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Semiformal dress 2018

Date: 19.10.2018, 05:48 / View: 41395

Note: in the following sections, all examples of vocabulary appear in their modern spelling.


External history[]

Historical development[]

is a of the. All Indo-European languages are descendants of a single prehistoric language, reconstructed as, spoken sometime in the era. Although no written records remain, much of the and of the can also be reconstructed based on their daughter cultures traditionally and continuing to semiformal inhabit most of Europe and South Asia, areas to where the Proto-Indo-Europeans from their.

Kievan period and feudal breakup[]

Up to the 14th century, ancestors of the modern Russians (who likewise called themselves ruskiye[]) spoke dialects of the, related to the dialects of other. This spoken tongue and the literary operated throughout. The earliest written record of the language, an amphora found at, may date from the mid-10th century. (Until the 15th century, Gnezdovo was a part of the independent.)

For the debate concerning derivation of the words Rus and Russia, see and. For the general history of the language and Old East Slavic literature, see.

During the pre-Kievan period, the main sources of borrowings were, particularly and. In the Kievan period, however, and entered the vernacular primarily from and from :

краткий [ˈkratkʲɪj] ОCS = ESl короткий 'brief' короткий [kɐˈrotkʲɪj] ESl = CS краткий 'short' библиотека [bɪblʲɪˈotʲɪkə] Gr bibliothḗkē via OCS 'library' (archaic form) правописание [ˌpravəpʲɪˈsanʲɪje] Gr orthographíā via OCS calque:
OCS правый [ˈpravɨj]=orthós 'correct',
OCS писати [pʲɪˈsatʲɪ] =gráphō 'write' 'spelling, orthography'

After the in the 13th century the vernacular language of the conquered peoples remained firmly Slavic. borrowings in Russian relate mostly to and the :

товар [tɐˈvar] 'commercial goods' лошадь [ˈloʂətʲ] Turkic 'horse'

In Russia,  – which evolved from  – remained the literary language until the age (1682–1725), when its usage shrank drastically to biblical and liturgical texts. Legal acts and private letters had been, however, already written in pre-Petrine Muscovy in a less formal language, more closely reflecting spoken Russian. The first grammar of the Russian language was written by Vasily Adodurov in the 1740s,[] and a more influential one by in 1755.[]

The Moscow period (15th–17th centuries)[]

After the disestablishment of the "" (монголо-татарское иго, ) in the late 14th century, both the political centre and the predominant dialect in European came to be based in Moscow. A scientific consensus exists that Russian and (the predecessor of Belarusian and Ukrainian) had definitely become distinct by this time at the latest (according to some linguists and historians,[] even earlier). The official language in Russia remained a kind of Church Slavonic until the close of the 18th century, but, despite attempts at standardization, as by c. 1620, its purity was by then strongly compromised by an incipient. Vocabulary was borrowed from, and, through it, from German and other Western European languages. At the same time, a number of words of native (according to a general consensus among etymologists of Russian) coinage or adaptation appeared, at times replacing or supplementing the inherited / vocabulary.

глаз [ɡlas] R; relegates (to poetic use only) ComSl око [ˈokə] = Lat oculus = E eye 'eye' куртка [ˈkurtkə] P kurtka, from Lat curtus 'a short jacket' бархат [ˈbarxət] G Barhat 'velvet'

Much annalistic,, and poetic material survives from the early Muscovite period. Nonetheless, a significant amount of philosophic and secular literature is known to have been destroyed after being proclaimed.[]

The material following the election of the dynasty in 1613 following the is rather more complete. Modern Russian literature is considered to have begun in the 17th century, with the autobiography of and a corpus of chronique scandaleuse short stories from Moscow.

Empire (18th–19th centuries)[]

The first book printed in the "civil" script, 1708

The political reforms of were accompanied by a reform of the alphabet, and achieved their goal of secularization and. Blocks of specialized vocabulary were adopted from the languages of. Most of the modern naval vocabulary, for example, is of Dutch origin., French, and German words entered Russian for the intellectual categories of the. Greek words already in the language through Church Slavonic were refashioned to reflect post- European rather than Byzantine pronunciation. By 1800, a significant portion of the gentry spoke French, less often German, on an everyday basis.

мачта [ˈmatɕtə] D mast 'mast' интерес [ɪnʲtʲɪˈrʲɛs] G Interesse/Fr intérêt 'interest' библиотека [bʲɪblʲɪɐˈtʲɛkə] Gr bibliothḗkē via Fr. bibliothèque 'library' (modern form)

At the same time, there began explicit attempts to fashion a modern literary language as a compromise between Church Slavonic, the native vernacular, and the style of Western Europe. The writers,, and made notable efforts in this respect, but, as per the received notion, the final synthesis belongs to and his contemporaries in the first third of the 19th century.

