcja Wisla.  
  •  Easy-to-Follow Language Lessons.  The language lessons are organized into eight units, and each unit contains a number of exercises with easy-to-follow instructions.  The exercises are like building blocks. They not only introduce you to something new, but they also reinforce things you learned previously.   Just as importantly, you can progress at your own pace, studying as few or as many lessons at a time as you like.   
  • Learning to Read, Write and Pronounce Rusyn Cyrillic.   A lot of attention is paid up front to learning to read, write and pronounce each letter of the Rusyn Cyrllic alphabet correctly.  The objective is to help you link each letter to its sound automatically.  Before you know it, reading, writing and pronouncing Rusyn starts to become second nature.  
  •  Words in Cyrillic, Transliterated and English.  Even though the course focuses on teaching you to read, write and pronounce Rusyn Cyrillic—both printed and handwritten (cursive) —their transliterated spellings are also shown for pronunciation reference.  So when new Rusyn words are introduced, they are shown in Cyrillic, transliterated Latin, and English.
  •  Repetition, Repetition, Repetition.  A considerable amount of repetition is purposely given to writing and pronouncing the Rusyn letters and words.  This repetition is extremely important.  It's what helps you learn to recognize and pronounce the letters without thinking and memorize the words.     
  •  Rusyn Language Bookmark.  This specially designed learning aid has the Rusyn alphabet printed on one side.  Each Cyrillic letter is shown in its printed and written forms (both upper and lower case) along with its pronunciation.  So you can use it to mark your place as you progress through the course as well as a quick alphabet reference if you get stuck.
  •  Audio CD.  The CD lets you hear the correct pronunciation of Rusyn words found in some of the exercises.  Hearing the words and repeating them helps you perfect your own pronunciation.  You can get more practice pronouncing the words you've learned by listening to the CD in your car or on your CD player or iPod. The CD also includes some traditional Rusyn songs whose lyrics are in the workbook.  So you can have fun learning the songs as you sing along. 
  •  Extensive Rusyn Vocabulary.  Approximately 1,000 Rusyn words are taught in the course.  They include words for people, places, and things (objects, foods, plants, animals, etc.), as well as greetings, expressions, emotions, attitudes, personal characteristics and more.  There are even examples of typical Rusyn first names (male and female) and surnames.  
  •  Grammar Where Needed.  The information on Rusyn grammar helps you understand Rusyn syntax (word order) and gives you examples of the declension patterns of nouns and conjugation patterns of verbs.  To make learning easier for beginners, the course focuses on Rusyn in the nominative (dictionary) case and present tense.  
  •  Rusyn Traditions.  Rusyn traditions, such as Easter and the Christmas Eve Holy Supper, are described in detail in the language lessons.  This makes the language come alive.  Besides learning the appropriate greetings for these important Rusyn celebrations, you learn the names of the various foods, their descriptions and significance.    
  •  Reading Passages.  Sample dialogs, poems and sayings give you practice reading, writing and speaking Rusyn in sentences, phrases and paragraphs.  Their English translations help you understand their general meanings.   
  •  Self-Checks.  These are sprinkled throughout the exercises so you can periodically check to see how you're doing.  They also help you identify any trouble spots you may need to go back and study again later.
  •  Answer Key.  This contains the correct answers to exercises so you can check your own answers against them.   
  •  Traditional Rusyn Songs and Prose.  There are more than a dozen of them.  The Rusyn lyrics are also shown in English, thanks to Jerry Jumba.  A number of the songs are on the CD so you can learn to sing them.    
  •  Bibliography.  All the books, articles, and websites used to research content for the course and information about the Rusyn language are listed here.  The list also serves as suggested reading if you want to learn more about the Carpatho-Rusyns and their language.  
What's next?
Depending on the success of Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture, C-RS will consider developing one or more follow-on options.  One idea is to produce a glossary/dictionary of the Rusyn words found in Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture and their meanings.  Another is to develop an intermediate self-study course that builds on Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture, focuses on Rusyn conversation, and covers the other cases and tenses.   

There is a questionnaire at the back of Introduction to Rusyn Language and Culture workbook.  Learners are asked to complete and return it to C-RS with their feedback about the course and suggestions for additional language instruction.  So we will have to wait and see.     

