15 votes

What is the Cyrillic alphabet?

13 comments

  1. [8]
    ThatFanficGuy
    Link
    Fun fact: the letter Њ is a composite of Н (which makes the sound [n]) and Ь (which palatalizes – read: softens – the previous consonant's sound). The latter is called the "soft sign". Also fun...

    Fun fact: the letter Њ is a composite of Н (which makes the sound [n]) and Ь (which palatalizes – read: softens – the previous consonant's sound). The latter is called the "soft sign".

    Also fun fact: the Abkhaz Cyrillic letter Ҕ makes the same sound, [ɣ], as the Cyrillic letter Г in Ukrainian. In Russian, Г makes a hard [g]. (This "sliding" of the Ukrainian Г is the reason many places use the Latin H when transcribed into English: it sounds that much like like the voiceless [h] than the voiced [g].)

    If you want to understand what these sounds are exactly, there's an interactive board of the International Phonetic Alphabet. The IPA is used to transcribe sounds of the languages of the world independently of the script of said languages. Click on each sound to hear it in different positions: after a vowel, before a vowel, and between two vowels.

    9 votes
    1. [2]
      Adys
      Link Parent
      It gets stupid! The cyrillic name for Anna in Ukrainian is (sometimes) Ганна, which SHOULD transliterate as "Hanna", but LEGALLY transliterates as "Ganna". I know an Anna who isn't particularly...

      Also fun fact: the Abkhaz Cyrillic letter Ҕ makes the same sound, [ɣ], as the Cyrillic letter Г in Ukrainian. In Russian, Г makes a hard [g]. (This "sliding" of the Ukrainian Г is the reason many places use the Latin H when transcribed into English: it sounds that much like like the voiceless [h] than the voiced [g].)

      It gets stupid! The cyrillic name for Anna in Ukrainian is (sometimes) Ганна, which SHOULD transliterate as "Hanna", but LEGALLY transliterates as "Ganna". I know an Anna who isn't particularly happy about this.

      In Greek, Gamma (Γ) represents /ɣ/ or sometimes /ʝ/ and in fact, its lowercase counterpart is γ which.. yep, that's a "y". In french, we call that letter "I-grec", or "Greek 'I'". Of course greek I is Eta (Η), which in cyrillic became... /n/. Oof.

      As for Ukrainian, there is a hard Г letter: Ґ. But it's very rarely used according to Ґанна. Er, Ганна.

      Would you believe that latin G actually does still come from Γ? It just so happens that in roman latin, it was used as a hard /k/. "I don't remember seeing a gamma in the latin alphabet", you say? Yeah, they kind of softened it into a curve... making it look a lot like a "C". Oops. A, B, C. Αlpha, Βeta, Γamma.
      And of course when "C" got its "accent" later on, transforming it into a "G", when it started representing far too many sounds to keep track of.

      I find it amusing that Ґ and G accidentally got almost the same history on the east and west of Greece.

      10 votes
      1. ThatFanficGuy
        Link Parent
        sir you are upstaging me right now Funny enough, Russian also refers to the letter Y (the Latin one, as used in e.g. mathematics) as "игрек", which I suspect is pronounced quite like its French...

        sir you are upstaging me right now

        In french, we call that letter "I-grec", or "Greek 'I'".

        Funny enough, Russian also refers to the letter Y (the Latin one, as used in e.g. mathematics) as "игрек", which I suspect is pronounced quite like its French equivalent.

        6 votes
    2. [5]
      blitz
      Link Parent
      Do you know why the opposite holds as well? A lot of English words/names use Г in Russian where we would use H in English. Harry Potter -> Гарри Поттер Hamburger -> Гамбургер Robin Hood -> Робин...

      Do you know why the opposite holds as well? A lot of English words/names use Г in Russian where we would use H in English.