During the 19th century, the standard language assumed its modern form; literature flourished. Spurred perhaps by the so-called, some terms from other languages fashionable during the 18th century now passed out of use (for example, виктория [vʲɪˈktorʲɪjə] > победа [pɐˈbʲɛdə], 'victory'), and formerly vernacular or dialectal strata entered the literature as the "speech of the people". Borrowings of political, scientific and technical terminology continued. By about 1900, and ensured the first wave of mass adoptions from German, French and English.

социализм [sətsɨɐˈlʲizm] Intl/G Sozialismus 'socialism' конституция [kənʲsʲtʲɪˈtutsɨjə] Intl/Lat constitutio 'constitution' антимония [ɐnʲtʲɪˈmonʲɪjə] Gr antinomíā,
metathesis 'useless debate, argument or quarrel' (dead bookish term) митинг [ˈmʲitʲɪŋk] Eng meeting 'political rally' прейскурант [prʲɪjskuˈrant] (the original unpalatalized
pronunciation of [prɨ-] is still heard) G Preiskurant/
Fr prix-courant 'price list'

Soviet period and beyond (20th century)[]

The political upheavals of the early 20th century and the wholesale changes of political ideology gave written Russian its modern appearance after the. Reformed spelling, the new political terminology, and the abandonment of the effusive formulae of politeness characteristic of the pre-Revolutionary upper classes prompted dire statements from members of the émigré intelligentsia that Russian was becoming debased. But the authoritarian nature of the regime, the system of schooling it provided from the 1930s, and not least the often unexpressed yearning among the literati for the former days ensured a fairly static maintenance of Russian into the 1980s. Though the language did evolve, it changed very gradually. Indeed, while literacy became nearly universal, dialectal differentiation declined, especially in the vocabulary: schooling and mass communications ensured a common denominator.

The 1964 proposed reform was related to the. In that year the Orthographic commission of the Institute of the Russian language (), headed by, apart from the withdrawal of some spelling exceptions, suggested:

  • retaining one partitive
  • always writing "" after ""
  • writing "" instead of "" after "", "", "", "", "tse" if or "" if not
  • not writing the soft sign after "zhe", "sha", "che", "shcha"
  • canceling the interchange in -zar/-zor, -rast/-rost, -gar/-gor, -plav/-plov etc.; canceling the in
  • writing only -yensk(iy) instead of two -insk(iy) and -yensk(iy), write only -yets instead of -yets or -its
  • simplifying the spelling of "" (en-en) in : write double "en" in prefixal participles and ordinary "en" in non-prefixal
  • always writing with the "pol-" (half-) combinations with subsequent of or
  • writing the nouns beginning with vice-, Unter-, ex- together
  • writing all separately
  • allowing the optional spelling of noun

The reform, however, failed to take root.

Political circumstances and the undoubted accomplishments of the superpower in military, scientific, and technological matters (especially cosmonautics), gave Russian a worldwide if occasionally grudging prestige, most strongly felt during the middle third of the 20th century.

большевик [bəlʲʂɨˈvʲik] R 'Bolshevik' (lit. 'person belonging to the majority') Комсомол [kəmsɐˈmol] :
Коммунистический Союз Молодёжи
[kəmʊnʲɪˈsʲtʲitɕɪskʲɪj sɐˈjuz məlɐˈdʲɵʐɨ] 'Communist Youth League' рабфак [rɐpˈfak] acronym:
рабочий факультет
[rɐˈbotɕɪj fəkʊlʲˈtʲɛt] lit. 'faculty for workers' (special preparatory courses of colleges and universities for workers)

The political collapse of 1990–1991 loosened the shackles. In the face of economic uncertainties and difficulties within the educational system, the language changed rapidly. There was a wave of adoptions, mostly from English, and sometimes for words with exact native equivalents.

дистрибьютор [dʲɪstrʲɪˈbʲjutər] E 'distributor' (in marketing)

At the same time, the growing public presence of the and public debate about the history of the nation gave new impetus to the most archaic Church Slavonic stratum of the language, and introduced or re-introduced words and concepts that replicate the linguistic models of the earliest period.

младостарчество [mlədɐˈstartɕɪstvə] R/CS, compound:
CS младый [ˈmladɨj] =
R молодой [məlɐˈdoj] 'young',
R/CS старец [ˈstarʲɪts] = 'old man with spiritual wisdom' term applied (in condemnation) by the to the phenomenon of immature newly ordained priests assuming an unwarranted excessive control over the private life of the members of the congregation.

Russian today is a tongue in great flux. The new words entering the language and the emerging new styles of expression have, naturally, not been received with universal appreciation.


The following excerpts illustrate (very briefly) the development of the literary language.

Spelling has been partly modernized. The translations are as literal as possible, rather than literary.


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c. 1110, from the Laurentian Codex, 1377

Се повѣсти времѧньных лѣт ‧ ѿкꙋдꙋ єсть пошла рускаꙗ земѧ ‧ кто въ києвѣ нача первѣє кнѧжит ‧ и ѿкꙋдꙋ рꙋскаꙗ землѧ стала єсть. 'These [are] the tales of the bygone years, whence is come the Russian land, who first began to rule at Kiev, and whence the Russian land has come about.'

