A Visual Semiotic Analysis of Schoolbooks in the Tuvan Language

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Uğur Altundaş Researcher, Harran University, Turkey ualtundas@gmail.com

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Abstract

The Tuvan language is a South Siberian Turkic language spoken by the Tuvan people who live in the Republic of Tyva, an autonomous republic in the South Siberian region of Russia. The Republic of Tyva is a bilingual region where both Russian and Tuvan are spoken. However, Russian is the dominant language, and therefore Tuvan has fallen to the status of a second language for the Tuvan people. In such an environment, the teaching of Tuvan as a native language is of great importance. In this article, two primary schoolbooks used in the teaching of Tuvan have been considered from the aspect of visual semiotics. Through this article, I aim to show the effects of visual semiotics on native language education.

Tuvan is one of the South Siberian Turkic languages. It is spoken in the autonomous Republic of Tyva in the Russian Federation, and by small Tuvan populations living in Mongolia and China. The Republic of Tyva is an autonomous republic1 in the South Siberian region, located just to the north of Mongolia. According to the Federal State Statistics Service of Russia for the year 2020, there are 302,662 people living in the Republic of Tyva (together with the Tozhu district, which the Russian state separates for political reasons) who state that their national identity is Tuvan.2 The language situation in the Republic of Tyva is mixed, and bilingualism is very common in Tuva. The dominant language in Tuva, as in many of the autonomous republics, is Russian, and Russian along with Tuvan holds the status of an official language in Tuva.3 However, the Republic of Tyva, unlike other autonomous republics, is in a good position in terms of communication in the mother tongue. The most important reason for this is the fact that the Tuvan population is dense in the autonomous republic due to factors such as the lack of a railway connection with other regions. In addition, a certain degree of consciousness has developed regarding the mother tongue in Tuva. For this reason, in the law “On Languages in the Republic of Tyva,” language is considered a manifestation of ethnic and personal identity (Borgoiakova and Guseinova 2019: 1801). Despite this awareness and legal guarantees, according to Mira Bavuu-Syuryun, preserving the Tuvan language is an urgent matter, as actions for the preservation of the Tuvan language are mostly declarative. Therefore, these efforts have not been effective enough in ensuring the equal use of languages by different segments of society (Bavuu-Syuryun 2010: 62). The most important factor affecting bilingualism in Tuva is the language of education in schools. There are three types of schools in Tuva: Tuvan, Russian, and mixed. But education in the Tuvan language is given only up to the eighth grade. From the ninth grade, the language of education is entirely Russian (Anayban 1992: 3). For this reason, the teaching of Tuvan as a native language is of great importance in order to maintain it for future generations.

It is a well-known fact that language cannot be separated from culture. In other words, language bears traces of the culture of the society that speaks that language. Forgetting the mother tongue and replacing the mother tongue with another language means the loss of some cultural characteristics. For this reason, mother tongue education is one of the most important factors in preserving the culture of a society. While fluent bilingualism is seen for adults in the Republic of Tyva, there is limited bilingualism among Tuvan children (Waters et al. 2007). The most widely used materials in mother-tongue teaching are undoubtedly textbooks. In this article, two schoolbooks used in teaching Tuvan native language—Üzhüglel (“The Alphabet”) (2016) and Tyva Dyl–2 Klass (“Tuvan Language–Class 2”) (2012)—are considered from the perspective of visual semiotics. The book entitled Üzhüglel was written by A. A. Aldyn-ool, K. B. Mart-ool, and N. Ch. Damba, while Tyva Dyl–2 Klass was written by I. Ch. Ergil-ool, N. Ch. Damba, and N. M. Ondar. These were accessed on the official Internet site of the National School Development Institute of the Republic of Tyva (Institut Razvitiia Natsional'noi Shkoly Respubliki Tyva). There were two reasons for choosing these books: first, they are in wide use because they have been approved by official institutions in Tuva; and second, they were written for native speakers starting to learn Tuvan (for reading, writing, and grammar skills). The first book was prepared to teach the alphabet to students at a beginning level, while the second book, as can be seen from its title, was written for the second grade.4 The basic aim of this article shows the effect of visual semiotics on native language education in a Tuvan example. Also, the competence of the Tuvan language schoolbooks was examined from the point of view of visual semiotics.

Most work on Tuvan has been conducted in Russia. The most prominent Tuvan dictionaries (Mongush 1980; Tatarintsev 2000, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2018; Tenishev 1968) and basic grammar books (Iskhakov and Pal'mbakh 1961) are in Russian. One important work on the grammar of Tuvan, Amgy Tyva Literaturalyg Dyl (“The Written Language of Tuva Today”), was written in Tuvan by Shuluu Chyrgal-oolovich Sat and Elizaveta Borakaevna Salzyŋmaa (1980). The first significant work on Tuvan produced in the United States was Tuvan Manual by John R. Krueger (1977). In more recent years, the two best-known names for work on Tuvan in the United States are Gregory D. S. Anderson and K. David Harrison. Anderson and Harrison together produced a grammatical study entitled Tyvan (Anderson and Harrison 1999). Harrison published a study entitled Topics in the Phonology and Morphology of Tuvan (Harrison 2000). Anderson published Auxiliary Verb Construction in Altai-Sayan Turkic (Anderson 2004) and Language Contact in South Siberia (Anderson 2005). In the present article, information on Tuvan was limited to these. The core of my own research was to employ visual semiotic methods on a Tuvan sample.

Tuvan has important differences between the Turkic languages spoken in the region in terms of sociolinguistic features. It is quite dominant in terms of language and culture within its own autonomous republic. Due to its cultural features, such as khöömei (Tuvan throat singing) and shamanism, it is of great interest to researchers around the world. Considering all of this, Tuvan, as the language of a less-populous society in Southern Siberia, is extremely valuable in terms of world heritage. At the same time, although Tuvan is an endangered language with a small number of speakers, it offers compact material for language teaching thanks to its sociolinguistic environment. The importance of native language education for the continuity of culture is obvious. For this reason, Tuvans have prepared textbooks for language teaching with the preservation and continuity of their mother tongue in mind. Undoubtedly, textbooks have many purposes in education; however, the purpose of preparing these textbooks for the Tuvan society is to transfer their own language and culture to future generations.

