Saturday, August 27, 2011

Russian Accent

Mr.John Well wrote an interesting observation of Russian pronunciation errors in English. This article is helpful to me, because I am eager to get rid of my Russian accent. However, this post could help English speakers who are learning Russian to figure out what proper Russian pronunciation is, because all Russian pronunciation mistakes in English are nothing but the interference of Russian. Here are my comments:
  • “Occasional slipups in the contrast between iː and ɪ”. In Russian, there are long and short vowels. Since the XIV century or so, Russians have stopped distinguishing short and long vowels, so the habit of pronouncing all vowels equally long is hard to quit, since it counts centuries of language practice.
  • “No distinction between the DRESS and TRAP vowels”. True. I can hear the difference only if I try to hear it. In Russian, both sounds are alike. Actually, Russian simply doesn't have sounds that could fit them completely.
  • “No distinction between the LOT and THOUGHT vowels”. In Russian, there's no sound ʊɔ. This sound is easy to pronounce, but I forget which word has which [ɔ]-like sound. Since my brain is sure that there's no difference between the two, it memorizes words as if they have [ɔː]. By the way, the American accent is easy to recognize by this ʊɔ-sound. When Russians are mocking Americans, they start pronouncing words with ʊɔ, like Vʊɔdka
  • “The GOAT vowel was pronounced by one of our guides (female, perhaps in her late 50s) as ɛu”. Again, in Russian, we do not have diphthongs like these, our vowel sounds are always one pure sound. My teachers taught me to pronounce this sound exactly like this.
  • “Excessive prevocalic vowel reduction, à la russe, e.g. kəmpaˈzɪʃn̩ composition instead of ˌkɒmpəˈzɪʃn̩.”. In fact, this is how non-native speakers should treat any prevocalic vowels in Russian. The rule of vowel reduction is the basic one.
  • “Voicing assimilation, also à la russe, e.g. ˈbɫɛɡ ˈbɔːks black box.” Another very important pronunciation rule: in Russian, always voice the final consonant if the next one is voiced. Unfortunately, I follow this rule automatically when speaking English.
  • “Failure to use compound stress in open compounds, e.g. parking lot with the main stress on lot.” This mistake reveal a deep conceptual difference between Russian and English. For English speaking people, it is OK to say “parking” instead of a parking lot, “contacts” instead of contact lenses and “rentals” instead of rental apartments. In Russian, the first words are adjectives. Sometimes we do use adjectives as nouns (i.e. столовая – dining – is initially an adjective), but not as often as in English. From the Russian point of view, “lot” is more important than parking, this is why lot is stressed.
  • “Failure to deaccent function words, e.g. There is not enough space for all of us instead of There’s not enough space for all of us.” It's an interference of the Russian intonation. In Russian, we would stress “us”. When speaking foreign language, you load your mental CPU with finding the right words instead of pronunciation, so the intonation that is natural comes first.
  • “ in our country repeatedly rather than in Russia” — Yes, we do love words “we”, “us”, “our”. This is how we feel, this is how we used to think about our life in this country. “We” is much bigger than I here.
  • “today in the afternoon”. In Russian, we first state the date (today) and then the time (afternoon).

I enjoyed these accurate and profound observations greatly. I highly recommend it to Russians who learn English and to all the people who learn Russian.