Centre for Oriental Studies


Centre director

George Starostin


   Dmitry Khudyakov
   Maya Babkova
   Igor Gorenko
   Ilya Egorov
   Alexey Kassian
   Maria Kolyada
   Natalia Kotova
   Alexey Somov
   Artem Trofimov
   Nadezhda Trubnikova
   Gleb Yastrebov

About the Centre

The Centre brings together both scholars specializing in classic Oriental Studies and linguists concentrating on Historical Linguistics. The unifying motto of their research activities in the Centre is Reconstructing meanings. First of all, this means translation, analysis, critical comments upon and thorough comprehension of the classic written texts that essentially define Oriental civilizations. At the same time the Centre harbours linguistic reconstruction research partial reconstruction of ancient (pre-writing) proto-languages based on comparison of historically documented descendant languages of those. Taken together, this research enables us to look deep into the past and to reconstruct the causation that did eventually shape the modern day society.
The Oriental Panorama bulletin, a Cultural Studies commentary upon current events in the respective world region, is issued quarterly by the Centre.


Project 1 General theory and methodology of lexicostatistics and glottochronology

Lexicostatistics (a formal method of establishing a relative classification of related languages via basic vocabulary) and glottochronology (a subdivision of lexicostatistics that allows to specify absolute chronology of language breakdown) are currently among the most prospective exact methods in historical linguistics, thus calling attention of not only linguists, but of anthropologists, historians and geneticists, etc., as well. The Centre staff are working both on theoretical enhancement of these methods and on a unified corpus of world languages basic vocabulary (the Global lexicostatistic database Web project).

Project participants: M.E. Vasilyev, G.S. Starostin

Project 2 A comparative corpus of nostratic languages basic vocabulary

The hypothesis of genetic relatedness of the so called nostratic languages, which include the largest Eurasian language families – that is, Indo-European languages, Uralic languages, Altaic, Kartvelian and Dravidian languages, is one of the bravest and of the most large-scale attempts of unveiling Eurasian linguistic prehistory of either Neolithic Revolution era or the period directly preceding the latter. To either prove or thwart this theory, first established by the outstanding linguist V.M. Illich-Svitych in the 1960s, some considerable work is necessary to create a unified corpus thoroughly commented upon, that would incorporate archaic basic vocabulary of all the languages comprising the nostratic family. The Centre staff are creating the abovementioned corpus on the basis of digital linguistic environment StarLing, previously developed by S.A. Starostin specifically for solving relevant problems in comparative historical linguistics.

Project participants: M.A. Zhivlov, A.S. Kasian, G.S. Starostin

Project 3 The Ancient Chinese anthology Shijing and its part in development of Chinese poetic tradition

The Shijing anthology is the basis of Chinese poetic tradition and one of the most fundamental texts of Chinese culture, being, at the same time, one of the most difficult text to comprehend. Moreover, despite the over 2000-year-old tradition of commenting upon Shijing, a deep and consistent linguistic analysis of Shijing is yet to be performed. This project is estimated, firstly, to create a fully digitized version of the text, including grammar markdown, both word-for-word and literary translations, etymological and philological commentaries, and, secondly, publishing of various mini research dwelling upon the role of Shijing in forming of poetic, mythological and artistic tradition of China.

Project participants: E.A. Kuzmina, G.S. Starostin, A.B. Starostina

Project 4 A perfect Classic Chinese dictionary: the theoretical model and its practical implementation

As based on project participants many years of teaching and research experience, none of the existing Classic Chinese dictionaries (as well as general Chinese dictionaries that include Classic period as well as Modern) can be considered satisfactory, for nearly all of these dictionaries are based on a lexicographic tradition rooted in times immemorial and do not take into account such achievements of modern Sinology and general linguistic theory as: reconstruction of Ancient Chinese system of hieroglyphic readings; fundamental change in perceptions of oral and written speech balance in Ancient China; corpus-and-context approach to language material, etc.

Therefore, the task of developing a perfect structure of a Classic Chinese dictionary becomes extremely relevant. Such structure must both take into account all information types that are to be presented in a dictionary and, at the same time, it should be flexible and understandable enough for the dictionary to be updated by both permanent and temporary project participants online in real time. At its fullest, such dictionary is conceived as a hierarchical structure, which is closely linked to a formatted corpus of texts and distinguishes between hieroglyph (written sign) level and word (language lexeme) level.

Project participants: E.A. Kuzmina, G.S. Starostin, E.S. Kholkina

Project 5 Natural environment in Japanese history and culture

Being to some amount independent from practical activity, theoretical perception of environment has an enormous impact upon human behavior. Such impact is enshrined in rituals, the tactics and strategy of life; it is also discernible on state politics level. For example, Japanese foreign policy used to be substantially based upon evaluation, either favorable or unfavorable, of environmental quality, whereby such evaluation could differ significantly in different historical eras.

The purpose of our project is complex studying of Japanese attitudes towards natural environment, addressing their historical dynamics. Nature and power, perceiving of the size of the countrys territory, control over natural disaster, modeling of perfect nature and aesthetic comprehension of nature are seen as main research problems. Translation and philological commentary upon the most ancient Japanese poetic anthology Kanfuso is also carried out within the project.

Project participants: A.N. Mescheriakov, S.A. Rodin, N.N. Trubnikova

Project 6 Biographies of the Saints by Farid ud-Din Attar: translation and studying of the noted Iranian hagiographic piece

Farid ud-Din Attars anthology known as Biographies of the Saints is listed among the most important works of Iranian Sufism. The main body of the anthology consists of seventy two biographies of Muslim saints those who have achieved perfection both in religious practice and in understanding of God, those who hold the secrets of the Innermost and are blessed to see God. Attars anthology is well known to scholars, but so far it has been perceived first and foremost as a historical source on Sufi history, with facts of Sufis lives and their teachings sought from it. However, it is also worthy of scholarly studying as a notable work of literature and culture.

Research that dwells upon the anthologys inner structure and relates to the problems of Sufi doctrine narrativization (parables as ethical rule examples) are among the most important topics that can be unfolded upon via Biographies of the Saints data. Alongside such separate research projects we also prepare a full Russian philological translation of the anthology, accompanied by an introductory research and a multidimensional commentary.

Project participants: M.A. Alontsev, L.G. Lachuti, E.L. Nikitenko, T.A. Schetchikova, N.Yu. Chalisova