, the common ancestor of Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian. Fall of the in progress or arguably complete (several words end with a consonant; кнѧжит 'to rule' < кънѧжити, modern княжить). South-western (incipient ) features include времѧньнъıх 'bygone'; modern R временных). Correct use of and : єсть пошла 'is/has come' (modern R пошла), нача 'began' (modern R начал as a development of the old perfect.) Note the style of punctuation.


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Слово о пълку Игоревѣ. c. 1200(?), from the Catherine manuscript, c. 1790.

Не лѣпо ли ны бяшетъ братіе, начати старыми словесы трудныхъ повѣстій о полку Игоревѣ, Игоря Святъ славича? Начатижеся тъ пѣсни по былинамъ сего времени, а не по замышленію Бояню. Боянъ бо вѣщій, аще кому хотяше пѣснѣ творити, то растекашется мысію по древу, сѣрымъ волкомъ по земли, шизымъ орломъ подъ облакы. 'Would it not be meet, o brothers, for us to begin with the old words the difficult telling of the host of Igor, Igor Sviatoslavich? And to begin in the way of the true tales of this time, and not in the way of Boyan's inventions. For the wise Boyan, if he wished to devote to someone [his] song, would wander like a squirrel over a tree, like a grey wolf over land, like a bluish eagle beneath the clouds.'

Illustrates the sung. Yers generally given full voicing, unlike in the first printed edition of 1800, which was copied from the same destroyed prototype as the Catherine manuscript. Typical use of metaphor and simile. The misquote растекаться мыслью по древу ('to effuse/pour out one's thought upon/over wood'; a product of an old and habitual misreading of the word мысію, 'squirrel-like' as мыслію, 'thought-like', and a change in the meaning of the word течь) has become proverbial in the meaning 'to speak ornately, at length, excessively'.

's autobiography[]

1672–73. Modernized spelling.

Таже послали меня в Сибирь с женою и детьми. И колико дорогою нужды бысть, того всего много говорить, разве малая часть помянуть. Протопопица младенца родила; больную в телеге и повезли до Тобольска; три тысящи верст недель с тринадцеть волокли телегами и водою и саньми половину пути.

And then they sent me to Siberia with my wife and children. Whatever hardship there was on the way, there's too much to say it all, but maybe a small part to be mentioned. The archpriest's wife [= My wife] gave birth to a baby; and we carted her, sick, all the way to Tobolsk; for three thousand versts, around thirteen weeks in all, we dragged [her] by cart, and by water, and in a sleigh half of the way.

Pure 17th-century central Russian vernacular. Phonetic spelling (тово всево 'it all, all of that', modern того всего). A few archaisms still used (aorist in the perfective aspect бысть 'was'). Note the way of transport to exile.


From "Winter Evening" (Зимний вечер), 1825. Modern spelling. About this sound  

Буря мглою небо кроет, Вихри снежные крутя; То, как зверь, она завоет, То заплачет, как дитя, То по кровле обветшалой Вдруг соломой зашумит, То, как путник запоздалый, К нам в окошко застучит. Tempest covers sky in haze[s], Twisting gales full of snow; Like a beast begins to howl, A cry, as if a child, it will let go, On the worn-out roof it will clamour Suddenly upon the thatch, Or as though a traveller tardy Starts to knock upon our hatch. (lit., window)

Modern Russian is sometimes said to begin with Pushkin, in the sense that the old "high style" and vernacular Russian are so closely fused that it is difficult to identify whether any given word or phrase stems from the one or the other.


From (Преступление и наказание), 1866. Modern spelling.

В начале июля, в чрезвычайно жаркое время, под вечер, один молодой человек вышел из своей каморки, которую нанимал от жильцов в С-м переулке, на улицу и медленно, как бы в нерешимости, отправился к К-ну мосту. In early July, during a spell of extraordinary heat, towards evening, a young man went out from his garret, which he sublet in S—— Lane, [entered] the street, and slowly, as though in [the grip of] indecision, began to make his way to K—— Bridge.

19th century prose. No archaisms. "European" syntax.

Fundamental laws of the []

Основные законы Российской Империи (Constitution of the Russian Empire), 1906. Modern spelling.

Императору Всероссийскому принадлежит Верховная Самодержавная Власть. Повиноваться власти Его не только за страх, но и за совесть Сам Бог повелевает. "To the Emperor of all Russia belongs the Supreme Autocratic Power. To obey His power, not merely in fear but also in conscience, God Himself does ordain."

Illustrates the categorical nature of thought and expression in the official circles of the Russian Empire. Exemplifies the distribution of emphasis.


From (Мастер и Маргарита), 1930–40

Вы всегда были горячим проповедником той теории, что по отрезании головы жизнь в человеке прекращается, он превращается в золу и уходит в небытие. Мне приятно сообщить вам, в присутствии моих гостей, хотя они и служат доказательством совсем другой теории, о том, что ваша теория и солидна и остроумна. Впрочем, ведь все теории стоят одна другой. Есть среди них и такая, согласно которой каждому будет дано по его вере. Да сбудется же это!

