By Gina Beach
Zinny Bond already has shipped two boxes of books to the U.S. embassy in Latvia. She's rented an apartment in the capital city of Riga and arranged for a house sitter to care for her dog here in Athens. All of this is in preparation for a 4,500-mile journey to the country of her birth -- a venture that will enhance Latvian students' understanding of English and, in turn, further Bond's own knowledge of her native tongue.
An Ohio University professor emerita of linguistics, Bond is among some 800 U.S. faculty and professionals who will lecture and conduct research abroad through a Fulbright Scholar grant this year. The program, offered through the Department of State, operates in 150 countries worldwide.
From September through mid-January, Bond will conduct a seminar at the University of Riga on the pronunciation of various American dialects. She also plans to collaborate with a professor there to write a Latvian-language textbook focusing on Latvian linguistics, phonetics and phonology based on the American approach. Most textbooks in Latvia, like many aspects of the culture, reflect Russian influences.
Bond also will advise students on their theses and research projects and continue her own research on changes in the Latvian language in the past 70 years. With the aid of audio and video recordings, she is tracking changes in Latvian pronunciations over time.
Slightly larger than West Virginia, the Republic of Latvia borders the Baltic Sea, Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania in northeast Europe. Riga, with a population of about 727,500, is the country's largest city.
Soviet troops took control of Latvia during World War II, and the country was formally annexed by the USSR in August 1940. Thousands of Soviets settled there, and today, more than a third of its citizens have Russian origins. Latvia's independence was restored in 1991.
"Russian was the second mother tongue," Bond said. "When they became independent, (Latvians) became interested in Western Europe and learning English." But most courses focus on British English, so Bond will be bringing something new to the language program at the University of Riga.
Born in Latvia during WWII, Bond moved with her family to a displaced persons camp in Germany when she was 4. Six years later, the family moved to Kansas City, Mo., with the aid of a sponsor who helped her parents find a home and jobs.
Bond is still conversationally adept in Latvian and, to some extent, in German as well. She recalls enjoying Latin classes in school.
"Maybe something about languages was stirring in me then," she said.
Bond, who took early retirement from the university in 2005, will teach Intro to Linguistics and Field Methods on the Athens campus spring quarter. The research course allows students to map local and regional languages through interviews with native speakers.
While she's away, Bond -- a proponent of study abroad and travel in general -- hopes to take in the museums of St. Petersburg and the Christmas markets of Bavaria and to catch up with a grad-school friend in London. Although she acknowledges that leaving the routine and pace of Athens can take some doing, she knows the rewards of the trip will be worth any disruption.
"(Travel) really helps you gain perspective," she said. "You get a feel for a different place and a different way of doing things."