      Harry Potter -> Гарри Поттер
      Hamburger -> Гамбургер
      Robin Hood -> Робин Гуд

      It really confuses me when Russian has Х which seems much closer in sound

      5 votes
      1. ThatFanficGuy
        Link Parent
        The Russian language has a long tradition of adapting foreign languages to the Russian speaker's tongue during translation. For a native Russian speaker, it would be easier to comprehend and say...

        The Russian language has a long tradition of adapting foreign languages to the Russian speaker's tongue during translation. For a native Russian speaker, it would be easier to comprehend and say "вокзал" than "воксхол" (which is how you would transcribe Vauxhall in Russian).

        It would be a straightforward affair to simply transliterate a foreign personal name. It is, however, not how languages work, at least up until fairly recently. Bear in mind that a particular tsar of Russia was not named Nicholas II from birth: his name was Nikolai II, yet his name was "adapted" to the English audience to make it seem that much less intimidating. (Human history is really that of conquering the unknown.) The same applies to the Russian language.

        In Russian, the last name of the famous German physicist is pronounced /ein-SHTEIN/, while in English it's /AIN-stain/. In German, it's /AIN-shtain/.

        For what it's worth, I find it easier to pronounce "гамбургер" than I do "хамбургер". It feels like that much more effort. So my guess is: the translators figured the same went along the path of least resistance. (Which was likely there because the the city from which the dish get its name is also called Гамбург in Russian, even though the German pronunciation of Hamburg clearly favors the [h] sound.)

        4 votes
      2. [3]
        Adys
        Link Parent
        If I’ve learned anything in learning my previous four languages it’s that how close two sounds are to each other is in the ear of the beholder. For example the English “th” (as in “there”) to me...

        It really confuses me when Russian has Х which seems much closer in sound

        If I’ve learned anything in learning my previous four languages it’s that how close two sounds are to each other is in the ear of the beholder.

        For example the English “th” (as in “there”) to me is closer to the French “V” (Victor) than to “Z” (Zero). Yet to most other French the opposite is true. And it’s true that the tongue positions are closer for th/z but that’s what leads to that horrible horrible French accent. And to Dutch people, they hear it as “D”.

        Greek and English both mark a difference between the two sounds, eg Beta (th) and Delta (v).

        I would agree with you that Harry is closer to харри than гарри, but within the mouth that’s not actually true. Who knows what native Russians are hearing.

        3 votes
        1. [2]
          blitz
          Link Parent
          That's funny, my dad immigrated to the US from Moscow in his 30s, and during the rest of his life he never learned to pronounce the English "th" sound, instead approximating it with "Z", ("zere").

          For example the English “th” (as in “there”) to me is closer to the French “V” (Victor) than to “Z” (Zero).

          That's funny, my dad immigrated to the US from Moscow in his 30s, and during the rest of his life he never learned to pronounce the English "th" sound, instead approximating it with "Z", ("zere").

          1 vote
          1. ThatFanficGuy
            Link Parent
            Which is how all Russians would approximate it. Despite the Greek origins of Cyrillic (and the presence of a theta derivative as a letter of the alphabet up to a certain point), there's no close...

            Which is how all Russians would approximate it.

            Despite the Greek origins of Cyrillic (and the presence of a theta derivative as a letter of the alphabet up to a certain point), there's no close approximation of the voiceless dental fricative [θ]. The closest we get is the letter Ф, also of Greek origin, representing the [f] sound, which is a voiceless labiodental fricative, and it's not close enough to replace [θ] in a Russian native speaker's English pronunciation.

            2 votes
  2. [4]
    asterisk
    (edited )
    Link
    Only in some dialects, mostly northen. A standard pronounce of Ukrainian Г is [ɦ] which is voiced to [h] which English has. Yes, almost all texts tell that Г and Х are pair but itʼs аs condition,...
    • Exemplary

    the Abkhaz Cyrillic letter Ҕ makes the same sound, [ɣ], as the Cyrillic letter Г in Ukrainian

    Only in some dialects, mostly northen. A standard pronounce of Ukrainian Г is [ɦ] which is voiced to [h] which English has. Yes, almost all texts tell that Г and Х are pair but itʼs аs condition, because they have the same behaviour in some grammar cases.