"You have always been a passionate proponent of the theory that upon decapitation human life comes to an end, the human being transforms into ashes, and passes into oblivion. I am pleased to inform you, in the presence of my guests, though they serve as a proof for another theory altogether, that your theory is both well-grounded and ingenious. Mind you, all theories are worth one another. Among them is one, according to which every one shall receive in line with his faith. May that come to be!"

An example of highly educated modern speech (this excerpt is spoken by ). See for the essential other end of the spectrum.

Internal history[]

The modern system of Russian is inherited from but underwent considerable innovation in the early historical period before it was largely settled by about 1400.

Like other, was a language of open syllables. All syllables ended in vowels and consonant clusters, with far less variety than today, existed only in the. However, by the time of the earliest records, Old Russian already showed characteristic divergences from.

Despite the various sound changes, Russian is in many respects a relatively conservative language, and is important in reconstructing Proto-Slavic:

  • Russian largely preserves the position of the Proto-Slavic accent, including the complex systems of alternating stress in nouns, verbs and short adjectives.
  • Russian consistently preserves /j/ between vowels, unlike all other modern Slavic languages.
  • Russian preserves palatalized consonants better than all other East and West Slavic languages, making it important for the reconstruction of.
  • The Russian development of CerC, CorC, CĭrC, CŭrC and similar sequences is straightforward and in most cases easily reversible to yield the Proto-Slavic equivalent. Similarly the development of the strong yers is straightforward and preserves the front-back distinction. (But note that Russian shows early development of CelC > ColC and CĭlC > CŭlC, obscuring the front-back differences in these sequences.)


Loss of yers[]

Main article:

As with all other Slavic languages, the ultra-short vowels termed were lost or transformed. From the documentary evidence of, this appears to have happened in the 12th century, about 200 years after its occurrence in. The result was straightforward, with reflexes that preserve the front-back distinction between the yers in nearly all circumstances:

  1. Strong ь > /e/, with palatalization of the preceding consonant
  2. Strong ъ > /o/, without palatalization of the preceding consonant
  3. Weak ь is lost, with palatalization of the preceding consonant
  4. Weak ъ is lost, without palatalization of the preceding consonant

See the article on for the hypothesized pronunciation of these sounds and the meaning of the strong vs. weak distinction.


  • объ мьнѣ /obŭ mĭˈně/ > Russian обо мне [əbɐ ˈmnʲe] "about me"
  • Old East Slavic сънъ /ˈsŭnŭ/ > Russian сон About this sound  "sleep (nom. sg.)", cognate with Lat. somnus
  • Old East Slavic съна /sŭˈna/ > Russian сна About this sound  "of sleep (gen. sg.)"

The loss of the yers caused the phonemicization of palatalized consonants and led to geminated consonants and a much greater variety of consonant clusters, with attendant voicing and/or devoicing in the assimilation:

  • Old East Slavic къдѣ /kŭˈdě/ > Russian где About this sound  ('where').

Unlike most other Slavic languages, so-called yer tensing (the special development of ь > i and ъ > y for some yers preceding /j/) did not happen in Russian, nor was /j/ later lost. Yers preceding /j/ developed as elsewhere; when dropped, a sequence Cʲj developed, which is preserved as such only in Russian. (Cʲj > CʲCʲ in Ukrainian and Belarusian; elsewhere, it generally merged with Cʲ or Cj, or the /j/ was dropped early on.) The main exception to the lack of lack of yer tensing is in long adjectives, where nominative -ъjь becomes expected -ой (oj) only when stressed, but yer-tensed -ый (yj) elsewhere, and nominative -ьjь (which is never stressed) always becomes yer-tensed -ий (ij).

Some yers in weak position developed as if strong to avoid overly awkward consonant clusters:

  • Proto-Slavic stьblo "stem, stalk" > стебло́ (stebló) (cf. stblo, stéblo or (dialectal) zblo, śćbło or ściebło, źdźbło, all meaning "stalk, straw")
  • Proto-Slavic pь̀strъjь "variegated" > пёстрый (pjóstryj) (cf. pstry, but pestrý)
  • Proto-Slavic zvьněti "to ring, to clank" > звене́ть (zvenétʹ) (cf. zvnieti, zníti)

As shown, Czech and especially Polish are more tolerant of consonant clusters than Russian; but Russian is still more tolerant than or : Proto-Slavic mьglà "mist, haze" > мгла (mgla) (cf. mgla, mgła, but màgla, Bulgarian мъгла́ (măglá) ).