The use and usefulness of visual elements in materials prepared for language teaching purposes are clear. For this reason, the textbooks in question were evaluated for this article using the visual semiotics approach. Visual semiotics is considered in language teaching pedagogy because it helps individuals develop their cognitive abilities at the level of perception. Visual signs contribute to language teaching by providing various tools for visual communication. For this purpose, various signs and symbols are used to teach cultural elements and words in language classes. As mentioned above, despite being a less-populous society, Tuvan has a very rich vocabulary that exclusively reflects Tuvan culture, since Tuvans have many unique cultural features. In this context, visual semiotics is an important tool in teaching such words. This is the reason why the visual semiotics approach was adopted in this article: to determine the level of success of these materials prepared for the purpose of preserving the language and culture of Tuvans as endangered language speakers.

Basic Concepts of Semiotics

Two of the most foundational names in modern semiotics are Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles S. Peirce. In his work Cours de Linguistique Générale (“Courses in General Linguistics”), published after his death by his students, Saussure used the French term sémiologie for this branch of science. Peirce's views on semiotics can be found in Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, created from his writings brought together after his death. Working in America under the influence of Peirce, Charles Morris carried out important work on semiotics, and made significant contributions to the development of the concept in his Writings on the General Theory of Signs (Morris 1971), in which he brought together his writings on the concept. In Europe, names such as Roman Jakobson, Jan Mukařovský, Louis Hjelmslev, Nicolaj Trubetskoy, Algirdas Julien Greimas, Pierre Guiraud, and Émile Benveniste played an important role in developing the concept. Also, Umberto Eco and Roland Barthes are among the most important representatives of recent contemporary semiotics in Europe. Researchers working on semiotics are certainly not limited to these. In world literature, semiotic works have been published and continue to be published in such fields as literary criticism, poetics, discourse analysis, rhetoric, and pragmatics. Among works on semiotics, Winfried Nöth's Handbook of Semiotics (Nöth 1995) is important for this field. This work, in the form of a schoolbook, includes short and summarized information on basic concepts of semiotics.

The aim of this article is not to bring a theoretical approach to semiotics; as noted, my research has been focused on examining visual semiotics in the light of language teaching. In addition, there is no distinction between the above-mentioned sources for the analysis of this article; on the contrary, I have tried to benefit from each study as long as it is relevant to the subject. For this reason, only brief information is given on semiotics, visual semiotics, and the importance of visual semiotics for language instruction.

Any form that represents anything other than itself, and which can take the place of the thing that it represents is known as a sign. In this way, the words of language and different signs and symbols are also taken as signs. The basic aim of semiotics concerns the objects or concepts that the signs correspond to. Thus, the term signification forms the actual starting point of semiotics. Scientists have put forward different views on the term signification, or in other words, have formed different methods of signification.

Saussure, one of the founders of contemporary semiotics, first proposed the terms signifier and signified in this way; his work dealt with the relation between these two terms. To him, a linguistic sign arises from the relation between an auditory image and the concept that it represents. Starting from the relation between these two elements, Saussure introduces the principle of the arbitrariness of a language sign. He explains this by the existence in different languages of different words corresponding to the same meaning. One of the important concepts that Saussure introduces is the term linearity. Linearity means the realization in the flow of time of the auditory expression of the sign. This is much clearer in linguistic signs than in visual signs. Finally, Saussure uses the term unchangeability to describe the existence of a social agreement regarding the concept that the sign denotes. However, he states that social conventions can change, and therefore that a sign can be explained with the principles of both changeability and unchangeability (Saussure 1998: 108–120).

Peirce classified signs according to a three-way system. Sign, interpretant, and object constitute one of Peirce's most important three-way distinctions. In general, a sign is defined as a thing that takes the place of any other thing. An interpretant is a person who interprets the relation between a sign and what is signified. An object is a thing the place of which is taken by a sign. Another set of three relating to extralinguistic signs in Peirce's classification is the three-way distinction of icon, index, and symbol. An icon is a sign that directly represents the thing for which it stands, which is meaningful even if the thing that it denotes is not visible. An index is a sign that loses its characteristic when the object is removed, but which carries the characteristic of a sign even when that which it interprets is not present. A symbol is a sign that loses its characteristic when there is no interpreter (Peirce 1931–1966; Rifat 2020: 117–118). In a similar way, Morris uses the terms sign, designatum (the thing that the sign points to), interpreter, and interpretant (the effect of the sign on the interpreter). Also, Morris examines semiotics from the point of view of three subdivisions: syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics. Morris discusses syntactics in terms of semiotic theory in the context of syntactic analysis of the relationship of signs to interpreters or objects. Semantics is the meaning relationship between the signs and the things that are indicated (designata). Pragmatics depends on the relation of signs to people in the position of producing or interpreting them (Morris 1971: 19–55). Hjelmslev examined expression and content in his work on semiotics, dividing these two levels again into the layers of form and substance. According to this arrangement, the level of sound is called expression, and the level of meaning is called content. In this way, four divisions emerge: the substance of expression and the form of expression, and the substance of content and the form of content. Also, Hjelmslev propounded the terms denotation and connotation as having importance in semiotics. Simply put, denotation means the first meaning that a sign indicates, and connotation means other new meanings outside the first meaning. These terms were also taken and systematized by Guiraud, Greimas, and Barthes (Firat 2020: 47; Kıran 1990: 55; Guiraud 1990: 36). Guiraud similarly examined the sign from the point of view of the signification process. In this way, he explained a sign with terms such as substance, form, encoding, motivation, denotation, connotation, and articulation (Guiraud 1990: 31–45).

The starting point for many semiotic studies is linguistic signs. However, visual signs, which are only one of many different types of signs, are considered in the present article. I analyze the relation between visual signs and language teaching in the two schoolbooks mentioned above. Before the evaluation, we will first consider visual signs and their relation to language teaching.