    The cyrillic name for Anna in Ukrainian is (sometimes) Ганна, which SHOULD transliterate as "Hanna", but LEGALLY transliterates as "Ganna"

    I dunno what do you mean. Thereʼs an official transliteration which based on English phonology and exist from 2010. Г also can be as GH for differ words like згадана and жадана which would transtilerated as zghadana and zhadana because ZH is for Ж.

    In french, we call that letter "I-grec", or "Greek 'I'". Of course greek I is Eta (Η), which in cyrillic became... /n/. Oof.

    Ehm… Y, obviously, is from Greek Υ where big letters are still similar. The sound for it is [y] where [i] is the closest.

    Cyrillic У has other history. There was ligatures: horisontal Ѹ and vertical Ꙋ which just are combined ОѴ — copied Greek digraph ΟΥ which still represents [u] sound. It was later changed to У, where a big letter saved a tail, while Latin Y doesnʼt have it.

    Greek Η didnʼt become Cyrillic Н but Cyrillic И which usually has sound as [i] or similar. In old times, Cyrillic Н was like Latin N, and Cyrillic И was Н. Itʼs just standard style of Cyrillic font was changed. You can still meet sometimes Cyrillic Н as N shape in Ukrainian text like this.

    For a native Russian speaker, it would be easier to comprehend and say "вокзал" than "воксхол" (which is how you would transcribe Vauxhall in Russian).

    The H didnʼt and doesnʼt pronounced in original language too… By the way, фоксал is older writing and exists/ed in other languages too.

    It really confuses me when Russian has Х which seems much closer in sound

    Itʼs because Russian mostly borrowed writing (not sounding) from other languages and still doesnʼt have some standardization (not only about Г and Х) like for example Bulgarian where mentioned Harry would be writed as Хари.

    Ukrainian also has this problem because of Russian influence, especially during USSR where they changed Ukrainian spelling rules after Russian language. Btw, during those time also was removed Ґ.

    An interesting fact, Ukrainian didnʼt have a sound [f] until 19~20 (depend on regions) century, therefore it was writed mostly in three ways:

    • the oldest is П: Stephan → Степан, Volk → полк, Phylyp → Пилип, Flásche → пляшка and so on.
    • the newest is ХВ: Theodoras → Хведір, Pforte → хвіртка and so on.

    Before USSR Θ or TH was standardized as Т, and it was returned in 2019: orthographia → ортографія. It would be nice if Ґ also could be returned fully.


    Another interesting fact: 3 «three» and З «z» (which in old time was like Ꙁ) technicaly have the same visual. It can be confused in Ukrainian, because 3 квітня can be third April or from April. If your font distinguishes it then you have a good one.

    If we speak about Ukrainian then Latin script would be better for represent languageʼs features or easier learning. Some examples…

    It shows palatalization:

    • ruka — ruc-ê — ruč-ka — ruč-yty,
    • sluha — sluz-ê — služ-ka — služ-yty,
    • and so on.

    Also assimilation — remove/add hačok sign after the next letter:

    • bezžurno → bežžurno, sčepyty → ščepyty, krasše → krašče,
    • dočcê → doccê,
    • and so on.

    Edit: fixed typos

    4 votes
    1. [3]
      Adys
      Link Parent
      Thank you for the detailed post and corrections! A few additions At least in belgium, an ukrainian Anna I know has a passport with "Ganna" on it in the latin spelling. It doesn't shock me, knowing...

      Thank you for the detailed post and corrections!

      A few additions

      I dunno what do you mean.

      At least in belgium, an ukrainian Anna I know has a passport with "Ganna" on it in the latin spelling. It doesn't shock me, knowing her original name, but I think it's stupid yeah. I think the -ия suffix transliterating to "iia" is similarly silly. "виктория" should be (and usually is) "victoria", not "victoriia". It's not great when Google auto-corrects your name...

