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Shuttle-Mir Stories - Lucid on Language

U.S. Mir astronauts spoke Russian during their Mir residencies. In her Oral History, U.S. Mir astronaut Shannon Lucid discusses how she communicated with her Russian crewmates.

Lucid says, "Well, Yuri [Onufriyenko] and Yuri [Usachev], at that time, didn't speak English. ... [So,] we never spoke English. ... We used Russian. We made a lot of jokes about it. Yuri, as a joke, said, 'Well, we're developing a new language, a cosmic language.' And there was a fair amount of truth to that ... because both Yuri and Yuri very rapidly got to understand how I was talking.

"I mean, if a Russian teacher had been listening to me, they would have stuck their hands over their ears. But I got the point across. ... [Yuri and Yuri] were both very, very good [about it]. They never said, 'Oh, Shannon, just be quiet. We can't stand to listen to your Russian anymore!'

"Yury Usachev had really a great ability, what a linguistic [scholar] would call 'restorative ability.' He always knew what I was saying, [even though] I know that a lot of the times I wasn't saying anything exactly correctly. But he was always able to understand what I was saying, so it was never a barrier as such.

"Now, granted in a year you don't have any depth of knowledge in the language. So there were times when you would really like to get into a more in-depth conversation on topics and you'd very rapidly come up to the limit of what you could deal with..."

Lucid says that she brought a Russian-English dictionary. "But we only got it down one time. ... Yuri was trying to explain to me some holiday in the Russian Orthodox Church, and I just couldn't get it. So we started looking in the dictionary, and he couldn't find it in the dictionary, either... But that was the only time. It was just easier to say something in a different way than trying to use a dictionary, so we never used the dictionary...

"... A lot of times I would just take a English word and pronounce it like a Russian word, and put an ending on it, and that worked. You'd be surprised the number of times that worked. If they didn't understand it, then I would tell them that they ought to go to Russian class! We had a whole list of words that they knew by the end of the flight, that were sort of made up. As soon as the new crew got there ... Yuri said [to them], "Now, these are the words that you need to learn, because Shannon uses them all the time!'"

Related Links:
Lucid Increment
Profile: Shannon Lucid

Cultural Background
Shannon Lucid Oral History (PDF)

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