Search
  • CLSAS

Interview with Matt Zaslansky of CLS Azerbaijan 2012, 2018


Photo Courtesy of Matt Zaslansky

To begin with, please introduce yourself. What are you studying, and tell me about your research.

I’m a PhD student at UC San Diego, in the linguistics program, with an anthropology specialization. I study the evolution of language. Language is an evolutionary system that all people have access to. But there’s a lot of variation across languages and Azerbaijani is a very complex language, so I study things unique to Azerbaijani and Turkic languages in general.


To begin with, please introduce yourself. What are you studying, and tell me about your research.

I’m a PhD student at UC San Diego, in the linguistics program, with an anthropology specialization. I study the evolution of language. Language is an evolutionary system that all people have access to. But there’s a lot of variation across languages and Azerbaijani is a very complex language, so I study things unique to Azerbaijani and Turkic languages in general.


To begin with, please introduce yourself. What are you studying, and tell me about your research.

I’m a PhD student at UC San Diego, in the linguistics program, with an anthropology specialization. I study the evolution of language. Language is an evolutionary system that all people have access to. But there’s a lot of variation across languages and Azerbaijani is a very complex language, so I study things unique to Azerbaijani and Turkic languages in general.


Did your research lead you to study Azerbaijani, or did your Azerbaijani lead to your research?

Both! When I was a kid, I’d always wanted to visit the Caucasus. I met people from Azerbaijan and they were mountain Jews. They were Azerbaijani Jews from Guba. I then started studying linguistics more and I realized that the languages spoken in this region of the world are really complex, structurally speaking. So I became interested after that, and I wanted to know why they were so complex. That informed my interest in linguistics. It was a mutually informative process.


You already went to Azerbaijan with a high degree of proficiency in the language. What did you hope to accomplish further?

I wanted to be able to read academic text fluently. I wanted to be able to read higher-level Azerbaijani writing without needing a dictionary. And I wanted to be able to converse more easily. It was about developing confidence in the language to use more complex terminology, and developing more literacy in the language that I couldn’t understand the first time I went. The courses helped me to reach my goal. I ultimately reached “Superior” proficiency, though I expected something lower. Language is a constant work in progress.


Were you pleased with your progress by the end of the CLS? If so, how?

I was pleased. It was really great. I started with the question of what the appropriate goalposts were. I went in with some reference point because I was familiar with Azerbaijani, so I formed better goals and made better progress as a result, notwithstanding my higher base of knowledge.


Tell me about some memorable CLS moments that stand out to you.

There were a bunch. Going to Khinaliq was really memorable. The people are welcoming and hospitable. I also enjoyed bargaining with them. That was very memorable for me, as well as finding some books there. An old woman was also very interesting, especially her life history. She was a very strong woman. Another thing I recall was going to Lankaran. Lankaran is a region in the south and it’s very different, in terms of its people’s lifestyle. Going to the bazaar with the other students was interesting, because we all saw something new, in spite of our differences of experience.


Studying Azerbaijani and maintaining your language skills are very difficult in the U.S. How do you recommend students maintain their languages back home?

I find informal networks to be best. WhatsApp and Facebook are very helpful. I am active on Facebook in order to maintain networks with people who are far from me. There’s a diaspora community in LA, so I’ve gone to some events in LA, but that’s not practical for everyone, of course. Events are sparse. You really have to use your language almost every day, and that’s what I do. Maintaining friendships over WhatsApp, Skype, and so on are helpful. Reading works, too. I read books in Azerbaijani every day, as well. That’s a way to gain vocabulary. But I wouldn’t recommend reading for people who aren’t at as high a level. For lower-level speakers, gain friends. That’s the best method for beginners.


You went on a CLS to Azerbaijan twice. What advice do you give to people interested in applying for a second CLS?

I would emphasize how you’ve been using the language. How have you shown your commitment to the language? I came back intermediate, but I worked with the language continually ever since I returned. I wrote things in and about Azerbaijan. Show your commitment and you have a good chance


Any final thoughts?

Programs like the CLS are really valuable. They’re especially unique because they allow people to repeat the program. Developing your individual skills are really emphasized. I encourage people to support.

0 views

© 2018 Critical Language Scholarship Alumni Society | Registered 501c3 non-profit | District of Columbia | All rights reserved | Contact Us

Media created in part with Logomakr.com