      Ehm… Y, obviously, is from Greek Υ where big letters are still similar.

      I don't think it's fair to call ypsilon the "greek i", which is better represented by Eta. They tend to make the same sounds nowadays but ypsilon is closer to its russian counterpart, /u/. Remember that in french, the letter 'y' is more akin to the spanish 'j'. Personally, I would call it the "U-grec"! Türkiye agrees: Nothing good ever came out of naming something based on a country.

      Before USSR Θ or TH was standardized as Т, and it was returned in 2019: orthographia → ортографія. It would be nice if Ґ also could be returned fully.

      Boy I still get confused by those italic cyrillics. I know of these alternative forms thanks to learning cursive, but I'd love to understand why they show up in italic.

      For those who didn't catch that, this is the exact same word, just italicized:

      ортографія
      ортографія

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        asterisk
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        Maybe she has some old transliteretion. Writing Cyrillic ія as Latin ia is correctly only etymologically in some cases but not as just transliteration because it could be confuzed with Cyrillic...

        At least in belgium, an ukrainian Anna I know has a passport with "Ganna" on it in the latin spelling. It doesn't shock me, knowing her original name, but I think it's stupid yeah. I think the -ия suffix transliterating to "iia" is similarly silly. "виктория" should be (and usually is) "victoria", not "victoriia". It's not great when Google auto-corrects your name...

        Maybe she has some old transliteretion. Writing Cyrillic ія as Latin ia is correctly only etymologically in some cases but not as just transliteration because it could be confuzed with Cyrillic іа. But Iʼm and not only me agree with you that iia is stupid. If we speak about transliteration which doesnʼt based on some other languages then ія usually should be as ija, therefore we have Viktorija.

        I don't think it's fair to call ypsilon the "greek i", which is better represented by Eta. They tend to make the same sounds nowadays but ypsilon is closer to its russian counterpart, /u/. Remember that in french, the letter 'y' is more akin to the spanish 'j'. Personally, I would call it the "U-grec"! Türkiye agrees: Nothing good ever came out of naming something based on a country.

        As I said, many languages already have [i] sound but not [y]. And [i] is the closest to [y] because thereʼs only one difference — roundedness. Just for notice, Cyrillic also called this letter after И which had name ижє while Ѵ — a letter after Greek Υ — is ижица which you can understand as a small И. Another notice: Russian У in some cases, especially as part of Ю, may sound as rounded Ы aka [ʉ] that why you may think that У is closer then И. For compare, Ukrainian doesnʼt have this behaviour, so У is usually [u] or [ʊ]. Ukrainian, as South Slavic, also writed [y] sound as І: München → Мінхен, current writing as У or Ю is mostly Russian influence. If speak about German, then Ü represents [y], but U here is only for save a base of word: Fuß → Füße. Compare with English where a base notable changed: foot → feet.

        And about French, to be honest, I dunno this language but as I can see there that Y usually represents [i] or [j] aka Cyrillic Ј or Й, so itʼs more like German J not Spanish which is just a Ukrainian X. I also dunno Turkish but, luckily, I heard about vowel harmony which had influence on some Ukrainian dialects, maybe this case is here.

        Boy I still get confused by those italic cyrillics

        Especially old regional writing, for example Ukrainian. By the way, Latin also can be confused, the most notable is old German: Kurrent, Sütterlin.

        2 votes
        1. Adys
          Link Parent
          Yes, that is what I meant, sorry for the confusion :)

          so itʼs more like German J not Spanish

          Yes, that is what I meant, sorry for the confusion :)

          1 vote
  3. cmccabe
    Link
    I missed posting this on Cyrillic Alphabet Day, May 24th, but it’s a fun (although short) read even if late.

    I missed posting this on Cyrillic Alphabet Day, May 24th, but it’s a fun (although short) read even if late.

    2 votes