The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Russian alphabet

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

This article treats the application of the Cyrillic to the Russian language exclusively.


The alphabet

The Russian alphabet is as follows:

Capital Small Name Old name1 IPA English example Numerical value19
А а а
/a/ a in car 1
Б б бэ
/b/ or /bʲ/ b in bit -
В в вэ
/v/ or /vʲ/ v in vine 2
Г г гэ
/g/ or /gʲ/ g in go 3
Д д дэ
/d/ or /dʲ/ d in do 4
Е е4 е
/jɛ/ or / ʲe/ ye in yet 5
Ё ё4,7 ё
- /jo/ or / ʲo/ yo in yolk -
Ж ж жэ
/ʒ/ or /ʓ/ s in pleasure -
З з зэ
/z/ or /zʲ/ z in zoo 7
И и4 и
/i/ ee in see 8
Й й и краткое
/i: 'kʀa.tkəjə/
и съ краткой
/i: s 'kʀa.tkəj/
/j/ y in boy -
К к ка
/k/ or /kʲ/ k in kitten 20
Л л эль
/l/ or /lʲ/ l in lamp 30
М м эм
/m/ or /mʲ/ m in map 40
Н н эн
/n/ or /nʲ/ n in not 50
О о o
/o/ o in folk 70
П п пэ
/p/ or /pʲ/ p in pet 80
Р р эр
/ʀ/ or /ʀʲ/ r in roll 100
С с эс
/s/ or /sʲ/ s in see 200
Т т тэ
/t/ or /tʲ/ t in tip 300
У у у
/u/ oo in boot 400
Ф ф эф
/f/ or /fʲ/ f in face 500
Х х ха
/ɤ/ or // h in house 600
Ц ц це
/ʦ/ ts in sits 900
Ч ч че
/tʆ/ ch in chip 90
Ш ш ша
/ʃ/ sh in shut -
Щ щ ща
/ʆ/ sh in sheep -
Ъ ъ твёрдый знак
/'tvʲо.ʀdəj 'znak/
/jeʀ/; Yer
Note2 - -
Ы ы ы
/ɨ/5 i in ill -
Ь ь мягкий знак
/'mʲa&.kʲɪj 'zna/
/ ʲ/3 - -
Э э6 э оборотное
/'ɛ: ə.bʌ.'ʀo.tnəjə/
- /ɛ/ e in met -
Ю ю ю4
/ju/ or / ʲu/ u in use -
Я я4,16,17 я
/ja/ or / ʲa/ ya in yard -
Letters eliminated in 1918:
І і8 - і
/i/ or / ʲi/ Like и 10
Ѳ ѳ9 - ѳита
/f/ or /fʲ/ Like ф 9
Ѣ ѣ10 - ять
/jatʲ/; Yat
/jɛ/ or / ʲe/ Like е -
Ѵ ѵ11 - ижица
/i/ or / ʲi/ Like и -
Letters in disuse by the 18th century:18
Ѕ ѕ14 - зѣло
/dz/, /z/ or /zʲ/ Like з 6
Ѯ ѯ12 - кси
/ks/ or /kʲsʲ/ Like кс 60
Ѱ ѱ12 - пси
/ps/ or /pʲsʲ/ Like пс 700
Ѡ ѡ13 - омега
/o/ Like о 800
Ѫ ѫ - юсъ большой
/'jus bʌlʲ.'ʃoj/, Yus
/u/,/ju/ or / ʲu/15 Like у or ю -
Ѧ15 ѧ15 - юсъ малый
/'jus 'ma.lɪj/
/ja/ or / ʲa/16 Like я -
Ѭ ѭ - юсъ большой іотированный
/'jus bʌlʲ.'ʃoj jʌ.'tʲi.ʀə.vən.nɪj/
/ju/ or / ʲu/15 Like ю -
Ѩ ѩ - юсъ малый іотированный
/'jus 'ma.lɪj/ jʌ.'tʲi.ʀə.vən.nɪj/
/ja/ or / ʲa/15 Like я -

The consonant letters are given both their hard and soft (palatalised) enunciations; the iotated or softening vowel letters are given both enunciations, with the palatalisation symbol / ʲ/ applied to the previous consonant (if any), and always as though under stress. The transcriptions of the names of the letters attempt to reflect the reduction of non-stressed vowels. See Russian phonetics for details.

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.

Since most of the old names are obviously native words, it has been argued that reading the list in the traditional order produces a kind of paean to the art of language, or a moral instruction:
аз буки веди I know letters.
глаголь добро есть To speak is a beneficence
живете зело земля Live truly (on this) earth
иже и како люди мыслете which, whereof you think as human beings,
наш он покой (is for) that tranquility of ours [our]
рцы слово твердо say the word firmly
ук ферт хер цы [from this point onwards...]
червь ша ер ять юс [...the meaning is very obscure]

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, usually latinized [ŭ] but likely pronounced /ə/ or /ʌ/.

3. The soft sign ь indicates that the preceding consonant is palatized. Its original pronunciation, lost by 1400 at the latest, was that of a very short frontal or possibly iotated schwa-like sound, usually latinized [ĭ] but likely pronounced /ɪ/ or /jɪ/.

The vowels

4. The vowels е, ё, и, ю, я indicate a preceding palatal consonant. The four letters е, ё, ю, я are iotated (with an preceding [j]) when written at the beginning of a word or syllable (initial и was iotated until the nineteenth century).

5. The 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 /'ka.mɪ̃/камень /'ka.mʲɪnʲ/ "rock". Its written form developed as follows: ъ + і > ъı > ы.

6. The э was introduced in 1708 to distinguish the non-iotated/non-palatalizing /ɛ/ from the iotated/palatalizing е. 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.

7. The ё, introduced by Karamzin in 1797, marks a /jo/ sound that has historically developed from /je/ under stress, a process that continues today. The letter ё is optional: it is formally correct consistently 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, and today it is conceded that computer input has further weakened it.

Letters eliminated in 1918

8. The і, identical to pronunciation to и, was used exclusively immediately in front of other vowels (for example, Нью-Іоркъ /nʲju joʀk/ "New York") and in the word міръ /mʲiʀ/ "world" and its derivativers, to distinguish it from the (etymologically equivalent) word миръ /mʲiʀ/ "peace".

9. The ѳ, from the Greek theta, was identical to ф in pronunciation, but was used etymologically.

10. The ѣ or Yat had 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. The ѵ or Izhitsa (originally Greek upsilon) was identical to и in pronunciation, as in Byzantine Greek, but was used etymologically, though by 1918 had become very rare.

Letters in disuse by 1750

12. The ѯ and ѱ and are 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. The 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. The ѕ corresponded to a primitive /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 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.

16. 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.

17. Until 1708, the iotated /ja/ was written ıa at the beginning of a word. This distinction between 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 и, 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 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.

Related articles

External link

Last updated: 05-21-2005 19:20:32