Visual Signs and Language Teaching

While one of the most basic signs for enabling communication is the linguistic sign, extralinguistic signs or non-verbal signs are also essential. In this respect, semiotics has focused on nonverbal communication in relation to verbal behavior. The essence of non-verbal communication is related to the semiotic function of the human body in time and place. However, there are a number of uncertainties in limiting non-verbal communication to visual and auditory communication. Non-verbal communication is basically determined according to the parts of the human body as a sign in semiotics. However, non-verbal communication is not limited to this. In this sense, visual signs come at the head of non-verbal signs (Nöth 1995: 387). Drawings, photographs, statues, and so forth can be counted among visual signs. W. J. Thomas Mitchell divides visual images into five classes: graphic (pictures, statues, designs), optical (mirrors, projections), perceptual (sense data species, appearances), mental (dreams, memories, ideas, fantasmata), and verbal (metaphors, descriptions) (Mitchell 1986: 10).

Visual images have been examined from various angles, and are no less systematic than language. The form of processing visuals differs between disciplines such as aesthetics and art theories. However, the unconscious use of visual images by people in daily life created the impression that there is no systematic order in visual communication. Although this situation contradicts the principle of universality of visual images, the fact that visual images can be produced independently of the context indicates their universality (Oyama 1998: 22–23). To sum up, it may be thought that the visual images seen in this article have both universal and local characteristics. On this topic, Marcel Danesi says that signs are used by people between cultures to represent and classify the world, and however different knowledge structures appear in every part of the world, they are brought together by the same basic interpretation characteristics (Danesi 2000: 167).

Visual semiotics makes direct use of the science of psychology according to the Gestalt Theory of Fernande Saint-Martin (1992). Gestalt Theory is basically concerned with visual perception. According to this, the signification process in pictorial signs has a perceptual nature. That is, pictorial meanings are carried to us by means of visual perception (Saint-Martin 1992: 113-114). Visual semiotics was at first seen as a new branch of science making use of different disciplines. However, according to Goren Sonesson, visual semiotics is not limited to making use of other disciplines but rather has come to be a branch of science that is a source for other disciplines (Sonesson 1994: 67–68). In this way, while visual semiotics is seen as a subdivision of semiotics, it has been absorbed theoretically and methodologically among very different disciplines such as art history, media, and communication. For this reason, visual semiotics has developed differently from traditional semiotics, and has been used in fields such as packaging, design, advertising, and interior design.

Peirce considered a visual sign or icon as a sign that showed similarity to an object. In this sense, a photograph is an icon because it looks similar to the original. Barthes was the first to look at signs and the operations of signification of signs as dynamic elements of the social and cultural fabric. He was also the first person to focus systematically on extralinguistic signs (Aiello 2020: 367–369). In this sense, Barthes applied Saussure's principles of signs to non-linguistic texts. He evaluated an image as representation. Although there are people who think that visual communication is a primitive system in comparison with language, there is an indescribable richness in visual images. In this sense, Barthes drew attention to the importance of advertisements in semiotic analysis. According to him, the images used in advertising have been chosen consciously. The signs of the message that the advertisement tries to convey have been previously formed with certain characteristics (Barthes 1977: 32–33). The visual images used in a schoolbook prepared for language teaching are likewise conscious choices and were created in advance. Barthes at the same time maintained that visual images are polysemous and that language is one of the techniques of fixing the chain of the signified. Here, polysemy arises from the different interpretation of the person who perceives the image. For this reason, various techniques are used for fixing uncertain signs in every society. According to Barthes, there are three different levels of message for this fixation: linguistic message, coded iconic message, and non-coded iconic message. A linguistic message has two different meaning levels, denotational and connotational. A coded visual message of other categories relating directly to visual images is taken as a denotational image, and a non-coded visual message as a connotational image (ibid. 1977: 36–39).

There are studies that deal with the relation between language teaching and semiotics. Foremost among these is the Modeling Systems Theory, put forward by Thomas Sebeok and Marcel Danesi (2000), developing Peirce's semiotic theory. Peirce emphasized the logical nature of the connections between the signifier and the signified, and Sebeok and Danesi built upon his ideas, proposing that there was a system underlying the signifier-signified connection. This theory has two basic aims. The first emphasizes the mental action of signs. The second re-designs the relation between Peirce's icon, index, and symbol (Watt 2006: 45). Priscia Augustyn stated that language is a secondary modeling system in Sebeok's theory. According to this, Augustyn thought that learning a foreign language would increase our modelling capacity. From the aspect of Sebeok's semiotic modelling, language teaching was basically a modelling system, and should certainly not be held as simply equal to communication. The field of communication that Sebeok was interested in was mainly non-verbal (Augustyn 2012: 528). In this sense, communication achieved with visual signs is also an important part of the modelling system in language teaching. Another model, proposed by Danesi, is the theory of Signifying Order. Danesi thinks that culture is the total of coded signs in time. In one sense, culture allows the formation of figurative elements and signs. From this aspect, signs indicate a meaning culturally. Danesi states that, starting from the relation between culture and sign, this is a system carrying meaning, and explains this with the concept of signifying order (Danesi 2000: 35–36; see also Augustyn 2012: 526). Another theory proposed in language teaching is the Multimodality theory of Gunther Kress and coauthors. In its general meaning, the Multimodality concept states that in language teaching, there are many communication models (modes) apart from linguistic elements. Visual signs are one of these (Kress et al. 2001: 42).

In language teaching, the effect of semiotics is clear. In one sense, there is semiotics in the nature of language teaching. From this aspect, the contribution of visual semiotics in language teaching is undeniable, as many signs are used in the process of language teaching. The Tuvan language schoolbooks being examined in this article were not written to teach the language to foreigners. Rather, they were written with the purpose of native language teaching for Tuvans. Native language education is important for communities such as the Tuvans, whose languages have endangered status.5 Native language education is in one sense a mechanism that enables the transmission of thought and culture. Semiotics, and especially visual semiotics, is an important field that can support native language education. In the section that follows, an examination is made of the suitability of the visual signs used to the content given in the schoolbooks named above.

As we know, in both foreign language teaching and native language teaching, there are four basic skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing, and the visual signs in the two Tuvan schoolbooks were also examined for their effect on these four basic skills. One of the most important points for successful language teaching is to attract the attention and interest of the student. At the same time, this is the most basic function of the visual signs. In most language-teaching books, visual content is abundant, and relates to the text directly in order to help support linguistic signs. The use of visual signs in language teaching makes an important contribution to the process of students applying what they have learned.

