Sunday, September 7, 2014

Q&A: Accents in Russian

Hello, sorry if I'm bothering, but I've been wondering something about Russian accents, and I was hoping you could answer me. In my country, northern accents are viewed as wonderful, and are mostly associated with intelligence and culture, whereas people with a southern accent are often considered to be ignorant, backwards, and stupid. So I was wondering, do any of these stereotypes exist within Russia? Are all accents appreciated? Thanks for your time. Sorry if I wasn't clear!

Thank you for the interesting question! In Russia, pronunciation is more or less standardized, and accents are generally considered to be a sort of deviation from the “normal” pronunciation. The norm is based on the Moscow accent and has two variants - the old norm (old-style norm, almost non-existent now) and the new norm (young norm). There are a few clearly distinctive accents - the so called okanye, when there is no reduction of non-accented ‘o’. This accent was widely spoken in Russia’s European North and today is considered to be rural. I’ve never met anyone who speaks like that. Another clear accent is the so called “south accent” with wider vowels and g like /ɣ/. This accent is associated with Russia’s Southern areas. Mikhail Gorbachev, the first and the last president of the USSR, is known for the Southern accent, for example.

There is the so called “akanie” - the type of accent with wide ‘a’ and many vowels morphed toward [ee]. This type of pronunciation was considered to be normal for people from Moscow. People from Russia’s provinces used to mock Muskovites for that. However, because of migration and many people from other areas moving to Moscow, I haven't heard this accent for quite a while.

There are also a number of stereotypes of how immigrants from various areas speak, but I don't want to translate them here for many reasons.

As I said before, the idea of the norm is (or, at least was, until the very recent times) strong in Russia. The only dialect that is considered to be prestigious is the old-school dialect of Saint Petersburg, which has some subtle pronunciation nuances and some vocabulary different from the Moscow norm.

Photo by Steven Mueller