Russian alphabet

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Russian alphabet in capital letters
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The Russian alphabet (Russian: русский алфавит, transliteration: rússkij alfavít) uses letters from the Cyrillic script. The modern Russian alphabet consists of 33 letters.

Alphabet[edit]

The Russian alphabet is as follows:

Letter Handwriting Name Old name IPA Approximate English example Russian example [Pronunciation]
(Meaning)
Unicode (Hex)
Аа 01-Russian alphabet-А а.svg а
[ä]
азъ
[äs]
/ä/ father два [dva]
(two)
1 U+0410 / U+0430
Бб 02-Russian alphabet-Б б.svg бэ
[bɛ]
буки
[ˈbukʲɪ]
/b/ or /bʲ/ bad без [byez]
(without)
U+0411 / U+0431
Вв 03-Russian alphabet-В в.svg вэ
[vɛ]
вѣди
[ˈvʲedʲɪ]
/v/ or /vʲ/ vine вот [vot]
(here)
2 U+0412 / U+0432
Гг 04-Russian alphabet-Г г.svg гэ
[ɡɛ]
глаголь
[ɡlɐˈɡolʲ]
/ɡ/ go год [god]
(year)
3 U+0413 / U+0433
Дд 05-Russian alphabet-Д д.svg дэ
[dɛ]
добро
[dɐˈbro]
/d/ or /dʲ/ do да [da]
(yes)
4 U+0414 / U+0434
Ее 06-Russian alphabet-Е е.svg е
[je]
есть
[jesʲtʲ]
/je/, / ʲe/ or /e/ yes не [nye]
(not)
5 U+0415 / U+0435
Ёё 07-Russian alphabet-Ё ё.svg ё
[jo]
/jo/ or / ʲɵ/ yo-yo своё [svoyo]
(one's own, my, our)
U+0401 / U+0451
Жж 08-Russian alphabet-Ж ж.svg жэ
[ʐɛ]
живѣте
[ʐɨˈvʲetʲɪ][a]
/ʐ/ pleasure жук [zhuuk]
(bug)
U+0416 / U+0436
Зз 09-Russian alphabet-З з.svg зэ
[zɛ]
земля
[zʲɪˈmlʲæ]
/z/ or /zʲ/ zoo за [za]
(behind)
7 U+0417 / U+0437
Ии 10-Russian alphabet-И и.svg и
[i]
иже
[ˈiʐɨ]
/i/ or / ʲi/ me или [ili]
(or)
8 U+0418 / U+0438
Йй 11-Russian alphabet-Й й.svg и краткое
[i ˈkrätkəɪ]
и съ краткой
[ɪ s ˈkrätkəj]
/j/ toy мой [moy]
(my)
U+0419 / U+0439
Кк 12-Russian alphabet-К к.svg ка
[kä]
како
[ˈkäkə]
/k/ or /kʲ/ kiss кто [kto]
(who)
20 U+041A / U+043A
Лл 13-Russian alphabet-Л л.svg эл or эль
[ɛl] or [ɛlʲ]
люди
[ˈlʲʉdʲɪ]
/l/ or /lʲ/ lamp ли [li]
(whether)
30 U+041B / U+043B
Мм 14-Russian alphabet-М м.svg эм
[ɛm]
мыслѣте
[mɨˈsʲlʲetʲɪ][2]
/m/ or /mʲ/ map чем [chem]
(than)
40 U+041C / U+043C
Нн 15-Russian alphabet-Н н.svg эн
[ɛn]
нашъ
[näʂ]
/n/ or /ɲ/ not но [no]
(but)
50 U+041D / U+043D
Оо 16-Russian alphabet-О о.svg о
[о]
онъ
[on]
/o/ more он [on]
(he)
70 U+041E / U+043E
Пп 17-Russian alphabet-П п.svg пэ
[pɛ]
покой
[pɐˈkoj]
/p/ or /pʲ/ pet под [pod]
(under)
80 U+041F / U+043F
Рр 18-Russian alphabet-Р р.svg эр
[ɛr]
рцы
[rtsɨ]
/r/ or /rʲ/ rolled r при [pri]
(attached to)
100 U+0420 / U+0440
Сс 19-Russian alphabet-С с.svg эс
[ɛs]
слово
[ˈslovə]
/s/ or /sʲ/ see если [yesli]
(if)
200 U+0421 / U+0441
Тт 20-Russian alphabet-Т т.svg тэ
[tɛ]
твердо
[ˈtvʲerdə]
/t/ or /tʲ/ tool тот [tot]