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tim Cuprisin
January 14, 1958-November 23, 2011
Vicnija Pamjat.  Eternal Memory.
Tim Cuprisin, president and founding father of the Lake Michigan Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society and creator of its blog, passed away Wednesday, November 23 at home.  
At the age of 20, the Chicago native graduated from the University of Central Michigan in 1978. He started his career as a police reporter at Chicago’s City News Bureau then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today before going to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.   Included in his assignments were covering the impact of the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism on six Eastern European countries.  His long-time fascination with television programs led to a daily TV and radio column in the Milwaukee Journal (now the Journal Sentinel).  In 2009, he took his writing talents to

On March 13, 2010, Tim met with 15 people from Northwest Indiana, the Greater Chicago area and Wisconsin at the Polish Museum in Chicago to create the Lake Michigan Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society.  With his vast knowledge of his Carpatho-Rusyn heritage, Tim was unanimously elected president.  The first event of the new chapter in June 2010 drew 104 people to hear National C-RS President John Righetti’s talk “Who are the Rusyns?”.  According to Righetti, it was a record number for a first-time event held by any of its chapters.  

In the year and a half since that first public meeting, more than 300 people have attended at least one event sponsored by the chapter.  Those events include hosting the author of The Linden and the Oak Mark Wansa for the first celebration of Carpatho-Rusyn Day, newly instituted by the World Council of Rusyns in 2010.  Other undertakings of the organization include a genealogy workshop focusing on Eastern European resources and a pysanky workshop where attendees learned how to turn eggs in works of art using wax, a stylus and dye just as their ancestors had done in “The Old Country”.   Conversations at the Rusyn New Year’s potluck luncheon focused what was or wasn’t on the attendees' Christmas Eve Holy Supper table now or when they were growing up.  Pagach and pirohi were a big hit and quickly disappeared.
Tim's last appearance
Tim’s last public appearance was at the Lake Michigan Chapter’s Carpatho-Rusyn Day luncheon in October which celebrated 100 plus years of Rusyns in Northwest Indiana and recognition of the 100th anniversaries of St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church and Protection of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church.  An avid collector of all things related to his ethnic background, his presentation featured early 20th century photographs of Rusyn immigrant life, the six churches they founded around the tip of Lake Michigan and a Pepsi Cola ad with the sales pitch in Rusyn.  History Professor Jim Lane of Indiana University Northwest and the Northwest Indiana Archives explained what brought the immigrants to northwest Indiana, far from their arrival ports on the east coast.

Tim’s determination to preserve his ethnic identity and his access to media resources led him to create the chapter’s blog which features news about Rusyns here and abroad. The hunger of Carpatho-Rusyns for information about their heritage and what was happening to other Rusyns brought hits from across the globe.  The Lake Michigan Chapter board will continue the blog.
At the time of his death, Tim was also working on a book about Andy Warhol, a world-renowned Rusyn artist, as well as a murder mystery set in Chicago.

Tim is survived by his brothers John, Ken and Dave, a sister Elaine Black and his partner Sharon Boeldt as well as numerous nieces and nephews.  He was preceded in death by his parents John and Helen (Cordak) Cuprisin and niece Leslie Cuprisin.

A celebration of his life held Saturday, December 3 brought about 200 people to the Schmidt and Bartelt Funeral Home in Mequon, Wisconsin.  Speakers included his brother Ken, Fr. Thomas Mueller of St. Cyrill and Methodius Orthodox Church in Milwaukee, friends Jim Rowan, Andy Tarnoff and Meg Kissinger and his god daughter, Molly Boynton.  Carpatho-Rusyn Society Lake Michigan Chapter members Fr. William Conjelko and Fr. John Lucas closed the memorial with leading the singing of the traditional Rusyn funeral hymn Vicnija Pamjat/Eternal Memory.
Donations to a media scholarship in Tim’s name may be directed to the Hoffman York Foundation, 1000 N. Water St., Suite 1600, Milwaukee, WI, 53202.  Donations in his name may also be made to Mayo Clinic's Melanoma Research Program at or mailed to Department of Development, Mayo Clinic, 200 First St. SW, Rochester, MN 55905.
On January 14, 2012, the Lake Michigan Chapter will pay tribute to its first president at its annual Rusyn New Year Potluck.  Details will be posted on this blog.
(Copied from the Lake Michigan blog with the permission of Charlotte Pribish Conjelko, President of C-RS Lake Michigan Chapter)