Loss of nasal vowels[]

The nasal vowels (spelled in the alphabet with ), which had developed from Common Slavic eN and oN before a consonant, were replaced with nonnasalized vowels:

  • Proto-Slavic ǫ > Russian u
  • Proto-Slavic ę > Russian ja (i.e. /a/ with palatalization or softening of the preceding consonant)


  • h₁sónti "they are" > sǫtь > суть (sutʹ) About this sound   (literary in modern Russian; cf. (sǫtĭ),, )
  • Proto-Slavic rǫka "hand" > Russian рука́ (ruká) (cf. Polish, )
  • Proto-Slavic męso "meat" > Russian мя́со (mjáso) (cf. Polish, Old Church Slavonic (męso), mensa, (mims), (māṃsa))
  • PIE pénkʷe "five" >> Proto-Slavic pętь > Russian пять (pjátʹ) (cf. Polish, Old Church Slavonic (pętĭ), Lithuanian, (pénte), Sanskrit (páñcan))

In the case of Proto-Slavic ę > Russian ja, the palatalization of the preceding consonant was due to the general Russian palatalization before all front vowels, which occurred prior to the lowering of ę to /a/. If the preceding consonant was already soft, no additional palatalization occurred, and the result is written ⟨а⟩ rather than ⟨я⟩ when following the palatal consonants ш ж ч щ ц (š ž č šč c):

  • Proto-Slavic načęti "to begin" > Russian нача́ть (načatʹ) (cf. Old Church Slavonic (načęti))
  • Proto-Slavic žę̀tva "harvest" > Russian жа́тва (žátva) (cf. Old Church Slavonic (žętva))

Nearly all occurrences of Russian я (ja) following a consonant other than л (l), н (n) or р (r) are due to nasal vowels or are recent borrowings.

Borrowings in the with interpolated /n/ after Common Slavonic nasal vowels[] have been taken to indicate that the nasal vowels existed in East Slavic until some time possibly just before the historical period.

Loss of prosodic distinctions[]

In earlier Common Slavic, vowel length was allophonic, an automatic concomitant to vowel quality, with e o ь ъ short and all other vowels (including nasal vowels) long. By the end of the Common Slavic period, however, various sound changes (e.g. pre-tonic vowel shortening followed by ) produced contrastive vowel length. This vowel length survives (to varying extents) in Czech, Slovak, Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian and Old Polish, but was lost entirely early in the history of Russian, with almost no remnants. (A possible remnant is a distinction between two o-like vowels, e.g. /o/ and /ɔ/, in some Russian dialects, that may partly reflect earlier length distinctions.)

Proto-Slavic accentual distinctions (circumflex vs. acute vs. neoacute) were also lost early in the history of Russian. It has often been hypothesized that the accentual distinctions were first converted into length distinctions, as in, followed by the loss of distinctive vowel length. Pretty much the only reflex of the accentual type is found in the stress pattern of pleophonic sequences like CereC, CoroC, ColoC (where C = any consonant); see.

Notably, however, the position (as opposed to the type) of the accent was largely preserved in Russian as a (whereas the Proto-Slavic accent was a ). The complex stress patterns of Russian nouns, verbs and short adjectives are a direct inheritance from Late Common Slavic, with relatively few changes.

Pleophony and CVRC sequences[]

or "full-voicing" (, [pəlnɐˈɡlasʲɪje]) is the addition of vowels on either side of /l/ and /r/ in Proto-Slavic sequences like CorC where C = any consonant. The specific sound changes involved are as follows:

  • CerC > CereC
  • CorC > CoroC
  • CelC, ColC > ColoC
  • CьrC > CerC
  • CъrC > CorC
  • CьlC, CъlC > ColC


  • Proto-Slavic bêrgъ "bank (of a river), shore" > Russian бе́рег (béreg); cf. Old Church Slavonic (brěgŭ)
  • Proto-Slavic "beard" > Russian борода́ (borodá); cf. Old Church Slavonic (brada)
  • Proto-Slavic "milk" > Russian молоко́ (molokó); cf. Old Church Slavonic (mlěko)
  • Proto-Slavic kôlsъ "ear (of corn), spike" > Russian ко́лос (kólos); cf. Old Church Slavonic (klasŭ)

Note that Church Slavonic influence has made it less common in Russian than in modern Ukrainian and Belarusian:

  • Ukrainian: Володи́мир /woloˈdɪmɪr/
  • Russian: Влади́мир About this sound  ('Vladimir') (although a familiar form of the name in Russian is still Володя [vɐˈlodʲə]).