(that)
300 U+0422 / U+0442
Уу 21-Russian alphabet-У у.svg у
[u]
укъ
[uk]
/u/ boot уже [uzhye]
(already)
400 U+0423 / U+0443
Фф 22-Russian alphabet-Ф ф.svg эф
[ɛf]
фертъ
[fʲert]
/f/ or /fʲ/ face форма [forma]
(form)
500 U+0424 / U+0444
Хх 23-Russian alphabet-Х х.svg ха
[xä]
хѣръ
[xʲer]
/x/ Scots loch хорошо [horosho]
(well)
600 U+0425 / U+0445
Цц 24-Russian alphabet-Ц ц.svg це
[tsɛ]
цы
[t͡sɨ]
/t͡s/ sits конец [konyets]
(end)
900 U+0426 / U+0446
Чч 25-Russian alphabet-Ч ч.svg че
[tɕe]
червь
[t͡ɕerfʲ]
/t͡ɕ/ chip четыре [chtirye]
(four)
90 U+0427 / U+0447
Шш 26-Russian alphabet-Ш ш.svg ша
[ʂä]
ша
[ʂä]
/ʂ/ Close to sharp, like the German stehen (voiceless retroflex fricative) ваш [vash]
(yours)
U+0428 / U+0448
Щщ 27-Russian alphabet-Щ щ.svg ща
[ɕɕæ]
ща
[ɕt͡ɕæ]
/ɕɕ/ sheer (sometimes instead pronounced
as in fresh-cheese) (a voiceless alveolo-palatal fricative)
ещё [yeshchyo]
(yet, still)
U+0429 / U+0449
Ъъ 28-Russian alphabet-ъ.svg твёрдый знак
[ˈtvʲɵrdɨj znäk]
еръ
[jer]
silent, prevents palatalization of the preceding consonant объект [ob.yekt]
(object)
U+042A / U+044A
Ыы 29-Russian alphabet-ы.svg ы
[ɨ]
еры
[jɪˈrɨ]
[ɨ] roses or silly (close central unrounded vowel) ты [tɨ]
(you)
U+042B / U+044B
Ьь 30-Russian alphabet-ь.svg мягкий знак
[ˈmʲæxʲkʲɪj znäk]
ерь
[jerʲ]
/ ʲ/ silent, slightly palatalizes the preceding consonant (if it is phonologically possible) весь [vye(sh)]
(all)
U+042C / U+044C
Ээ 31-Russian alphabet-Э э.svg э
[ɛ]
э оборотное
[ˈɛ əbɐˈrotnəɪ]
/ɛ/ met это [eto]
(this, that)
U+042D / U+044D
Юю 32-Russian alphabet-Ю ю.svg ю
[ju]
ю
[ju]
/ju/ or / ʲʉ/ use юг [yug]
(south)
U+042E / U+044E
Яя 33-Russian alphabet-Я я.svg я
[ja]
я
[ja]
/ja/ or / ʲæ/ yard себя [syebya]
(myself)
U+042F / U+044F
letters eliminated in 1917–18
Іі і десятеричное
[i]
/i/ or / ʲi/ or /j/ Like и or й стихотворенія (now стихотворения) [stihotvoryeniya]
(poem)
10
Ѳѳ ѳита
[fʲɪˈta]
/f/ or /fʲ/ Like ф орѳографія (now орфография) [orfografiya]
(spelling)
9
Ѣѣ ять
[jætʲ]
/e/ or / ʲe/ Like е Алексѣй (now Алексeй) [alyeksyey]
(Alexey)
Ѵѵ ижица
[ˈiʐɨtsə]
/i/ or / ʲi/ Usually like и, see below мѵро (now миро) [miro]
(chrism)
letters eliminated before 1750
Ѕѕ зѣло
[zʲɪˈlo][3]
/z/ or /zʲ/ Like з n/a 6
Ѯѯ кси
[ksʲi]
/ks/ or /ksʲ/ Like кс n/a 60
Ѱѱ пси
[psʲi]
/ps/ or /psʲ/ Like пс n/a 700
Ѡѡ омега
[ɐˈmʲeɡə]
/o/ Like о n/a 800
Ѫѫ юсъ большой
[jus bɐlʲˈʂoj]
/u/, /ju/ or / ʲu/ Like у or ю n/a
Ѧѧ юсъ малый
[jus ˈmɑlɨj]
/ja/ or / ʲa/ Like я n/a
Ѭѭ юсъ большой іотированный
[jus bɐlʲˈʂoj jɪˈtʲirəvənnɨj]
/ju/ or / ʲu/ Like ю n/a
Ѩѩ юсъ малый іотированный
[jus ˈmɑlɨj jɪˈtʲirəvən.nɨj]
/ja/ or / ʲa/ Like я n/a

