Below is an interview we recently had with another of our female authors, the Russian Orthodox scholar and linguist Larisa Dmitrieva Micallef, Ph.D. Dmitrieva Micallef is the author of the Russian and English editions of the book Divine Significance of Church Slavonic Letters (2015, Hope & Life Press), in which the divine meaning and outlook of each letter of the Church Slavonic alphabet is revealed, together with their cognitive and educative functions.
Dmitrieva Micallef will be presenting her book this coming Saturday to the general and academic Russian public at the Tolstoy Institute of Languages and Culture, Moscow. A video recording of her presentation, with English subtitles, will be posted online for your edification. Divine Significance of Church Slavonic Letters is presently available in the Russian language in paperback and ebook editions from major booksellers worldwide including Amazon, and directly from ourselves at Hope and Life Press. The English language edition will soon be released.
Q. Larisa, when did you first start writing scientifically?
I started writing scientific articles in Russian journals when I was a postgraduate student in 2009. That year, I wrote my first article Rene de Saussure’s theory of word formation, which was about the role of artificial languages (created as auxiliary international languages and not belonging to any country) in modern linguistics, and about the possibilities of constructing words in the most successful artificial language – Esperanto. I presented that paper at our annual Moscow University conference Lomonosov 2009, and was awarded first place.
Q. What is the story behind your new book Divine Significance of Church Slavonic Letters? It received great early reviews!
In this book, I tried giving readers a good knowledge about God, the deeds of Jesus Christ as portrayed in Orthodox Christianity, and the Scriptural truths expressed by the alphabet of the Church Slavonic language. I also introduced readers to Russian history, culture, and worldview, as they were formed throughout the years by Church Slavonic itself.
Q. What motivated you to become an author?
I was motivated to become an author through the great desire I felt to share my ideas with other people. My first major scientific work had been my doctoral dissertation, which took six years to complete. I had carried out a lot of innovative research about artificial and essential languages, and written many times about scholars who were exploring that issue. I had also read several books and learned a dozen languages, to effectively elicit relevant information from different primary sources written in different languages. So while writing the dissertation, I ended up having concurrently written over 20 scientific articles about the issue under investigation. I had also learned how to explore and accumulate knowledge. I had already participated in various peer-reviewed conferences and given lectures, sharing my discoveries with colleagues and students. Thus with feedback, I started thinking of writing to communicate what I had learned throughout my journey, with more people through books.
At the time, I was occupied with the languages of Western Europe (English, French, Latin, Greek), the Eastern languages (Turkish, Sanskrit), and the artificial languages (Esperanto, Volapuk, Ido, and so on). Later, I also picked up a little Czech and started researching Slavonic languages. Usually, we find ourselves interested in phenomena far away from our environments, but I came to realize that the Slavonic world – the world in which I live and was raised – was tremendously rich, interesting, and fascinating. So that year, I wrote my first article about the unity of the Slavs and how there was still, in reality, something that united all the Slavs spiritually. And that something was precisely Church Slavonic, the language of Orthodox Church all over the world. Church Slavonic as a language has survived difficult times, but is still used regularly in Orthodox churches, retaining the same divine words employed centuries ago. So that, in a nutshell, is how the idea to write the book Divine Significance of Church Slavonic Letters was born.
Q. What is the greatest joy for you in writing?
The greatest joy is to be able to write about something you really like. The whole process of writing is enjoyable for me. First, you do preliminary research, read, and gather information, discovering something new, which is always exciting. Then you start finding the best way of expressing your ideas in a manuscript, developing your creativity. Time passes by very quickly when you are writing, and for me writing is a great pleasure.
Q. Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote? What was it like for you?
When I was 14 years old, I had written a piece of fiction – something about space and aliens, as far as I can recall. Unfortunately, that manuscript was lost. I remember, though, having read it to my mother who liked it very much. When I was a teenager, I liked H.G. Wells and was definitely influenced by his science fiction.
Q. Scientifically, where did you grow up? How did that influence your writing?
As a writer and as a scholar, I grew up at Lomonosov Moscow University where I was educated in two faculties: philology and the foreign languages. These faculties were both wonderful, but totally different. In the faculty of philology, where we had highly intelligent and famous scholars, I learned ancient languages and different types of linguistics, whereas in the faculty of foreign languages, which boasted of innovative studies, I learned modern languages and translation. So I was very lucky to have two different kinds of experience. The person who influenced me the most was my scientific advisor, the well-known professor Kuznetsov. He taught me how to write, read lectures, and communicate with an audience. I am very grateful to him for the hard work he did to make me a writer. He always told me that I should write clearly and simply.
Q. How do you spend your time when you are not writing?
I spend my time on three crucial activities: studying, reading, and travelling. I continue studying different languages and improving my skills in the ones I use. This enables me to gather more information and ideas for my books. I also like practical psychology, history, and economics. Reading, for me, is connected with studying: good writers have to read, to be able to write. Excellent writers have to explore, travel, and experience all they see and visit, which I call inspiration. When travelling, I try learning about the history of a place, to pick up the language, visit churches, museums, and naturally bookshops. I also collect books on the history of countries I visit. I like cooking and inventing new dishes. I have, in fact, written my own cookery book and hope to have it published one day.
Q. What do you like to read the most?
I read religious books and the Bible once a week. It is interesting to note that the Bible gives me an opportunity to think about my life. I also like scientific books, mostly on linguistics, languages, teaching, psychology, history, and economics. Sometimes I read fiction, adventures, and travel books.
Q. What are your plans for the future?
I have lots of material for people, that I am going to elaborate into books. I also have some reference books on Latin, English, and Turkish. I have been writing a book about language acquisition (neurolinguistics) and also hope to see it in press.