Interpretation of Visual Signs in Two Tuvan Language Schoolbooks

In semiotics, the term interpretant given above is important. In essence, no sign can complete the signification process without an interpretant. From this aspect, I—as writer of the article—am a factor in interpreting the process of signification of a sign. According to this, I would like to start with the cover of a book called Üzhüglel, prepared for students in first grade (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Cover of the school primer Üzhüglel (“The Alphabet”) (Aldyn-ool et al. 2016).

Citation: Sibirica 22, 3; 10.3167/sib.2023.220304

The basic aim of semiotics is the attempt to reconstruct the production processes of meanings in sign sequences, and to configure the layers of meaning. In the visual sign taken from the cover of the book shown below, we see a girl standing, and a boy sitting on a chair. Each of them is holding a sheet of paper with a letter written on it. Looking at this visual, the most basic thing we can decipher is that this is a schoolbook created for the purpose of language teaching, starting by teaching the alphabet. In this way, it can be said that the cover picture serves its purpose. At the same time, this meaning that is at first seen and understood is the denotation of the visual sign. The denotational reading of a visual sign is in one sense a simple operation of description. Well then, are there connotational factors in the visual? When we examine the children's costumes, we can grasp this connotation. When we look at the clothes, which carry a social and cultural element, we can understand that this book has been written to teach Tuvan. As can be seen, in order to understand the connotational elements, the person interpreting must have knowledge of the society that the visual sign belongs to. Also, when we first look at the papers on which the letters are written, we may think that the letters are from the Cyrillic Tuvan alphabet. However, as there are only two letters in the picture as data, we cannot make a certain judgment. Nevertheless, when we examine the paper on which the letters are written, we see that there is a connection between the letters and the visuals on the paper. The slice of watermelon on the paper in the girl's hand and the letter A are related to the word arbuz, which means “watermelon” in Tuvan. The tent on the paper in the boy's hand and the letter Ö are related in that the Tuvan word for “tent” is ög. In both examples, the initial letter of the word that corresponds to the object seen in the visual and the letter given on the paper are compatible with each other. Furthermore, the tent that is the visual sign has an important place in Tuvan culture and history. The primary meaning of the word ög is “tent,” but it has another meaning of “house” or “home.” Historically, Tuvan tents occupied the place that houses do in the present day, and they continue to figure significantly in Tuvan culture. All of this may be taken by some as denotation. However, denotation must be understood by everyone at first glance. Connotational elements, on the other hand, along with elements that have specific associations, need social and cultural interpretation. As can be seen in the picture above, each sign contributes meaning to the totality of the picture on the cover of the book.

Upon further examination, Üzhüglel is a typical alphabet-teaching book. Many visuals are used to teach the letters. The first letters taught are A and L. Let us consider here several visuals relating to the teaching of these two letters (see Figures 2, 3, and 4).

Fig. 2: adyg “bear”

Fig. 3: laa “candle”

Fig. 4: aal “tent”

Figures 2, 3, and 4.
Figures 2, 3, and 4.
Figures 2, 3, and 4.
Figures 2, 3, and 4.

Examples of alphabet teaching from the Book of Üzhüglel (Aldyn-ool et al. 2016: 17–20)

Citation: Sibirica 22, 3; 10.3167/sib.2023.220304

Three visuals used for the letters A and L are given below. All of the pictures are at a level that will appeal to class one students; that is, the relation between the signifier and the signified in the visual sign is very clear in terms of denotation. In the first two pictures, there are words that begin with the letter that is being taught (adyg “bear” and laa “candle”, respectively). In the third picture, a word that contains both of the letters being taught is given with the help of a visual sign (aal “tent”). Only one element is contained in the first two signs, while the third sign has a more complex structure. This is related to the meaning of the word being taught. In order to be able to give a word meaning “tent” in the visual sign, it is necessary to use a sign containing more than one element. In this sense, as stated above, in the image there is the sign of a tent with a stove burning in the tent, which in Tuvan culture has the meaning of “home.” Here, the sign of smoke tells us that a fire is burning in the tent.

Peirce sees a visual sign as a representative of the object that it signifies. Peirce defines the term index as a sign indicating the location and existence of the referent in time and space. Unlike visual signs, indexes are not representatives of referents (Danesi 2000: 29). Here, smoke states that there is a burning stove in the tent, and thus has the quality of an index. It is not directly a representative of the stove, which is its object. Also, when we say “tent” in nomadic societies, one of the things that first comes to mind is animal rearing. For this reason, there are sheep and horses in the picture. In the picture, we see an important cultural object of the Tuvan people. This is a baglaash, a post to which horses are tied (a hitching post). For the nomadic Tuvan people, the horse is an important animal. For this reason, the Tuvans have given special importance to the hitching post, and show their respect for the horses by decorating the pole. With this, the spatial sense within the lexical meaning of the word is also given. The meaning that the word expresses with this visual sign is extremely fitting. It is an example of a successful sign for language teaching. The cultural meaning contained in the word cannot be expressed in a single word. However, a visual sign has helped to show in a concise way what is expressed in the word aal.

The picture below (see Figure 5) is also taken from the book Üzhüglel. The picture is placed just above a small reading passage called Naadym (“Festival”). Looking at the picture, the first elements that strike the eye are five horses, two men on horseback, and a girl watching the scene with binoculars. In fact, at first sight this sign does not form a comprehensible whole. It becomes more understandable only after reading the passage. However, in a book prepared for first grade students, a visual sign given before a reading passage would be expected to provide some clues to the content. In this way, it can be said that the sign is somewhat problematic with regard to the relation between the signifier and the signified. In terms of denotation, the sign can only be interpreted to the extent of the description above. The word Naadym, which is the title of the reading passage, allows partial interpretation of the sign. That is, the girl with the binoculars in her hand is watching an event at the festival. An interpretant who knows about Tuvan festivals could guess that this event was a horse race. However, it cannot be said that the image of “horse race” has been clearly presented in the picture. In the reading passage, it says that the race is interesting, that the boys are happy to ride in the festival, that they want to come first in the race, and that a person called Dandar comes first. The passage also says that after the race is finished, people invite guests to their homes, where they eat and play games together (Aldyn-ool et al. 2016: 57). When we examine the picture in question from the aspect of language teaching, it cannot be said that the sign accords with the reading passage that is given.