The consonant letters represent both as "soft" (palatalized, represented in the IPA with a ʲ) and "hard" consonant phonemes. If a consonant letter is followed by a vowel letter, then the soft/hard quality of the consonant depends on whether the vowel is meant to follow "hard" consonants а, о, э, у, ы or "soft" ones я, ё, е, ю, и; see below. A handful of consonant phonemes do not have phonemically distinct "soft" and "hard" variants. See Russian phonology for details.

^† An alternate form of the letter El closely resembles the Greek letter for lambda (Л л).

Frequency[edit]

The frequency of letters in the Russian Alphabet is as follows:[4]

Letter Frequency Other information
О 11.07% The most common letter in the Russian Alphabet.
E 8.50% Foreign words sometimes use E rather than Э, even if it is pronounced "e" instead of "ye". This makes E even more common. For more information, see Vowels.
A 7.50%
И 7.09%
H 6.70% The most common consonant in the Russian Alphabet.
T 5.97%
C 4.97%
Л 4.96%
B 4.33%
P 4.33%
К 3.30%
M 3.10%
Д 3.09%
П 2.47%
Ы 2.36%
У 2.22%
Б 2.01%
Я 1.96%
Ь 1.84%
Г 1.72%
З 1.48%
Ч 1.40%
Й 1.21% The letter Й was originally used in foreign words only. However, it then started to become more and more common in Russian-origin words, too. In 1930, the letter was thought to be so popular that it became an official letter of the Russian Alphabet.
Ж 1.01%
X 0.95%
Ш 0.72%
Ю 0.47%
Ц 0.39%
Э 0.36% Foreign words sometimes use E rather than Э, even if it is pronounced "e" instead of "ye". This makes Э even less common. For more information, see Vowels.
Щ 0.30%
Ф 0.21% The least common consonant in the Russian Alphabet.
Ё 0.20% In written Russian, Ё is often replaced by E. For more information, see Vowels.
Ъ 0.02% Ъ used to be a very common letter in the Russian Alphabet. This was because before the 1918 reform, no word could end with a consonant - they had to end in either a vowel, Ь or Ъ. However, the reform greatly reduced the use of Ъ, making it the least common letter in the alphabet. For more information, see Non-vocalized letters.

Non-vocalized letters[edit]

  • hard sign (ъ), when put after a consonant, acts like a "silent back vowel" that separates a succeeding iotated vowel from the consonant, making that sound with a distinct /j/ glide. Today it is used mostly to separate a prefix from the following root. Its original pronunciation, lost by 1400 at the latest, was that of a very short middle schwa-like sound, /ŭ/ but likely pronounced [ə] or [ɯ]. Until the 1918 reform, no written word could end in a consonant: those that end in a ("hard") consonant in modern orthography had then a final ъ.
  • soft sign (ь) acts like a "silent front vowel" and indicates that the preceding consonant is palatalized. This is important as palatalization is phonemic in Russian. For example, брат [brat] ('brother') contrasts with брать [bratʲ] ('to take'). The original pronunciation of the soft sign, lost by 1400 at the latest, was that of a very short fronted reduced vowel /ĭ/ but likely pronounced [ɪ] or [jɪ]. There are still some remains of this ancient reading in modern Russian, in the co-existing versions of the same name, read differently, such as in Марья and Мария (Mary).

