|The Cyrillic script|
|Cyrillic letter E|
E (Э э; italics: Э э), also known as Backwards E from Russian: Э оборотное, E oborotnoye, is a letter found amongst Slavonic languages only in Russian and Belarusian, representing the sounds [e] and [ɛ]. In other Slavonic languages using the Cyrillic script, these sounds are represented by Ye (Е е), which in Russian and Belarusian represents [je] in initial and post-vocalic position or else [e] and palatalizes the preceding consonant. In Cyrillic Moldovan, which was used in the Moldovan SSR during Soviet times and is still used in Transnistria, this letter corresponds to ă in the Latin Romanian alphabet. It is also used in the Cyrillic alphabets used by Mongolian and many Uralic, Caucasian and Turkic languages of the former Soviet Union.
The letter 〈э〉 originated in the thirteenth century as a variant of 〈є〉, at first, according to Djordjić in superscripted line-final position, but by the end of the century elsewhere as well. In the following centuries it continued to appear sporadically as an uncommon variant of 〈є〉, but not later than in the fifteenth century amongst the Eastern Slavs it began to be used to indicate initial (un-iotated) [e]. According to Yefim Karskiy, "Western Russian ustav knows 〈э〉, e.g. in Miscellany of the 15th c. from the Public Library (manuscr. #391) (экъсеквїє etc.), chronicles of 15th-16th cc., Miscellany of Poznan (16th c.), Statut of 1588... It is difficult to say whether it has been developed here independently or it came from South Slavic manuscripts, where 〈э〉 occurs as early as in 13-14th cc." Although the revision of Meletius Smotrytsky’s grammar published in Moscow in 1648 does not include 〈э〉 in its alphabet, it does consistently write Этѷмолѻ́гїа (Etymologia), in contrast to Єтѷмоло́ґїѧ in the first edition of 1619. It was by no means confined to this function in the period, however, as the prevalent spellings реэстръ, маэоръ (beside маиоръ, маіоръ) demonstrate.
〈Э〉 in modern Russian
In the specimens of the civil script presented to Peter I in 1708, forms of 〈э〉 were included among forms of 〈є〉, but the “forwards” forms were deleted by Peter, leaving only 〈э〉 as a letter of the new alphabet. It was used in some early eighteenth-century Russian texts, but some authorities of the period considered it superfluous. This was the view taken by Lomonosov, on the grounds that, on the one hand, “the letter Е, having several different pronunciations, could serve in the pronoun етотъ and the interjection ей”, and on the other that it was inappropriate to introduce letters solely for use in loan words. However, the inclusion of 〈Э〉 in its modern function in the Russian Academy’s Dictionary of 1789–94 marks the point from which it can be considered as an established part of the Russian orthographical standard.
There was still some objection to the letter even as late as 1817, when M. T. Kačenovskij was questioning whether “yet another hard э” was necessary when the language already had “a soft ѣ and a hard е”.
In contemporary Russian, 〈э〉 is used to represent [e], [ɛ] in initial position (e.g., электричество 'electricity') and post-vocalic position (e.g., дуэль 'duel'). Among such words there are only a few native Russian roots: эт- (это 'this is', этот/эта/это 'this (m./f./n.)', эти 'these', поэтому 'thus' etc.), эк- (экий 'what a'), эдак-/этак- (эдак/этак 'that way', эдакий/этакий 'sort of') plus few interjections like эй 'hey', э 'uh, oh', э-э-э 'uh'.
Even though Russian contains a significant number of loanwords in which [e] occurs after a hard (unpalatalised) consonant, it is still the practice in this spelling environment to use the letter 〈е〉 for [e], [ɛ], for example теннис, сепсис. There are few traditional exceptions to this practice among common noun loanwords:
- the original list (the first half of the twentieth century) contained just three words:
- мэр 'mayor', from French 'maire'
- пэр 'peer (a noble)', from French 'pair'
- сэр 'sir', from English or from Old French 'sieur'
- two later additions (1950s-1960s):
- мэтр 'master, skilled artist', from French 'maître'
- пленэр, from French '(en) plein air'
- new additions (1980s and later) are more numerous:
- рэкет 'racket, racketeering', from English
- рэп 'rap (music)', from English
- фэнтези 'fantasy (literature)', from English
- and several others; sometimes spelling of new words varies and dictionaries often give variants or contradict each other (like хетчбэк 'hatchback (car)' in spelling dictionary vs хетчбек/хэтчбек in explanatory dictionary).