Figure 5.
Figure 5.

A visual on Naadım from Üzhüglel (Aldyn-ool et al. 2016: 57)

Citation: Sibirica 22, 3; 10.3167/sib.2023.220304

Starting from the text belonging to the picture, we can divide the sign into two sections. The first is a horse race event held on the festival grounds. In the picture, this race can partly be seen, but there are no details in the sign of what is in the text, such as the men being happy, the effort to be first in the race, or Dandar coming first. The presence of riderless horses in the sign is not explained. Also, it cannot be concluded whether the two people on horseback in the picture are taking part in a race, or that they are happy. The second section is the part where people are inviting guests, playing games, and eating. There is no indication in the sign relating to this second section of the reading passage. As a result, the visual sign, which is the most useful source in language teaching, has been used ineffectively in this example. There is a visual sign relating to the skill of reading, which is one of the four basic skills of language teaching. The method used in the schoolbook can be used widely and effectively in language teaching. However, the deficiency here is that the visual sign does not give an adequate clue to the content of the text. That is, an interpretant cannot get enough indications in the visual sign here in the process of signification. The sign is always an indication of the purpose of meaning, and this purpose may be unconscious. This broadens the field of semiotics (Guiraud 1990: 32). However, visual signs in a book prepared for the purpose of language teaching must be conscious choices. That is, the visual sign used here has one basic purpose, which is to make language teaching easier. However, it cannot be said that this visual sign adequately serves the most basic aim of semiotics.

In the image above (Fig. 6), also taken from the book Üzhüglel, we see two girls, and two swans swimming on a river. Let us evaluate this sign from the aspect of polysemy-monosemy. At the beginning of the signification process, the sign can be described from the aspect of denotation. The next procedure is to interpret the sign. In the interpretation stage, it is seen that a sign may have many elements that are signified. Looking at the above sign from this viewpoint, it may be said that two girls have come for a walk by the river and that they have seen two swans, or it may be thought that two friends together are feeding the swans on the river, or that they are talking about these two swans. As can be seen, the signs can be interpreted with more than one meaning. This shows that the elements signified by a sign may be polysemous. However, the content, that is what is signified, is mostly monosemous. In the book, there is a reading passage relating to the sign in question. This text is the content of the sign, or in other words, the monosemous signifying element. Looking at the text, we see a reading passage named Kas bile Kuu (“The Goose and the Swan”). The title tells us that the two birds in the sign are a swan and a goose. According to the text, the short girl in front cannot tell the difference between the two. The other girl knows these birds very well, and always feeds them. She tells her friend that the big one is a swan, and the other one is a goose (Aldyn-ool et al. 2016: 70). It is seen that the text, which is the element signified here, is monosemous. The sign has been given with the purpose of developing the skill of reading, and the signifier element for this reason has an element that is signified to have a single meaning. However, if the sign had been given in relation to the skill of speaking, the signified could have been polysemous like the sign.

Figure 6.
Figure 6.

A visual in terms of polysemy-monosemy from Üzhüglel (Aldyn-ool et al. 2016: 70)

Citation: Sibirica 22, 3; 10.3167/sib.2023.220304

The illustration above (see Figure 7) is taken from the schoolbook Tyva Dyl–2 Klass. In this visual sign, use has been made of two linguistic signs, shkola (“school”) and sentiabr’ 1 (“September 1”). From these linguistic signs, we have information about time and place in the visual sign. This picture has been placed above a poem in the schoolbook. Therefore, the content of the poem must be related to school and the date of 1 September. Other elements in the picture support this idea. Danesi encoded a sign from three aspects: physical dimension (sound, hand gestures, etc.), conceptual dimension (it expresses one particular referent), and interpretive dimension. He explains these three dimensions with these examples. A novel in the physical dimension consists of many words, but in the conceptual dimension, a novel is not a summary of the meaning of the words. Just the opposite, a novel is a text constituting its own signifiers, and the meaning of a text according to the third dimension is related to the context. This context needs an interpretation according to the physical, psychological, and social conditions (Danesi 2000: 36–37). In this sense, all the elements in a visual sign can be expressed with linguistic signs, which show the physical dimension of the sign. That is, each element in the picture is a part of the physical dimension. According to this, the expression in linguistic signs of the visual signs in the picture will be in these words. School, 1 September, the school's entrance steps, teachers, the school yard, parents and students. Imagining that we had not seen the picture, these words would call to mind in the conceptual dimension the parents who have brought their children to school and the teachers who are waiting for them at the school entrance.

Figure 7.
Figure 7.

A visual in terms of the dimension of the sign from the book Tyva Dyl–2 Klass (Ergil-ool et al. 2012: 3)

Citation: Sibirica 22, 3; 10.3167/sib.2023.220304

The conceptual dimension in one way indicates the denotation that the elements coming together expresses. The third dimension is connected to the first two dimensions. In this sense, it is an interpretation of the elements in the physical and conceptual dimensions. From this aspect, the date of 1 September suggests the beginning of a new school term. Thus, schools have opened with the start of a new term, and the parents have come to the school with their children. The picture itself and its expression in linguistic signs give a general impression of the content of the poem. The first verse of the poem is as follows:

Sentiabr’ Ai Moorlap Keldi / Welcome to the Month of September

Öörüshkülüg sentyabr’ moorlap keldi / Welcome cheerful September

Ööredilge chaa chylyn utkup tur bis / We greet the new school year.

Ada-iie oglun, kyzyn edertkileen / Mothers and fathers watch their boys and girls

Azhyk chyryk shkolada chyglyp keldi / And they gathered in the bright school

(Ergil-ool et al. 2012: 3)

This poem relates to the opening of school, and therefore there is an atmosphere of pleasure and enjoyment. The parents have gathered at the school with their boys and girls. In this visual sign, there is complete accord between the signifier and the signified. The schoolbook from which the sample is taken is a language teaching source for second grade. Therefore, there is no sharp distinction between the second dimension and the third dimension. In a schoolbook at this level, it is natural not to use deep connotations, and for this reason, the socio-cultural interpretation in the third dimension of the sign is not explicit in this visual sign.