Vowels[edit]

The vowels е, ё, и, ю, я indicate a preceding palatal consonant and with the exception of и are iotated (pronounced with a preceding /j/) when written at the beginning of a word or following another vowel (initial и was iotated until the nineteenth century). The IPA vowels shown are a guideline only and sometimes are realized as different sounds, particularly when unstressed. However, е may be used in words of foreign origin without palatalization (/e/), and я is often realized as [æ] between soft consonants, such as in мяч ("toy ball").

ы is an old Common Slavonic tense intermediate vowel, thought to have been preserved better in modern Russian than in other Slavic languages. It was originally nasalized in certain positions: камы [ˈka.mɨ̃]; камень [ˈka.mʲɪnʲ] ("rock"). Its written form developed as follows: ъ + іъıы.

э was introduced in 1708 to distinguish the non-iotated/non-palatalizing /e/ from the iotated/palatalizing one. The original usage had been е for the uniotated /e/, ѥ or ѣ for the iotated, but ѥ had dropped out of use by the sixteenth century. In native Russian words, э is found only at the beginnings of words or in compound words (e.g. поэтому "therefore" = по + этому). In words that come from foreign languages in which the use of iotated /e/ in uncommon or non-existing (such as English, for example), there is currently shallow grammatical basis on whether to use э or е, as rules were only established roughly after 1990. During Soviet era the written use of е was predominant for all foreign words, except for those which could create confusion by their pronunciation (ex: поэт (poet) and поет (poyot — "[he/she] sings", today accepted in formal writing as поёт; although this very example is more likely to be vestigial to influence of the French language on Russian Imperial elite during the 19th century). Starting 1990, any one-syllable words with е and words in which е does not occupy the first syllable are predominantly pronounced as /e/: секс (seks — "sex"), проект (proekt — "project"). Cases otherwise will retain /ʲe/ on their first syllable: секта (syekta — "sect"), дебют (dyebut — "debut"). Proper names are usually not concerned by the rule (Сэм — "Sam", Пэмела — "Pamela"), with some exceptions such as Джек ("Jack") or Шепард ("Shepard"), since both э and е are not palatalized in cases of же ("che") or ше ("she"), yet in writing е usually prevails.

ё, introduced by Karamzin in 1797 and made official in 1943 by the Soviet Ministry of Education,[5] marks a /jo/ sound that has historically developed from /je/ under stress, a process that continues today. The letter ё is optional (in writing, not in pronunciation): it is formally correct to write e for both /je/ and /jo/. None of the several attempts in the twentieth century to mandate the use of ё have stuck.

Letters eliminated in 1918[edit]

Grapheme Name Description
і Decimal I identical in pronunciation to и, was used exclusively immediately in front of other vowels and the й ("Short I") (for example, патріархъ [pətrʲɪˈarx], 'patriarch') and in the word міръ [mʲir] ('world') and its derivatives, to distinguish it from the word миръ [mʲir] ('peace') (the two words are actually etymologically cognate[6][7] and not arbitrarily homonyms).[8]
ѳ Fita from the Greek theta, was identical to ф in pronunciation, but was used etymologically (for example, Ѳёдор "Theodore").
ѣ Yat originally had a distinct sound, but by the middle of the eighteenth century had become identical in pronunciation to е in the standard language. Since its elimination in 1918, it has remained a political symbol of the old orthography.
ѵ Izhitsa from the Greek upsilon, usually identical to и in pronunciation, as in Byzantine Greek, was used etymologically for Greek loanwords, like Latin Y (as in synod, myrrh); by 1918, it had become very rare. In spellings of the eighteenth century, it was also used after some vowels that have since been replaced with в. For example, a Greek prefix originally spelled аѵто is now spelled авто.

Letters in disuse by 1750[edit]

ѯ and ѱ derived from Greek letters xi and psi, used etymologically though inconsistently in secular writing until the eighteenth century, and more consistently to the present day in Church Slavonic.

ѡ is the Greek letter omega, identical in pronunciation to о, used in secular writing until the eighteenth century, but to the present day in Church Slavonic, mostly to distinguish inflexional forms otherwise written identically.

