Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Lately, I have been teaching myself the Russian language. I am not pretentious enough to say that I am learning it in order to read Pushkin's or Tolstoy's works in their original, nontranslated form. Part of the reason is intellectual curiosity, but a lot of it has to do with impressing someone that I like, who is a native speaker. Infatuation has driven people to do many things, but at least this is safe and legal.

During the course of my studies, I have noticed how badly English-speaking people have anglicized Russian words. My friend has had to correct me on more than a few occasions, when I would pronounce something in a way completely at variance with how she had always done. For example, she is from a city in Eastern Ukraine, which we English-speaking folks call Donetsk. Although it is in Ukraine, the people there are predominately Russian-speaking. The name of the city in Russian is Доне́цк. The trouble for a lot of English-speakers is that the 'e' in Доне́цк is actually supposed to be pronounced as 'yeh', as in 'yellow'. So, it should sound more like 'Dōn-yetsk'.

That's also been a problem that we have had with the names of the various Soviet and Russian leaders:

Russian Common English transliteration Better English Transliteration

In the last case, the 'ё' is pronounced as 'yoh', as in 'yolk'.

I say, if you are going to do something, do it right.

A separate issue that bothers me are films or television shows that have a Russian theme that misuse Cyrillic characters in order to make them look more "authentic". Something like "Яеd Heдt". It just looks ridiculous.