When a Proto-Slavic sequence like CerC was accented, the position of the accent in the resulting pleophonic sequence depends on the type of accent (circumflex, acute or neoacute). This is one of the few places in Russian where different types of accents resulted in differing reflexes. In particular, a sequence like CéreC, with the stress on the first syllable, resulted from a Proto-Slavic circumflex accent, while a sequence like CeréC, with the stress on the second syllable, resulted from a Proto-Slavic acute or neoacute accent. Examples:

  • Proto-Slavic gôrdъ "town" (circumflex) > го́род (górod)
  • Proto-Slavic "doorsill" (acute) > поро́г (poróg)
  • Proto-Slavic "king" (neoacute) > коро́ль (korólʹ)

Development of i and y[]

Proto-Slavic i and y contrasted only after and. After only i occurred, and after only y occurred. With the development of phonemic palatalized alveolars and labials in Old East Slavic, i and y no longer contrasted in any environment, and were reinterpreted as of each other, becoming a single phoneme /i/. Note that this reinterpretation entailed no change in the pronunciation and no mergers. Subsequently, (sometime between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries), the allophone of /i/ before velar consonants changed from [ɨ] to [i] with subsequent palatalization of the velars. Hence, for example, Old Russian гыбкыи [gɨpkɨj] became modern гибкий [gʲipkʲij]. Conversely, the soft consonants ž š c were hardened, causing the allophone of /i/ to change from [i] to [ɨ].

The yat vowel[]

Main article:

Proto-Slavic ě (from Balto-Slavic and Proto-Indo-European long ē) developed into Old Russian ѣ, distinct from е (the outcome of Proto-Slavic e from Balto-Slavic and Proto-Indo-European short e). They apparently remained distinct until the 18th century, although the timeline of the merger has been. The sound denoted ⟨ѣ⟩ may have been a higher sound than ⟨е⟩, possibly high-mid /e/ vs. low-mid /ɛ/. They still remain distinct in some Russian dialects, as well as in, where Proto-Slavic e ě i developed into /e i ɪ/ respectively. The letter ѣ remained in use until 1918; its removal caused by far the greatest of all Russian.

The yo vowel[]

Proto-Slavic stressed e developed into /o/, spelled ё, when following a soft consonant and preceding a hard one. The shift happened after ш ж, which were still soft consonants at the time. The preceding consonant remained soft.

  • OR о чемъ /o ˈt͡ʃemŭ/ ('about which' loc. sg.) > R о чём [ɐ ˈt͡ɕɵm]

This sound change also occurred in Belarusian, but not in Ukrainian, as seen in the word for "flax": Belarusian and Russian /ˈlʲon/ but Ukrainian /ˈlʲen/.

That has led to a number of alternations:

Word Gloss Word Gloss
/vʲiˈsʲelʲe/ merriment
/vʲiˈsʲolij/ merry
/ˈvlʲet͡ɕ/ to attract
/ˈvlʲok/ he was attracting
/dʲiˈʂevlʲe/ cheaper
/dʲiˈʂovij/ cheap
/ˈjelʲ/ fir-tree
/ˈjolka/ Christmas tree
/ˈʐet͡ɕ/ to burn
/ˈʐok/ he burned коле́сник
/kaˈlʲesnʲik/ wheel-wright
/kaˈlʲosa/ wheels
/ˈlʲet͡ɕ/ to lie down
/ˈlʲok/ he lay down
/ˈpʲetʲa/ Pete
/ˈpʲotr/ Peter
/paˈmʲelʲja/ brooms
/ˈmʲol/ he swept
/ˈsʲelʲskʲij/ rural
/ˈsʲola/ villages
/ˈsʲestrʲin/ sister's
/ˈsʲostri/ sisters
/ˈsmʲertʲ/ death
/ˈmʲortvij/ dead
/ˈʂestʲ/ six сам-шёст
/samˈʂost/ six-fold; with five others

This development occurred prior to the merger of ѣ () with е, and ѣ did not undergo this change, except by later analogy in a short list of words as of about a century ago. Nowadays, the change has been reverted in two of those exceptional words.

  • вдёжка 'threading needle, bodkin'
  • гнёзда 'nests'
  • желёзка 'glandule' (however желе́зка 'piece of iron')
  • запечатлён '[he/it is] depicted; [he/it is] imprinted (in the mind)'
  • звёзды 'stars'
  • зёвывал '[he] used to yawn'
  • издёвка 'jibe'
  • (ни разу не) надёван '[it is] (never) worn'
  • обрёл '[he] found'
  • сёдла 'saddles'
  • смётка 'apprehension'
  • цвёл '[he] flowered, flourished'
  • надёвывал '[he] used to put on' (this word has fallen into disuse in the standard language)
  • подгнёта 'fuel, chips; instigation; firebrand' (this word has fallen into disuse in the standard language)
  • вёшка 'way-mark' (now ве́шка)
  • медвёдка 'mole cricket', 'mole rat' (now медве́дка)

Loanwords from reintroduced /e/ between a (historically) soft consonant and a hard one, creating a few new minimal pairs:

Church Slavonic borrowing Native Russian cognate
/ˈnʲeba/ 'sky'
/ˈnʲoba/ 'roof of the mouth'
/paˈdʲeʂ/ 'case (grammatical)'
/paˈdʲoʂ/ 'murrain, epizooty'
/fsʲiˈlʲennaja/ 'universe'
/fsʲiˈlʲonnaja/ 'settled' (f.)
/savʲirˈʂennij/ 'perfect'
/savʲirˈʂonnij/ 'completed, committed, performed, achieved'

Russian spelling does not normally distinguish stressed /e/ and /o/ following a soft consonant (and in some cases also following the unpaired consonants ж ш ц), writing both as е. However, dictionaries notate е as ё when pronounced as /o/.