ѕ corresponded to a more archaic /dz/ pronunciation, already absent in East Slavic at the start of the historical period, but kept by tradition in certain words until the eighteenth century in secular writing, and in Church Slavonic and Macedonian to the present day.

The yuses ѫ and ѧ, letters that originally used to stand for nasalized vowels /õ/ and /ẽ/, had become, according to linguistic reconstruction, irrelevant for East Slavic phonology already at the beginning of the historical period, but were introduced along with the rest of the Cyrillic script. The letters ѭ and ѩ had largely vanished by the twelfth century. The uniotated ѫ continued to be used, etymologically, until the sixteenth century. Thereafter it was restricted to being a dominical letter in the Paschal tables. The seventeenth-century usage of ѫ and ѧ (see next note) survives in contemporary Church Slavonic, and the sounds (but not the letters) in Polish.

The letter ѧ was adapted to represent the iotated /ja/ я in the middle or end of a word; the modern letter я is an adaptation of its cursive form of the seventeenth century, enshrined by the typographical reform of 1708.

Until 1708, the iotated /ja/ was written ıa at the beginning of a word. This distinction between ѧ and ıa survives in Church Slavonic.

Although it is usually stated that the letters labelled "fallen into disuse by the eighteenth century" in the table above were eliminated in the typographical reform of 1708, reality is somewhat more complex. The letters were indeed originally omitted from the sample alphabet, printed in a western-style serif font, presented in Peter's edict, along with the modern letter й, but were reinstated under pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church in a later variant of the modern typeface. Nonetheless, they fell completely out of use in secular writing by 1750.

Treatment of foreign sounds[edit]

Because Russian borrows terms from other languages, there are various conventions in dealing with sounds not present in Russian. For example, while Russian has no [h], there are a number of common words (particularly proper nouns) borrowed from languages like English and German that contain such a sound in the original language. In well-established terms, such as галлюцинация [ɡəlʲutsɨˈnatsɨjə] ('hallucination'), this is written with г and pronounced with /ɡ/ while newer terms use х, pronounced with /x/, such as хобби [ˈxobʲɪ] ('hobby').[9]

Similarly, words originally with [θ] in their source language are either pronounced with /t(ʲ)/), as in the name Тельма ('Thelma') or, if borrowed early enough, with /f(ʲ)/ or /v(ʲ)/, as in the names Фёдор ('Theodore') and Матве́й ('Matthew').

Numeric values[edit]

The numerical values correspond to the Greek numerals, with ѕ being used for digamma, ч for koppa, and ц for sampi. The system was abandoned for secular purposes in 1708, after a transitional period of a century or so; it continues to be used in Church Slavonic.

Diacritics[edit]

Russian spelling uses fewer diacritics than those used for most European languages. The only diacritic, in the proper sense, is the acute accent ◌́  (Russian: знак ударения 'mark of stress'), which marks stress on a vowel, as it is done in Spanish. Although Russian word stress is often unpredictable and can fall on different syllables in different forms of the same word, this diacritic is only used in special cases: in dictionaries, children's books, or language-learning resources, on minimal pairs distinguished only by stress (for instance, за́мок 'castle' vs. замо́к 'lock'). Rarely, it is used to specify the stress in uncommon foreign words and in poems where unusual stress is used to fit the meter.

The letter ё is a special variant of the letter е, which is not always distinguished in written Russian, but the umlaut-like sign has no other uses. Stress on this letter is never marked, as it is always stressed, except in some loanwords.

Unlike the case of ё, the letter й has completely separated from и. It is neither considered a vowel, nor even a diacriticized letter.

Keyboard layout[edit]

The standard Russian keyboard layout for PC computers is as follows:

Russian keyboard layout

However, there are several choices of so-called "phonetic keyboards" that one may use on a PC that are often used by non-Russians. For example, typing an English (Latin) letter on a keyboard will actually type a Russian letter with a similar sound. See kbd and Russian keyboard layout (Wikipedia).

Letter names[edit]

Until approximately 1900, mnemonic names inherited from Church Slavonic were used for the letters. They are given here in the pre-1918 orthography of the post-1708 civil alphabet.

