Associate Professor of St Petersburg University Apollinariia Avrutina presented her dissertation for the Doctor of Philology degree. The title of the study is ‘Phonology and morphonology of agglutinative languages in a diachronic perspective (on the material of the Asia Minor’s Turkic literary languages of the 13th – 20th centuries)’. The academic supervisor of the research was Vadim B. Kasevich, Doctor of Philology and Honorary Professor of St Petersburg University.

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Apollinariia S. Avrutina is a well-known specialist in Turkic philology, literary translator and the director of the Centre for Contemporary Turkish Studies at St Petersburg University. She is the organiser of some major Russian–Turkish events in culture and science. Thus, she initiated the visit of the Nobel laureate in literature Orhan Pamuk to St Petersburg University and the participation of the Republic of Turkey in the VIII St Petersburg International Cultural Forum.

Agglutinative languages are languages with derivational morphology that primarily uses agglutination. This is defined as the stringing of a number of morphemes – affixes – one after the other in a particular sequence.

The study of Apollinariia Avrutina is focused on the phonology and morphonology of agglutinative languages based on the material of the Asia Minor’s Turkic literary languages: Old Anatolian Turkic; Old Ottoman; Middle Ottoman; New Ottoman; and Modern Turkish. The dissertation also explores ancient languages, for instance, the language of Orkhon-Yenisei monuments. The empirical material for diachronic analysis was collected from texts covering a period of 14 centuries. They include: ancient Turkic runic monuments of the 7th – 9th centuries; written monuments of the 13th – 14th centuries – Çarh-name (translated as ‘Wheel of Fortune’) and Süheyl l and Nevbahar; as well as mesnevi of the Ottoman poet mystic Şeyh Galip (1757–1799) Beauty and Love; and an 1876 novel by Namik Kemal A Caution, or The Adventures of Ali Bey. The latter was studied in its original form (the New Ottoman language), as well as in its modernised version (Modern Turkish).

By 13 May 2020, 13 remote dissertation defences have been conducted under the terms of St Petersburg University. ‘I had to present my dissertation in a very difficult time. When the lockdown was announced, I felt very upset. I thought that the defence that I had been looking forward to would have to be postponed. Yet, in a few days an order was issued that all the dissertations defences conducted under the University own terms were to be held virtually,’ Apollinariia Avrutina shared. ‘I watched several online defences that took place before mine, and realised that I had to prepare for a direct broadcast. Not dissimilar to a live TV broadcast really. My experience of working in television definitely helped me.’

The remote dissertation defence format definitely requires additional training from the degree-seeking applicant. However, no less important is the emotional component. Apollinariia Avrutina is certain that: ‘Being at home during the dissertation defence gives you emotional and psychological comfort. I presented my dissertation from my home study: this certainly reduced the associated stress factor and allowed me to concentrate on the task at hand.’

‘The system of dissertation defences conducted under the University’s own terms is open and completely transparent, while the demands that it makes upon the degree-seeking applicants are very high indeed. Thus, the dissertation is evaluated by five to seven opponents (previously three), with external opponents’ reviews required. The dissertation is published in open access on the St Petersburg University website both in Russian and in English, which makes it accessible to the international community. I would like to express my gratitude to the leadership of the University for the opportunity to defend my dissertation at St Petersburg University, and to contribute to Russian science.’

Associate Professor Apollinariia Avrutina, Director of the Centre for Contemporary Turkish Studies at St Petersburg University

According to Apollinariia Avrutina, the thesis defence model established by St Petersburg University in 2016 is far superior to the previous model. She defended her Candidate of Philology dissertation under the system of ‘Dissertation Councils for Awarding Academic Degrees and Titles regulated by the Russian Higher Assessment Committee’, or VAK. ‘Under the VAK system, the question of transparency was irrelevant, since the defence was built on the principle of anonymity in voting. During the discussion, everyone could praise your research, but it was impossible to predict the outcome of the vote. Besides, the issue of quorum was almost always present. More importantly, however, the degree-seeking applicant was dependent on the VAK experts’ opinions. The defence could go smoothly, with all reviews being positive and voting without a single ‘black ball’. Nonetheless, the Higher Assessment Committee could reach a decision that was diametrically opposed and irrevocable. In other words, the VAK procedure was designed to exert influence on the applicant,’ she explained.

The defence procedure is open to the public, and there is open access publication of the dissertation. Opponents’ reviews and the Dissertation Council membership are placed on the University website prior to the defence. Everyone can therefore familiarise themselves with the materials and take part in the discussion. Questions and comments of external reviewers are also put on the agenda of the Dissertation Council meeting.

The Dissertation Council included: Mehmet Ӧlmez, Professor of Istanbul University (Turkey); Aleksei Burykin, leading research associate at the Institute for Linguistic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences; Iraida Seliutina, chief research associate at the Institute of Philology of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences; and Svetlana Androsova, Professor of Amur State University. The chairman of the council was Pavel Skrelin, Professor at St Petersburg University. External reviews were provided by Andrei Puchkov, research associate at the Laboratory of Ultra-High Energy Physics of St Petersburg University, who assessed the application of mathematical methods in the research, and Hermann Moisl, Professor of Newcastle University (Great Britain) and the vice president of the International Quantitative Linguistics Association.