Vowel reduction[]

Modern Russian has extensive reduction of unstressed vowels, with the following mergers:

  • original unstressed /a/ and /o/ following a hard consonant are merged as /a/ (pronounced [ɐ] or [ə], depending on position)
  • original unstressed /e/ and /i/ following a hard consonant are merged as /i/, or as /ɨ/ if /ɨ/ is considered a phoneme (pronounced [ɨ])
  • original unstressed /a/, /e/, /i/ following a soft consonant are merged as /i/ (all are pronounced [ɪ])

The underlying vowel resurfaces when stressed in related forms or words, cf. балда́ (baldá) [bɐlˈda] "sledgehammer", with genitive plural балд (bald) [balt], vs. корма́ (kormá) [kɐrˈma], with genitive plural корм (korm) [korm]. The spelling consistently reflects the underlying vowel, even in cases where the vowel never surfaces as stressed in any words or forms (e.g. the first syllables of хорошо́ (xorošó) "well (adverb)" and сапожо́к (sapožók) "boot") and hence the spelling is purely etymological. See for more details.

There are exceptions to the rule given above: for example, "video" is pronounced as [ˈvʲidʲɪo] rather than [ˈvʲidʲɪə].


Consonant cluster simplification[]

Simplification of Common Slavic dl and tl to l:

  • Common Slavonic mydlo "soap" > Russian: мы́ло (mylo) About this sound   (cf. mydło)

Consonant clusters created by the loss of yers were sometimes simplified, but are still preserved in spelling:

  • здра́вствуйте (zdravstvujte) About this sound   "hello" (first v rarely pronounced; such a pronunciation might indicate that the speaker intends to give the word its archaic meaning "be healthy")
  • се́рдце (sérdce) [ˈsʲert͡sə] "heart" (d not pronounced; but not genitive plural серде́ц (sérdec) [sʲɪrˈdʲet͡s])
  • со́лнце (solnce) [ˈsont͡sə] "sun" (l not pronounced; but note adjectival со́лнечный (sólnečnyj) "solar", diminutive со́лнышко (sólnyško) "small sun, sweetheart", in both of which words the l is pronounced)

Development of palatalized consonants[]

Around the tenth century, Russian may have already had paired coronal fricatives and so that /s z n l r/ could have contrasted with /sʲ zʲ nʲ lʲ rʲ/, but any possible contrasts were limited to specific environments. Otherwise, palatalized consonants appeared allophonically before front vowels. When the, the palatalization initially triggered by high vowels remained, creating minimal pairs like данъ /dan/ ('given') and дань /danʲ/ ('tribute'). At the same time, [ɨ], which was already a part of the vocalic system, was reanalyzed as an allophone of /i/ after hard consonants, prompting leveling that caused vowels to alternate according to the preceding consonant rather than vice versa.

Sometime between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, the velars became allophonically palatalized before /i/, which caused its pronunciation to change from [ɨ] to [i]. This is reflected in spelling, which writes e.g. (gíbkij) rather than гы́бкый (gybkyj).


The palatalized unpaired consonants š ž c depalatalized at some point, with š ž becoming [ʂ] and [ʐ]. This did not happen, however, to č, which remains to this day as palatalized /t͡ɕ/. Similarly šč did not depalatalize, becoming /ɕː/ (formerly and still occasionally /ɕt͡ɕ/). The depalatalization of š ž c is largely not reflected in spelling, which still writes e.g. (šitʹ), rather than шыть (šytʹ), despite the pronunciation [ʂɨtʲ].

Paired palatalized consonants other than /lʲ/ and sometimes /nʲ/ and /rʲ/ eventually lost their palatalization when followed by another consonant. This is generally reflected in spelling. Examples:

  • Proto-Slavic lьnǫti "to stick" > Russian (lʹnutʹ)
  • Proto-Slavic sъ̑lnьce "sun" > Russian (sólnce)
  • Proto-Slavic arьmò "ox-yoke" > Russian (jarmó); but Proto-Slavic gorьkъjь "bitter" > Russian го́рький (gorʹkij)
  • Proto-Slavic drevьnьjь "ancient" > Russian (drévnij)
  • Proto-Slavic brusьnica "cowberry" >> Russian брусни́ка (brusníka)

Incomplete early palatalizations[]

There is a tendency to maintain intermediate ancient [-ɡ-], [-k-], etc. before frontal vowels, in contrast to other Slavic languages. This is the so-called incomplete second and third palatalizations:

It is debated whether these palatalizations never occurred in these cases or were due to later analogical developments. A relevant data point in this respect is the, where the is not reflected in spelling and may never have happened.

