L'alphabet russe: origine, histoire et prononciation
Alphabet russe: What is it and how to learn it?
If you want to learn Russian, one of the most widely spoken and influential languages in the world, you need to start with the basics: the alphabet. The Russian alphabet, also known as the alphabet russe or the Cyrillic script, is the writing system used to write Russian and many other languages. It may look intimidating at first, but it is actually quite logical and easy to learn. In this article, we will explain what the alphabet russe is, how it came to be, how it is structured, how it is pronounced, and how you can master it in no time.
What is the alphabet russe?
The alphabet russe is a variant of the Cyrillic script, which was devised in the 9th century for the first Slavic literary language, Old Slavonic. It was based on the Greek alphabet, with some additional letters borrowed from other scripts or invented by the creators of Cyrillic, Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius. The Cyrillic script was adopted by many Slavic peoples, including the ancestors of modern Russians.
Why is it important to learn the alphabet russe?
Learning the alphabet russe is essential for anyone who wants to learn Russian or any other language that uses it. It will help you to read, write, and pronounce words correctly, as well as to understand the grammar and vocabulary of Russian. It will also allow you to access a rich and diverse culture, literature, history, and art that are written in Cyrillic. Moreover, learning a new writing system can be fun and rewarding, as you will discover new symbols and sounds that may not exist in your native language.
The history of the alphabet russe
The origins of the Cyrillic script
The Cyrillic script was created in the 9th century by two Byzantine missionaries, Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, who were sent by the Byzantine emperor to evangelize the Slavic peoples in Central and Eastern Europe. They translated the Bible and other religious texts into Old Slavonic, which was a common language among different Slavic tribes. To write Old Slavonic, they used a modified version of the Greek alphabet, adding some letters from other scripts such as Hebrew or Glagolitic (another Slavic script invented by Saint Cyril) or creating new ones to represent specific Slavic sounds.
The evolution of the Russian alphabet
The Cyrillic script spread among various Slavic regions, including Kievan Rus', which was a medieval state that encompassed most of modern Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. The Kievan Rus' adopted Christianity and Cyrillic in the 10th century, under the influence of Byzantium. However, over time, different variants of Cyrillic emerged, reflecting different linguistic and cultural developments. The Russian variant of Cyrillic underwent several reforms and changes throughout history, especially during the 18th and 20th centuries. Some letters were added or removed, some were modified or simplified, some were assigned new values or functions.
The modern Russian alphabet
The modern Russian alphabet consists of 33 letters: 20 consonants (б , в , г , д , ж , з , к , л , м , н , п , р , с , т , ф , х , ц , ч , ш , щ ), 10 vowels ( а , е , ё , и , о , у , э , ю , я ), one semivowel/consonant ( й ), and two modifier letters ( ь , ъ ). The order of the letters is based on the Greek alphabet, with some exceptions. The modern Russian alphabet was standardized in 1918, after the Bolshevik Revolution, when four letters ( ѣ , і , ѳ , ѵ ) were eliminated as redundant. The most recent change was the introduction of the letter ё in 1942, to distinguish the sound /jo/ from /e/.
The structure of the alphabet russe
The Russian consonants can be divided into two groups: voiced and voiceless. Voiced consonants are those that produce a vibration in the vocal cords when pronounced, such as б , в , г , д , ж , з . Voiceless consonants are those that do not produce such vibration, such as п , ф , к , т , ш , с . Some consonants have a pair of voiced and voiceless counterparts, such as б - п , в - ф , г - к , д - т , ж - ш , з - с . These pairs are important for the pronunciation of the consonants, as they can change their voicing depending on their position in a word or a phrase.
The Russian vowels can be divided into two groups: hard and soft. Hard vowels are those that are pronounced with the tongue in a low or back position, such as а , о , у . Soft vowels are those that are pronounced with the tongue in a high or front position, such as е , и , ю . Some vowels have a pair of hard and soft counterparts, such as а - я , о - ё , у - ю . These pairs are important for the pronunciation of the vowels, as they can change their quality depending on the stress and the preceding consonant.
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The semivowel/consonant and the modifier letters
The letter й is a semivowel or a consonant, depending on its position in a word. It represents the sound /j/, similar to the English y in yes. It can appear at the beginning or in the middle of a word, but not at the end. For example, йогурт (yogurt), май (May), сейчас (now).
The letters ь and ъ are modifier letters, meaning that they do not have a sound of their own, but they affect the pronunciation of the adjacent letters. The letter ь is called the soft sign, and it indicates that the preceding consonant is palatalized, or pronounced with the tongue raised toward the hard palate. For example, льдина (ice floe), сень (shade), мать (mother). The letter ъ is called the hard sign, and it indicates that the preceding consonant is not palatalized, or pronounced with the tongue in a neutral position. It also separates a prefix from a root that begins with a vowel. For example, подъезд (entrance), объявление (announcement), съезд (congress).
The treatment of foreign sounds
Some sounds that exist in other languages do not have a corresponding letter in the Russian alphabet. To write these sounds, Russian uses either transliteration or transcription. Transliteration is when a foreign letter is replaced by a similar-looking Russian letter, regardless of its pronunciation. For example, Washington is written as Вашингтон. Transcription is when a foreign sound is replaced by a similar-sounding Russian letter or combination of letters, regardless of its spelling. For example, chocolate is written as шоколад.
The pronunciation of the alphabet russe
The stress and the vowel reduction
One of the most challenging aspects of Russian pronunciation is the stress and the vowel reduction. Stress is when one syllable in a word is pronounced louder and longer than the others. In Russian, stress is not fixed, meaning that it can change depending on the word form or the sentence intonation. Stress is not marked in writing, except in some dictionaries or textbooks. For example, замо́к (lock) vs за́мок (castle), мука́ (flour) vs му́ка (torment).
Vowel reduction is when an unstressed vowel changes its quality or becomes weaker than a stressed vowel. In Russian, vowel reduction affects mainly the vowels о and е . When о is unstressed, it sounds like а . When е is unstressed, it sounds like и . For example, молоко́ (milk) sounds like малако́ , меня́ (me) sounds like миня́ . The palatalization and the soft sign
Another important aspect of Russian pronunciation is the palatalization and the soft sign. Palatalization is when a consonant is pronounced with the tongue raised toward the hard palate, creating a slight y sound after it. For example, л sounds like l in love, but ль sounds like l in million. Palatalization can be indicated by a soft sign ( ь ) after the consonant, or by a soft vowel ( е , ё , и , ю , я ) after the consonant. For example, брат (brother) vs брать (to take), сон (dream) vs сён (son-in-law).
The soft sign ( ь ) is a modifier letter that indicates that the preceding consonant is palatalized. It does not have a sound of its own, but it affects the pronunciation of the adjacent letters. For example, льдина (ice floe), сень (shade), мать (mother).
The consonant clusters and the hard sign