From Rusyn / Ruthenian and Ukrainian, and on to Russian

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[This is a guest post by Don Keyser, responding to Grant Newsham's "Rusyn" (3/22/22)]

This one brought back memories.

In 1959, my high school in Towson, just to the north of Baltimore, rose to the challenge posed by Sputnik and launched a Russian-language program. I had studied Latin for three years, and when invited to "enlist" (as a patriotic duty) in study of the enemy's language, I was delighted to abandon Latin … for my country, and otherwise. So I took two years of Russian in high school, and went on to study Russian language and Russian/Soviet area studies through undergrad and M.A. work. I only "defected" to Chinese/Japanese in PhD studies and thereafter in the U.S. government.

Anyway … my very first Russian language teacher was named Josef Glus. He had been teaching wood shop*, of all things, to kids not expected to go on to university. But he spoke Russian, and was tapped to teach the maiden course in that language offered by the high school. He was Ruthenian. I had to look up Ruthenia — in the days before a few taps of the fingers on a computer yielded up a map, the history, and so on.

[*VHM: For the concept of "shop" in the high school curriculum, see "The weirdness of typing errors" (3/14/22)]

He wasn't half bad, despite a pedagogy influenced by his experience in teaching wood shop. He lacked patience, but in that he was not unique for the era, or any other era. He encouraged us to broaden our Russian language experience by availing ourselves of outside opportunities, and so he accompanied us to one of those Cold War cultural exchange screenings in a Baltimore "art house" — Mikhail Kalatozov's "The Cranes Are Flying" ["Летят журавли"]. I don't think any of us were sufficiently advanced to understand the language without "cheating" by looking at the subtitles. But the language sounded like what Mr Glus was teaching us.

My next Russian language teacher was a Ukrainian woman, possibly/probably Jewish. She was excellent.

My third Russian language teacher was old school — a "real" Russian, in fact a White Army officer who had fought the Bolsheviks and made his escape to North Africa, then Sweden, and then the U.S. A man of erudition, charm, and a droll sense of humor. He sometimes brought to class a water pistol, which he employed to level deadly shots at the forehead of a student who blew his lines. (He was then, in addition to class, encouraging — i.e., obliging — us to perform a Russian-language play for a campus audience.) When he first heard me speak Russian, he complimented me on vocabulary, grammar etc … but then asked, with reference to my pronunciation, "Who on earth were your previous teachers?" So I told him. And he allowed, in despair, "No wonder … a Ruthenian … and a Ukrainian Jew." He swore he'd beat all that out of me, or squirt it out with his water pistol.

Feel free, if you wish, to pass the above along to Grant Newsham, just so that he knows somebody out there has a clue what Rusyn/Ruthenian might be.

Selected readings


  1. Victor Mair said,

    March 30, 2022 @ 1:23 pm

    Here is the media site of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society:

  2. IA said,

    March 31, 2022 @ 4:26 am

    565 page book online at :

    'With Their Backs to the Mountains: A History of Carpathian Rus' and Carpatho-Rusyns'

    by PR Magocsi (see )

  3. Victor Mair said,

    April 2, 2022 @ 12:45 am

    From Grant Newsham (see "Rusyn" [3/22/22]):

    Don Keyser's story brought to mind another bit of family lore:

    When my mother was newly married she signed up for a night-course in Russian at American University. (I don't recall what level it was.) On the first day of class, the professor had a short paragraph written in Russian on the blackboard. It was a religious theme as the professor was newly studying the same religion as my mother.

    She could read it and noted that to the professor.

    She said that for a brief moment she was the professor's favorite student. Until she started to actually speak 'Russian'. He was not exactly complimentary about the way she spoke — akin to, but maybe not quite as assertive, as Mr. Keyser's Russian teacher who promised to do something about the 'incorrect' speech.

    I don't recall if my mother finished the course, but I know she never took another one.

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