The great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin wrote: "The letters constituting the Slavonic alphabet do not produce any sense. Аз, буки, веди, глаголь, добро etc. are separate words, chosen just for their initial sound". But since the names of the first letters of the Slavonic alphabet seem to form text, attempts were made to compose sensible text from all letters of the alphabet.

Here is one such attempt to "decode" the message:

аз буки веди I know letters
глаголь добро есть "To speak is a beneficence" or "The word is property"
живете зело, земля, и иже и како люди "Live, while working heartily, people of the Earth, in the manner people should obey"
мыслете наш он покой "try to understand the Universe (the world that is around)"
рцы слово твердо "carry the knowledge ("word" here refers to "knowledge") firmly"
ук ферт хер "The knowledge is fertilized by the Creator, knowledge is the gift of God"
цы червь ша ер ять ю "Try harder, to understand the Light of the Creator"

In this attempt words only in two first lines somewhat correspond to real meanings of the letters' names, while "translations" in other lines seem to be fabrications or fantasies. For example, "покой" ("rest" or "apartment") doesn't mean "the Universe", and "ферт" doesn't have any meaning in Russian or other Slavonic languages (there are no words of Slavonic origin beginning with "f" at all). The last line contains only one translatable word – "червь" ("worm"), which, however, was not included in the "translation".

Another version of "the message", incorporating the letters phased out by mid-1750s, reads:

Verse Transliteration Translation
"А(в)се буквы ведая глаголить – добро есть. Живет зло (на) земле вечно и каждому людину мыслить надо о покаянии, речью (и) словом твердить учение веры Христовой (в) Царствие Божие, чаще шептать, щтоб (все буквы) (вз)ятием этим усвоить и по законам божьим стремиться писать слова и жить" A(v)sye bukvy vyedaya glagolit' – dobro yest'. Zhivyet zlo (na) zyemlye vyechno i kazhdomu lyudinu myslit' nado o pokayaniyi, ryech'yu (i) slovom tverdit' uchyeniye vyery Khristovoy (v) Tsarstviye Bozhiye, chashchye sheptat', shchtob (vsye bukvy) (vz)yatiyem etim usvoyit' i po zakonam bozh'im stremit'sya pisat' slova i zhit') "Knowing all these letters renders speech a virtue. Evil lives on Earth eternally, and each person must think of repentance, with speech and word making firm in their mind the faith in Christ and the Kingdom of God. Whisper [the letters] frequently to make them yours by this repetition in order to write and live according to laws of God".

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Ushakov, Dmitry, "живете", Толковый словарь русского языка Ушакова [Explanatory Dictionary of the Russian Language] (article) (in Russian), RU: Yandex ; the dictionary makes difference between е and ё.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ushakov, Dmitry, "ёлка", Толковый словарь русского языка Ушакова (in Russian), RU: Yandex .
  2. ^ Ushakov, Dmitry, "мыслете", Толковый словарь русского языка Ушакова [Explanatory Dictionary of the Russian Language] (article) (in Russian), RU: Yandex .
  3. ^ ФЭБ, RU: Feb web .
  4. ^ Stefan Trost's article on the Russian Character Frequency
  5. ^ Benson 1960, p. 271.
  6. ^ Vasmer 1979.
  7. ^ Vasmer, "мир", Dictionary (etymology) (in Russian) (online ed.), retrieved 16 October 2005 .
  8. ^ Smirnovskiy 1915, p. 4.
  9. ^ Dunn & Khairov 2009, pp. 17–8.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Ivan G. Iliev. Short History of the Cyrillic Alphabet. Plovdiv. 2012. Short History of the Cyrillic Alphabet
  • Benson, Morton (1960), "Review of The Russian Alphabet by Thomas F. Magner", The Slavic and East European Journal 4 (3): 271–72 
  • Dunn, John; Khairov, Shamil (2009), Modern Russian Grammar, Modern Grammars, Routledge 
  • Halle, Morris (1959), Sound Pattern of Russian, MIT Press 
  • Smirnovskiy, P (1915), A Textbook in Russian Grammar, Part I. Etymology (26th ed.), CA: Shaw 
  • Vasmer, Max (1979), Russian Etymological Dictionary, Winter 

External links[edit]