In proper nouns, however, 〈э〉 may occur after consonants, e.g., Блэр 'Blair'. However, many such loan names are spelled with 〈е〉, e.g., Блерио 'Blériot' (a French aviator), and especially names that entered the language centuries ago, like Берлин, 'Berlin'. The use of 〈э〉 is much more frequent for names of Oriental origin than for those derived from European languages (for example, Мао Цзэдун 'Mao Zedong').
The letter 〈э〉 is also used in Russian to render initial [œ] in foreign words: thus Eure (the French river) is written Эр. After consonants this is transcribed as 〈ё〉. In the nineteenth century some writers used 〈ӭ〉 for this sound in both these positions, but this was never accepted as standard orthography. (The letter 〈ӭ〉 was re-invented in the twentieth century for Kildin Sami.) It is also used to represent a stressed [æ] in languages such as English, which incidentally can cause a problem of conflating [æ] with English [ɛ] (for example, "Addison" and "Edison" would be spelled the same). (But, in other positions, Russian also uses 〈а〉 for [æ] and 〈е〉 for [ɛ].)
〈Э〉 in modern Belarusian
Unlike Russian, Belarusian has many native words in which [e] occurs after a hard consonant. Moreover, its orthography was standardised later than that of Russian (reaching its present form at the beginning of the twentieth century), and on the basis of the spoken language rather than historical tradition. Consequently, 〈э〉 and 〈е〉 are written in accordance with pronunciation: 〈э〉 for initial [e] and after hard consonants, and 〈е〉 for initial and post-vocalic [je] and after soft consonants. This also means that 〈э〉 is much more frequent in Belarusian than in Russian.
Related letters and other similar characters
|Unicode name||CYRILLIC CAPITAL LETTER E||CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER E|
|UTF-8||208 173||D0 AD||209 141||D1 8D|
|Numeric character reference||Э||Э||э||э|
|KOI8-R and KOI8-U||252||FC||220||DC|
|Code page 855||248||F8||247||F7|
|Code page 866||157||9D||237||ED|
- Петар Ђорђић, Историја српске ћирилице, Београд, 2-a изд., 1987, p.87
- Cf Банишко евангелие: среднобългарски паметник от XIII век, подгот. за печат с увод и коментар Е. Дограмаджиева и Б. Райков, София, 1981, pp.13, 341
- Published in the vol. 17 of the Complete Collection of Russian Chronicles.
- "Западнорусский устав знает э, напр. в Сб. XV в. Публ. б. № 391 (экъсеквїє и др.), летописях XV—XVI вв., Позн. Сб. XVI в., Статуте 1588... Трудно сказать, развилось ли оно здесь самостоятельно или же зашло из югославянских рукописей, где э встречается уже в XIII—XIV вв." (Е. Ф. Карский, Белорусы: Язык белорусского народа, вып. 1, М., 1955, р. 69). See also pp. 165-166 for more details and examples.
- Россійская Грамматика Михайла Ломоносова, печатана в Санктпетербургѣ, при Императорской Академїи Наук, 1755 года, p.43
- [М. Т.] Каченовский, “Исторический взгляд на Грамматику Славянских наречий”, Труды О-ва любителей Российской словесности при имп. Московском университете, ч.IX (1817), pp.17-46. He is referring specifically to the spelling Этѷмоло́ґїѧ in the 1648 grammar mentioned above: “Каким образом появляется здесь обратное Э, которое в азбуке Мелетием обойдено? Разве нужно, при мягком Ѣ, при твердом Е, еще одно твердое Э?” so how far his remarks extend to the Russian of his own day is debatable. The reference to “a soft ѣ and a hard е” is to be understood as referring to the pronunciation of Church Slavonic current in his day (and still maintained by the Old Believers), which may have still been regarded as the literary ideal: see Б. А. Успенский, Архаическая система церковнославянского произношения, Москва, 1968, especially pp.29-35.
- Я. К. Грот, Русское правописание, 19-ое изд., Санктпетербург, 1910, p.78