Development of palatal consonants[]

The Proto-Slavic palatal series of consonants (not to be confused with the later palatalized consonants that developed in Russian) developed as follows:

  • The palatal resonants ľ ň ř merged with the new palatalized consonants lʲ nʲ rʲ that developed before Proto-Slavic front vowels.
  • The palatal plosives ť ď merged with č ž. Note, however, that Proto-Slavic ť ď appear as ⟨щ⟩ ⟨жд⟩ (commonly notated šč žd and pronounced [ɕː ʐd] respectively, although ⟨щ⟩ was formerly pronounced [ɕt͡ɕ], as its transcription suggests) in words borrowed from.
  • The palatal clusters šč ždž developed into sounds denoted respectively ⟨щ⟩ and either ⟨жж⟩ or ⟨зж⟩ (nowadays normatively pronounced [ɕː ʑː], although there is a strong tendency to instead pronounce ⟨жж⟩ and ⟨зж⟩ as hard [ʐː]).
  • The palatal fricatives š ž hardened into [ʂ ʐ] (although the affricate č remained as soft [t͡ɕ]).


Many double consonants have become degeminated but are still written with two letters.

(In a 1968 study, long [tː] remains long in only half of the words in which it appears written, but long [fː] did so only a sixth of the time. The study, however, did not distinguish spelling from actual historical pronunciation, since it included loanwords in which consonants were written doubled but never pronounced long in Russian.)

Effect of loanwords[]

A number of the phonological features of Russian are attributable to the introduction of loanwords (especially from non-Slavic languages), including:

  • Sequences of two vowels within a morpheme. Only a handful of such words, like паук 'spider' and оплеуха 'slap in the face' are native.
    • поэт [pɐˈɛt] 'poet'. From poète.
    • траур [ˈtraur] 'mourning'. From Trauer.
  • Word-initial /e/, except for the root эт-.
    • эра [ˈɛrə] 'era'. From German Ära
  • Word-initial /a/. (Proto-Slavic a- > Russian ja-)
    • авеню [ɐvʲɪˈnʲu] 'avenue. From French avenue.
    • афера [ɐˈfʲerə] 'swindle'. From French affaire.
    • агнец [ˈaɡnʲɪts] 'lamb'. From
  • The phoneme /f/ (see for more information).
    • фонема [fɐˈnɛmə] 'phoneme'. From φώνημα.
    • эфир [eˈfʲir] ''. From Greek αἰθήρ.
    • фиаско [fʲɪˈaskə] 'fiasco'. From fiasco.
  • The occurrence of non-palatalized consonants before /e/ within roots. (The initial /e/ of a suffix or flexion invariably triggers palatalization of an immediately preceding consonant, as in брат / братец / о брате.)
  • The sequence /dʐ/ within a morpheme.
    • джин About this sound  ) 'gin' from.
    • джаз [dʐas] 'jazz' from English.

Morphology and syntax[]


This section needs expansion. You can help by. (January 2017)

Some of the morphological characteristics of Russian are:

  • Loss of the
  • Loss of the and tenses (still preserved in Old Russian)
  • Loss of the short adjective declensions except in the nominative
  • Preservation of all Proto-Slavic participles

See also[]


  1. attributes this change to the velarization of the hard consonant.


  • Paul Clemens and Elena Chapovalova, Les mots Russes par la racine (Essai de vocabulaire Russe contemporain par l'étymologie)-  
  • Crosswhite, Katherine Margaret (2000), (PDF), University of Rochester Working Papers in the Language Sciences, 1 (1): 107–172, archived from (PDF) on 6 February 2012 
  • Lightner, Theodore M. (1972), Problems in the Theory of Phonology, I: Russian phonology and Turkish phonology, Edmonton: Linguistic Research, inc 
  • Padgett, Jaye (2003a), "Contrast and Post-Velar Fronting in Russian", Natural Language & semiformal dress 2018 Linguistic Theory, 21 (1): 39–87, : 
  • Padgett, Jaye (2003b), "The Emergence of Contrastive Palatalization in Russian", in Holt, D. Eric, Optimality Theory and Language Change 
  • Alexander G. Preobrazhensky, Etymological dictionary of the Russian language, Columbia University Press, 1983 –  
  • Serguei Sakhno, Dictionnaire russe–français d'étymologie comparée: correspondences lexicales historiques –  
  • Schenker, Alexander M. (2002),, in ; Corbett, Greville. G., The Slavonic Languages, London: Routledge, pp. 60–124,   
  • Kiparsky, Valentin, Russische Historische Grammatik, 3 vols., 1963, 1967, 1975.
  • : Etymological dictionary of the Russian language (Russisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, 4 volumes,, 1950–58; translation 1964–73).
  • Vinogradov, V. V.,  
  • Vinokur, G. O. (2010). Forsyth, James; Forsyth, Mary A., eds. The Russian Language: A Brief History (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 160.  . 
  • Terence Wade, Russian etymological dictionary, Duckworth Publishing, 1996 –  

External links[]

  • . Онлайн-энциклопедия «Кругосвет» (in Russian). Retrieved 24 December 2012. 

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