It can be said that the schoolbook Üzhüglel tends toward the skill of reading in terms of the basic skills of language teaching. The basic aim of this book is to teach the alphabet, and as the number of letters taught increases, reading passages are given in the later parts of the book. When the aim and purpose of this book is taken as a whole, it can be understood that the examples taken from this book are related to the skill of reading. Coming to the book Tyva Dyl–2 Klass, it is seen that, even though the pictures are most important for the skill of reading at that level, pictures are also being used to develop other skills, as in Figure 8.

Figure 8.
Figure 8.

A visual prepared to improve language skills from the book Tyva Dyl–2 Klass (Ergil-ool et al. 2012: 10)

Citation: Sibirica 22, 3; 10.3167/sib.2023.220304

The picture above (see Figure 8) has been used for the skills of speaking and writing. Before giving the picture, directions are given: Churuktu körüŋer. Churukka attan beriŋer, chugaadan turguzuŋar. Bizhip alyŋar (“Look at the picture. Give the picture a name, talk and write [about the picture]”) (Ergil-ool et al. 2012: 10). The visual sign is being used here as material to develop speaking and writing skills. Also, there are two questions under the picture and relating to it for which oral answers are required. One question, Ogorodta chüü özüp turaryl? (“What is being grown in the garden?”) relates directly to the element signifier in the sign. Students are being tested on whether they correctly perceive the object that the sign indicates in the relation between signifier and signified. The second question, Nogaa, chimis aimaanyŋ kizhige azhyy chüdel? (“In what ways are fruits and vegetables good for people?”) is not totally related to the picture. Here, the picture has been used as an association. The aim of the sign is to help to form other ideas in the minds of the students. In this way, students will be able to develop their speaking skills by bringing together the associations that they take from the sign and what is in their own minds. Many similar visual signs are used throughout this schoolbook.

It is often said that language is the mirror of a culture. In other words, there are many characteristics in a language that reflect cultural elements of a society. Thus, one of the typical characteristics of language teaching books is they give information on the culture of the language being taught, and this is clearly seen in Tuvan language schoolbooks. This article is concerned with visual signs that reflect cultural elements here. In semiotics, the relation between signifier and signified in a sign is expressed with the terms motivation and agreement. Although Saussure emphasized the principle of arbitrariness of this relationship, there are opposite views in his later works. It is seen that in visual signs, the signifier-signified relationship is generally based on principle of motivation. The relationship between signifier and signified depends on an agreement between the users of the sign. However, this may not always be universal. That is, the object that a sign indicates may not be perceived in the same way in the whole world, and there may be differences between societies. As the scope of the agreement widens, the sign is normalized to the same extent, that is, it becomes a code for everybody. In exactly the opposite way, it may come to mean an agreement directed at society or people (Guiraud 1990: 32–33). As indicated earlier, in the Tuvan schoolbooks prepared for the purpose of language teaching in the first two grades, the visual signs were prepared according to educational level. For this reason, although the signs contain socio-cultural elements, they are mostly denotational signs. Laws of agreement in parallel to this are more universal. However, in a narrower framework, it is only for people living in Tuvan society or those with some particular knowledge of the Tuvans that the full meaning expressed by the signs used can be distinguished. Here, naturally, the agreement laws particular to Tuvan society operate in the signification process. An example of a visual sign that demonstrates this principle is seen in Figure 9.

Figure 9.
Figure 9.

A visual in terms of the universality of the sign from the book Tyva Dyl–2 Klass (Ergil-ool et al. 2012: 36)

Citation: Sibirica 22, 3; 10.3167/sib.2023.220304

The illustration above (see Figure 9) is presented with a different method from the examples given so far. The difference between this picture and the others is that it is given at the end of a reading passage. That is, in the examples examined so far, the reading passages were related to the visual sign, but here, the visual sign is related to the reading passage. In other words, here, the sign is used to reinforce the reading passage. The meaning that the visual sign expresses to us is the presence of reindeer of different sizes. What the passage says in summary is this: an animal called ivi (“reindeer”) lives in the Tozhu and Tere-Höl regions of Tuva. Its milk is pure, and a kind of cheese called byshtak is made from it. Its meat can be eaten. Shoes are made from its skin. The female young are called anai, the female reindeer are called myndy, and the males are called chary or eder (Ergil-ool et al. 2012: 35–36). Anyone who sees the visual sign will understand that reindeer are being talked about. Thus, the picture is universal from the aspect of the laws of motivation and agreement. However, when we think of the sign and the text together, it is only comprehensible to those with knowledge of Tuvan society. Reindeer are of utmost importance in Tuvan society, especially in the Tozhu region. As is stated in the short text, people engage with reindeer in many ways, and the naming of reindeer is completely specific to them. Furthermore, in the Tuvan language, reindeer can have many other names according to factors such as age and sex (Chadamba 1974; Kuular and Suvandii 2011). Having so many words for just one kind of animal in this language is certainly related to culture. All of this can only be understood through social agreement rules. In this way, the meaning that the visual sign given above expresses to the Tuvans is very different. Peirce says that visual signs are a representation of the thing that they indicate. These signs have been coded in a cultural context. Peirce explains this with the term hypoicon. This term states that a sign will be comprehensible by people who are not a part of a culture. In this way, the denotation of the sign above that is understood at first sight can be explained by Peirce's term hypoicon. Therefore, this kind of sign has a universal quality. Peirce's term index indicates the existence and the location of the referent. In this sense, a reindeer calls to mind the Tozhu and Tere-Höl regions for a Tuvan. The term symbol can only be determined from the aspect of social agreements, and this is related to the specific understanding that the image of a reindeer expresses for Tuvans and those who work with them (Peirce 1931–1966: 274).

