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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Not Yet a Dead Letter

Viktor Chumakov's mission in life is to save the seventh letter of the Russian alphabet from extinction and, by doing so, preserve the traditional spellings of some 2,500 Russian surnames (including Khrushchyov and Gorbachyov).

The letter "ё" (pronounced "yo") first appeared in 1795, but fell on hard times when printers began dropping the dots to save a few kopeks. The letter was also hanging out in the wrong neighborhoods.

Part of the reason for the demise of the letter 'ё' could be because of its unsavory associations with Russian 'mat' -- the colorful language within a language that constitutes Russian swear words. Very few words begin with 'ё' in Russian, and most of the ones that do would make a sailor blush.

But Chumakov says he is not deterred by the letter's reputation -- he has written three books on the history of the 'ё' and a dictionary of words that contain the letter. To date, there are 12,500 ordinary words and 2,500 surnames. And he didn't include a single curse. [Link]
Those two little dots do make a difference. Without them, a Russian bride might be given a "solityor" (tapeworm) instead of a "soliter" (diamond).

Jason

Leaving off the dots makes it the letter "ye". Though, considering Cyrillic has several other creative letters (like the "yu", "zhe", "che", "shcha" or the "Yery" which is just odd to speak.), I'm surprised they didn't just use something more unique.

I blame the French and their excessive use of squigglies and dots to modify letters. I mean, look at what they did to Vietnamese!

Chris

The Russian nobility always were fond of the French language.

We English speakers needed someone like Chumakov a couple hundred years ago when we lost our thorn.

Dana

Chris, I nominated you for a Thinking Blogger Award at this post.

Chris

Wow, thanks Dana! Now I'll have to think about what makes me think. I think.

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