Russian alphabet

Russian alphabet

The modern Russian alphabet is a variant of the Cyrillic alphabet. It was introduced into Kievan Rus' at the time of Vladimir the Great's conversion to Christianity (988), or, if certain archeological finds are correctly dated, at a slightly earlier date.

The alphabet as shown here is the printed form. Handwritten Russian letters can look significantly different.

The alphabet

The Russian alphabet is as follows: Listen|filename=russian_alphabet.ogg|title=Russian alphabet.|description=(Listen to Russian alphabet)|format=Ogg

Letter Ж, ж (zh) has more variants of writing than any other Russian letter.

The consonant letters represent both “hard” and “soft” (palatalised, represented in the IPA with a <IPA| ʲ >) phonemes, depending (with some exceptions) on whether the iotated or softening vowel letters follow. The transcriptions of the names of the letters attempt to reflect the reduction of non-stressed vowels. See Russian phonology for details.

Letter Л, л in modern Russian is commonly called "эл" [el] , "эль" [elʲ] is also used but is considered a little obsolete.

The names of the letters

1. 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:

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:

"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"

"'Transcribed into English language Roman letters is:

"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"'

Which can be translated as:

"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."

The non-vocalized letters

2. The hard sign <ъ> is used to separate prefixes from a succeeding iotated vowel. Its original pronunciation, lost by 1400 at the latest, was that of a very short middle schwa-like sound, IPA|/ŭ/ but likely pronounced|ə or IPA| [ɯ]

3. The soft sign <ь> indicates that the preceding consonant is palatalized. This is important as palatalization is phonemic in Russian. For example, брат IPA| [brat] ('brother') contrasts with брать IPA| [bratʲ] ('to take')ref_label|learn-alphabet|Ref. 3|none.

The original pronunciation of the soft sign, lost by 1400 at the latest, was that of a very short fronted reduced vowel IPA|/ĭ/ but likely pronounced|ɪ or IPA| [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).

The vowels

4. The vowels <е, ё, и, ю, я> indicate a preceding palatal consonant and with the exception of <и> are iotated (pronounced with a preceding IPA|/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> is used in words of foreign origin without palatalization and indicate IPA|/e/. Which words this applies to must be learned (generally to avoid using <э> after a consonant), and <я> is often realized as IPA| [æ] between soft consonants, such as in мяч, ('toy ball').

5. <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: OR камы IPA| [ˈka.mɨ̃] R камень IPA| [ˈka.mʲɪnʲ] ('rock'). Its written form developed as follows: ъ + і > ъı > ы.

6. <э> was introduced in 1708 to distinguish the non-iotated/non-palatalizing IPA|/e/ from the iotated/palatalizing one. The original usage had been <е> for the uniotated IPA|/e/, <Unicode |ѥ> or <Unicode |ѣ> for the iotated, but <Unicode |ѥ> had dropped out of use by the sixteenth century. In native Russian words, <э> is found only at the beginnings of words, but otherwise it may be found elsewhere, such as when spelling out English or other foreign names, or in words of foreign origin such as the brand-name Aeroflot (Аэрофлοτ).

7. <ё>, introduced by Karamzin in 1797, marks a IPA|/jo/ sound that has historically developed from IPA|/je/ under stress, a process that continues today. The letter <ё> is "optional" (in writing, not in pronunciation): it is formally correct to write for both IPA|/je/ and IPA|/jo/. None of the several attempts in the twentieth century to mandate the use of <ё> have stuck.

Letters eliminated in 1918

8. <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 IPA| [pətrʲɪˈarx] , 'patriarch') and in the word міръ IPA| [mʲir] ('world') and its derivatives, to distinguish it from the word миръ IPA| [mʲir] ('peace') (the two words are actually etymologically cognateref_label|мир-etymology|Ref. 2|none and not arbitrarily homonyms).ref_label|orthography-textbook|Ref. 1|none

9. <Unicode |ѳ> ("Fita"), from the Greek theta, was identical to <ф> in pronunciation, but was used etymologically (for example, Ѳёдор "Theodore").

10. <Unicode |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.

11. <Unicode |ѵ> ("Izhitsa"), from the Greek upsilon, was identical to <и> in pronunciation, as in Byzantine Greek, but was used etymologically; though by 1918 it had become very rare.

Letters in disuse by 1750

12. <Unicode |ѯ> and <Unicode |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.

13. <Unicode |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.

14. <Unicode |ѕ> corresponded to a more archaic IPA|/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 to the present day.

15. The yuses 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 alphabet. The letters <Unicode |ѭ> and <Unicode |ѩ> had largely vanished by the twelfth century. The uniotated <Unicode |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 <Unicode |ѫ> and <Unicode |ѧ> (see next note) survives in contemporary Church Slavonic.

16. The letter <Unicode |ѧ> was adapted to represent the iotated IPA|/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.

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

18. 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.

Numeric values

19. The numerical values correspond to the Greek numerals, with <Unicode|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.

Keyboard layout

Russian keyboard layout for Microsoft Windows computers:


See also

* Russian language
* Romanization of Russian
* Computer russification
* Russian phonology
* Cyrillic alphabet
* Reforms of Russian orthography
* Russian cursive (handwritten letters)
* Russian orthography
* Church Slavonic



#note_label|orthography-textbook|Ref. 1|none ru_icon P. Smirnovskiy. "A Textbook in Russian Grammar. Part I. Etymology" 26th edition, ca. 1915. (In Russian. П. Смирновскій. [ "Учебникъ русской грамматики. Часть І. Этимологія" 26 изд. (A Djvu file.)] &mdash; Rule 4 for writing і on p. 4.
#note_label|мир-etymology|Ref. 2|none ru_icon Max Vasmer's "Russian Etymological Dictionary" &mdash; the etymology of the Russian word мир ("world", "peace"), found in [ the query result for мир] at an online version of the Russian translation of the dictionary (retr. 16 October 2005).
#note_label|learn-alphabet|Ref. 3|none [ Learn the Russian alphabet]

External links

* [ Generator for Russian typographical filler text]
* [ How to install a phonetic Russian keyboard for a QWERTY Keyboard]
* [ Google Knol: How to Read the Russian Alphabet in 75 Minutes]

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