In the visual sign presented below (see Figure 10), taken from the schoolbook entitled Tyva Dyl–2 Klass, we see that there is a family. In terms of the types of signification of signs, we can divide this into systematic and non-systematic interpretations. The concept “systematic” is more equivalent to the concept of syntax in linguistic signs. In this sense it can be said that visual signs have a system among themselves. According to this, in the sign below, mother, father, children, and grandmother are different elements of a system. Also, systems can be divided into two: syntagmatic and non-syntagmatic. This term is related to the temporal and spatial states of elements in a system. According to this, the people who are the elements of the system in the sign are in a house. Although it cannot be seen clearly from the picture, the mother element of the system is sewing in another room. There are no definite clues in the sign relating to time. Even so, the fact that the father is reading a book to the child and that all family members are together suggests that it is evening. In addition, according to the text given with the picture, the fact that the mother works as a teacher and the father as a builder supports that the time is evening. If a message stated in the sign can be divided into different elements of the system, this is expressed by the term articulation. That is, the elements in a system come together to form a meaningful whole. In this way, the mother, father, children, and grandmother elements in the sign are elements giving the meaning of a family.

Figure 10.
Figure 10.

A visual in terms of systematic and non-systematic from the book Tyva Dyl–2 Klass (Ergil-ool et al. 2012: 65)

Citation: Sibirica 22, 3; 10.3167/sib.2023.220304

The term harmony is given to equalizing of the articulated elements and their expression of a meaning together (Guiraud 1990: 37–39). In a schoolbook, the articulated elements in a sign must be reciprocated in the text belonging to the picture. This harmony is important from the point of view of language teaching. Thus, we see that a text entitled Ög-bülem (“My Family”) is given after the sign. In the text, someone gives information on their family, conforming to the visual sign. The narrator first introduces her father and mother. Then she talks about her elder brother, who is a university student. However, this is one of the missing system elements of the sign. Later, the narrator mentions her little brother, her grandmother, and her grandfather. One of the missing constituents of the visual sign is the element of the grandfather. The narrator of the text must be the girl in the visual sign who is at the table wiping a dish (Ergil-ool et al. 2012: 65). It can be said that to a great extent there is harmony between the visual sign and the text. Only the elder brother and the grandfather elements are absent from the system of the sign. Nevertheless, the visual sign successfully reflects the concept of family as a whole that is the element of signification. Oyama says on this topic that a visual image has a linguistic systematic, and this is denoted by the term visual grammar. Visual grammar is examined by dividing it into two: visual lexis and visual syntax. In short, visual lexis is each one of the elements in a picture, while visual syntax indicates the relationship between them (Oyama 1998: 23–24). According to this, the elements that Guiraud expressed as elements of the system are, according to Oyama, elements of visual lexis. The principle of articulation corresponds to Oyama's concept of visual syntax. As a result, it is clear that a sign has different elements and that these elements come together in an arrangement to form a meaningful whole. The elements mother, father, children, and grandmother in the visual sign above come together in a particular arrangement called harmony or visual syntax to give the meaning of family.

Conclusion

In this article, two Tuvan language schoolbooks, entitled Üzhüglel and Tyva Dyl–2 Klass, were examined from the viewpoint of visual semiotics. For this reason, information on both semiotics and on the Tuvan language was kept to a minimum. These schoolbooks are the first two sources used in the early stages of Tuvan language teaching. Works accessed from the official Internet site of the National School Development Institute of the Republic of Tyva (Institut Razvitiia Natsional'noi Shkoly Respubliki Tyva) are the official sources of Tuvan language teaching in Tuva. The basic characteristic of the schoolbooks prepared for language teaching is that they contain a large number of visual signs.

The use of visual signs in schoolbooks is very important from the viewpoint of language teaching. In the books examined, there was widespread use of visual signs, and it was seen that visual signs had been used in a deliberate way for the purpose of language teaching. In particular, in the book Üzhüglel, a relevant visual sign had been used each time when teaching a letter of the alphabet. The visual signs used in this book had mostly been selected from plain and simple examples as suitable for beginning level. That is, the signs consist of single-element systems used to teach letters to year one students who are just beginning language education. In these signs, there is no question of articulation. The harmony between the sign and the object it indicates is clear. As the number of letters taught increases, short reading passages are given in the book and the visual signs used are selected from pictures that are more complex and suitable to interpret. It is apparent that this preference is deliberate. It is seen that the examples given at the beginning have a naturally universal quality from the viewpoint of language teaching. That is, anyone who sees the visual sign will reach the same signified image. Here, the sign and the signified are monosemic and are closed to interpretation. In Tyva Dyl–2 Klass and in the continuation of Üzhüglel, the visual signs given along with the reading passages and the signifier-signified relationship are more complex. These signs are open to interpretation according to their societal and cultural characteristics. It is common for works prepared for language teaching to contain cultural ingredients. This kind of visual sign contains more than one element. There is an articulation among these elements, and, as there always should be in schoolbooks, the elements come together as a whole to indicate a meaning. In other words, the meaning that the elements express when they come together must accord with the text given. Although there are sometimes inconsistencies between the text and the visual sign in Tyva Dyl–2 Klass, it can be said that the harmony between cultural elements and visual signs were successful in both textbooks. The visual signs used in the books were selected so as to be suitable to the level and to the text given.

The target group for the books examined was clearly the Tuvans, and thus the books were prepared for native language teaching. The clearest evidence for this is that reading passages are given as soon as the alphabet is taught, without any information being given on the Tuvan language. These texts would be very difficult for anyone who used these books to learn a foreign language. In the texts, there is much vocabulary, grammar, and syntax that a foreign learner could not know. However, when thought of from the other direction, it is seen that these books are very easy for native speakers. The reason for this is the particular situation of Tuva. As stated before, the Russian language has had a great effect on Tuvan. The language of education in schools is mostly Russian. A child who has reached primary school age can speak Russian well. However, the situation is not the same with the Tuvan language. For this reason, although Tuvan is the mother tongue, it is taught as a kind of foreign language due to the dominance of the Russian language.

It is seen that visual signs used in schoolbooks for language skills are mostly directed toward the skill of reading. In this way, the visual signs given in the book Üzhüglel are used wholly to develop the skill of reading. In the book Tyva Dyl–2 Klass, the visual signs are mostly reading skills material. At the same time, it is seen that visual signs are used in this book to develop the skills of speaking and writing. Looking at the books from the point of view of teaching language skill and native language, it is noticeable that the visual signs are inadequate. This may be explained by the fact that Tuvan fell into the background with the increasing domination of Russian in the Republic. When we look at the textbooks, the approach for teaching of Tuvan today lies somewhere between mother tongue and foreign language. As a result, whether they are for teaching a native language or a foreign language, it cannot be said that visual signs have been used successfully with regard to the various language skills. This in-betweenness in the textbooks reflects the fact that Tuvan is an endangered Turkic language. In other words, a language that is in danger cannot be taught like a foreign language.

