Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Russian Spelling

“What I hear is what I write” is a very nice and easy to learn spelling principle but unfortunately not so many languages use it. Spelling in the Russian language, as well as in English and German, considers not only sounds, but the underlying structure of the word. This means that morphemes – parts of the word – should be spelled similarly in every word, it doesn’t matter what sounds you hear. In addition to that, the spelling of some words in Russian is based on tradition, so you have to remember them all by heart or have a good dictionary near you.

When exactly do sounds and letters do not correspond each other in Russian? For vowels А [a] and О [o], Е [e] and И [i] this is when a vowel sound is not stressed. Normally, when О is not stressed in the word, it sounds more like [a]. Say, you hear Da svidania, but the spelling of this phrase is “До свидания” (formal way to say goodbye), with O after D. When Е is not stressed, it sounds similar to [I]. For example, the word птенец (baby bird) is pronounced [ptin`ets]; both vowel letters are Е, but the first, not stressed, is pronounced like [I].

In the Russian language, consonant sounds are divided into voiced and voiceless and often form pairs: Б [b] – П[p], В[v]– Ф[f], С[c] – З[z], К[k] – Г[g] and so on. А voiced consonant at the end of the word or before another consonant sounds different. Example: the word глаз, an eye, has a voiced [z] in the end, but it is pronounced [glas], however, the plural for this word is глаза, glaza, the sound [z] is heard here very well.

Russian spelling is a big problem for kids. Actually, we learn spelling rules during the entire time we are in school and not everyone succeeds at that. I would suggest that people who learn Russian as their second (third, etc) language get the idea that the way you hear the word is not the way it is spelled. When you find the spelling of a word amusing, unnatural or funny do a little research and try to find out from which words your word is derived and which words are close relatives to it. At least, you’ll have some fun, and most likely, you’ll find a good explanation of the spelling.

Photo by Jasmic