What You Always Wanted to Know about Russian Grammar (*But Were Afraid to Ask) begins where textbooks and conventional grammars leave off: with the perplexing, poorly explained, often maddening aspects of Russian that drive English-speaking students and even their teachers and professors crazy! The author provides authoritative and thoroughly researched answers to 65 thorny questions submitted over a 10-year period by the readers of her regular column in the newsletter of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL). Many of the questions deal with puzzling (quasi-)synonyms: when do I say this and when do I say that, and why? Other questions deal with contradictions: why does the textbook tell me to say this, but native speakers of Russian say that? Or why do older Russians say this, but younger Russians say that? In answering these questions, Dr. Israeli, a native speaker, draws on her decades of linguistic scholarship, lifelong love of puzzles, and general sense of humor to present the clearest, easiest-to-understand, and most humorous explanations of Russian grammar that you will ever read, most of them supported with real-life examples drawn from historical and contemporary prose, media, and the Internet. If you are an advanced student or instructor of Russian who has been struggling with the finer points of Russian grammar (and who among us hasn't?), this book is for you!

Alina Israeli was born and grew up in what she still calls Leningrad. From an early age she was fond of problems and puzzles and ended up in a mathematical high school and then at the math department at Leningrad University. Meanwhile (that is from a very early age) she was studying foreign languages: first French, then English, later Italian and Polish. Eventually she realized that she had confused her love of puzzles and logic with a love of math and became a student in the Russian department at Leningrad State University, where she began studying linguistics. In the mid-1970s she emigrated under the pretense of going to Israel (where she has never been to this day) and arrived in the US where she soon started studying Slavic linguistics at Yale. Ever since, she has been teaching Russian to Americans, which presented an interesting and never ending puzzle, bits of which she unravels in this book.

Book Reviews

Review in Canadian Slavonic Papers, vol. 55, no. 1/2, 2013: 252-253

Review in Slavic and East European Journal, vol. 57, no. 4, 2013: 701-702

x + 196

This text presents a systematic approach to understanding the patterns and alternations in the sounds and structures of Russian. The approach is “usage- based” as found in the theoretical works of Ronald Langacker, Joan Bybee, and others. Rather than positing abstract underlying forms along with ordered rules to derive the actual spoken occurrences, this model is exemplar- based. Variations of words are related by rule, but, significantly, these rules emerge based on the patterns found in actually spoken forms. Through this approach many variations can be shown to behave in a relatively systematic way. Russian noun and adjective declension, while appearing chaotic, is actually quite orderly when seen in the light of a usage-based analysis. The same can be said for verbal inflection as well as derivational morphology. The final part of the book is a review of the main historical developments that have produced the system described in the initial chapters. While it is useful to look at the history of a language in order to understand why the language operates as it does today, the authors are careful to distinguish historical language information, which may have been available to speakers at an earlier time, from information that is available to today’s Russian speakers. The text concludes with a brief overview of how the described usage-based approach represents dynamic aspects of language, language as it evolves.

xii + 254

The stories in this collection are intended for intermediate to advanced students of Russian who already have a good knowledge of basic Russian grammar and wish to expand their vocabulary, develop their skills in reading, as well as in speaking and writing. This annotated reader, therefore, is quite suitable as a textbook for courses devoted to reading Russian literature in the original, courses in Russian conversation and composition, for independent study, or simply for personal enrichment. Every attempt has been made to enhance the student’s understanding and appreciation of the stories, the historical-cultural context in which they were written, and the author’s use of language. The texts are accented, key words and phrases are glossed in the margins, while idiomatic expressions, slang, and colloquialisms are treated in the footnotes. Where appropriate, the footnotes also contain translations of difficult passages, as well as cultural and grammatical commentaries.

Edited by Eloise M. Boyle and Genevra Gerhart

726 + CD-ROM

The Russian Context defines Russian culture by describing the limits of the common (high) culture as it is referred to in everyday language. By high culture we mean literature, art, science, history, and we also include proverbs, government, and geography. This is not, however, the history of historians, the science of scientists, or the art of art critics. It is the background of information one educated Russian expects of another when they speak. Its appearance in language is taken as the evidence of the culture. The Russian Context is a collectively authored monograph which aims to quantify the minimum level of cultural literacy necessary for serious foreign learners of Russian to appreciate and function properly in the Russian cultural context. The book covers the full spectrum of Russian culture and is bundled with a CD-ROM disk enriched by nearly 1,800 graphic and sound files. 

"The Russian Context... is infinitely rich and varied; in a way it may be even more difficult to become 'fluent' in a language's context than in the language itself, but this volume will provide readers with an excellent start."  From the foreword by Barry Scherr, Dartmouth College


Winner, 2003 AATSEEL Award for Best Contribution to Language Pedagogy (American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages)


Book Reviews

Review in Russian Life, Jan-Feb 2003

Review in Slavic & East European Journal, Volume 47, No 1: 147


This guide to contemporary Polish language and its usage is primarily intended for English-speaking learners of Polish. It is a practical grammar, designed to facilitate the learning of forms and to explain their uses in a way that is accessible to the non-specialist. At the same time, this book aims to be a fairly complete and reliable technical guide to the rules, regularities, and principles which underpin Polish grammar, taking into account important exceptions and irregularities. No attempt is made to simplify or gloss over matters which are in actuality complex, as many matters of Polish grammar are; at the same time, the aim of this book is to present complex things as simply as possible. Oscar Swan's treatment of the complex phonology and morphology of Polish is thorough and of interest to linguists, but sufficiently non-technical and self-explanatory to be useful to advanced students of Polish and non-linguist Polonists as well. An especially welcome feature of the book is the extensive coverage of syntax and usage. The treatment of case and prepositions is sure to answer many questions for even fluent non-native speaker of Polish.

For additional materials, visit the author's website at: http://lektorek.org


Winner, 2004 AATSEEL Award for Best Book in Linguistics (American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages)

x + 159

An important and widely-used text on the structure of Russian, of use to teachers, graduate students, and advanced undergraduate language students.

I. Structural Transcription
II. Noun Stress
III. Noun Declension;
IV. Adjective Declension
V. Pronominal Adjective Declension
VI. Conjugation
VII. Verbal Adjectives and Verbal Adverbs
VIII. Imperfective Derivation
IX. Irregularities; index
list of exercises

"Levin presents his subject well, writing simply and clearly yet without condescension. ... It should become a standard textbook in the field." (SEEJ)

"Levin is to be congratulated for the orderliness of his presentation, the clarity of his explanations and especially for the exercises and questions for thought and discussion. ... Levin presents theory and enough detail to create a very fine textbook." (MLJ)