However, the existence of Tuvan teaching materials that can be said to be successful at a certain level is a positive development in terms of the danger scale. Of course, a material prepared for language teaching does not give a language its former prestige. In this regard, the sociolinguistic environment of Tuva and its relationship with Russian will be decisive. However, targeting children directly in these books is valuable for the preservation of the language and its transmission to future generations. In addition, the transfer of cultural elements with the help of visual signs is also important in terms of linguistic documentation. Although these textbooks are generally successful, it is possible to develop them further. For this, it is necessary to clearly reveal the language situation/use and the approach of the society to the mother tongue from a sociolinguistic point of view. In addition, the target group should be determined clearly, and materials should be prepared according to the needs of the target group with the methods of educational sciences. In terms of visual signs, which is the focus of the article, the selection of images suitable for the knowledge level and cultural characteristics of the target group in the textbooks will contribute to the correct transfer of the culture along with the language teaching.

Notes

1

According to the 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation, Russia was defined as a federal state and in article 5 of the constitution, it was stated that the federal state consisted of republics, autonomous regions, provinces, and oblasts with equal rights. Each autonomous region within the Federation has its own constitution. However, the constitution is valid only within the borders of the autonomous region. In addition, the constitutions of the autonomous regions must comply with the constitution of the Russian Federation and federal laws (Umnova and Aleshkova 2014: 240-242). In article 56 of the constitution of the Republic of Tyva, which was adopted in 2001, the responsibility of the Republic of Tyva to the constitution of the Russian Federation is expressed (constitution.garant.ru, accessed 1 August 2013).

2

The total population of the Republic of Tyva is 336,251 according to 2020 data from the Federal State Statistics Service (Federal'naia Sluzhba Gosudarstvennoi Statistiki). https://rosstat.gov.ru/folder/12781# (accessed 1 August 2023).

3

Constitution of the Republic of Tyva, article 5. https://constitution.garant.ru/region/cons_tiva/chapter/2b6ebde936316453fb0f8db9c6ad7e2c/ (accessed 1 August 2023).

4

General provisions on education in the Republic of Tyva are determined by the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation. According to this, the starting age for primary school is six to eight, depending on whether kindergarten services are provided or not.

5

Various studies have been carried out to determine the endangerment level of languages. The most important institution in this regard is UNESCO. With the support of UNESCO, an evaluation report named Language Vitality and Endangerment was published in 2003 (https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000183699, accessed 1 August 2023) and a study called Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger under the editorship of Christopher Moseley was published in 2010. Apart from UNESCO, different endangerment scale studies, such as Joshua Fishman's Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (GIDS) (Fishman 1991) and Paul Lewis and Gary Simons’ Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS) (Lewis and Simon 2010), have been conducted. Ethnologue (Lewis, Simons, and Fennig 2015), currently the most comprehensive encyclopedic catalog of the world's languages, has also been prepared on the basis of GIDS and EGIDS. The most comprehensive study on Endangered Turkic Languages is the four-volume Endangered Turkic Languages, edited by Süer Eker and Ülkü Çelik Şavk, published by the International Turkic Academy and Khoja Akhmet Yassawi International Turkish-Kazakh University (Eker and Çelik Şavk 2016). As for the endangered language status of Tuvan, as the official language of the autonomous republic it seems beyond an immediate threat thanks to the relative isolation of the Republic of Tyva (Moseley 2010:50). Tuvan has a high sustainability rate compared to other Turkic languages in Siberia (Koca Sarı 2016: 260). Tuvan is definitively endangeredaccording to the UNESCO scale (Koca Sarı 2016: 260-283) and educational (4) according to Ethnologue, based on criteria such as population, language of education, and teaching the language as a mother tongue. At this level of risk, most of the children speak Tuvan. It is used in general communication by all age groups. Bilingualism is common and the language of education is mostly Russian.

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  • Tatarintsev, Boris Isakovich. 2008. Etimologicheskii Slovar’ Tuvinskogo Iazyka Tom 4. [Etymological Dictionary of Tuvan Language V.4.]. Novosibirsk: Nauka.

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  • Tatarintsev, Boris Isakovich. 2018. Etimologicheskii Slovar’ Tuvinskogo Iazyka Tom 5. [Etymological Dictionary of Tuvan Language V.5.]. Novosibirsk: Nauka.

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  • Tenishev, Etkhem Rakhimovich R. 1968. Tuvinsko-Russkii Slovar, [Tuvan-Russian Dictionary]. Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia.

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  • Umnova, I. A. and I. A. Aleshkova. 2014. Konstitutsionnoe Pravo Rossiiskoi Federatsii. Moscow: Rossiiskaia Akademiia Pravosudiia.

  • Watt, William C. 2006. “Sebeok, Thomas Albert: Modeling Systems Theory.” In Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, ed. Keith Brown, 4551. Boston: Elsevier.

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  • Waters Mary C, Van C. Tran, Philip Kasinitz, and John H. Mollenkopf. 2007. “Segmented Assimilation Revisited: Types of Acculturation and Socioeconomic Mobility in Young Adulthood. Ethnic and Racial Studies 33 (7): 1168–1193. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419871003624076.

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Contributor Notes

Dr. Uğur Altundaş is a researcher at the Department of Turkish Language and Literature at Harran University. He completed his dissertation at Hacettepe University. During his dissertation, he went to the Republic of Tyva for field research and was a visiting researcher at the University of Szeged (Hungary) (26 August–22 November 2019) and Frankfurt University (Germany) (1 October 2021–30 September 2022). In addition, his dissertation, “Phrases in Tuvan,” was supported by TUBITAK. ORCID: 0000-0002-7762-0211. Email: ualtundas@gmail.com.

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Interdisciplinary Journal of Siberian Studies

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    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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