Russian Dialects

Despite leveling after 1900, especially in matters of vocabulary, a number of dialects exist in Russia. Some linguists divide the dialects of the Russian language into two primary regional groupings, “Northern” and “Southern”, with Moscow lying on the zone of transition between the two. Others divide the language into three groupings, Northern, Central and Southern, with Moscow lying in the Central region. Dialectology within Russia recognizes dozens of smaller-scale variants.

A sign in a Manchurian mall that lists rules on how to ride an escalator in Mandarin and in Russian. The Russian translations tend to be inaccurate.The dialects often show distinct and non-standard features of pronunciation and intonation, vocabulary, and grammar. Some of these are relics of ancient usage now completely discarded by the standard language. For example, the Moscow pronunciation of <ч> before another stop, e.g. булошная [ˈbuləʂnəjə] (‘bakery’) instead of булочная [ˈbulətɕnəjə].

The northern Russian dialects and those spoken along the Volga River typically pronounce unstressed /o/ clearly (the phenomenon called okanye/оканье). East of Moscow, particularly in Ryazan Region, unstressed /e/ and /a/ following palatalized consonants and preceding a stressed syllable are not reduced to [ɪ] (like in the Moscow dialect), being instead pronounced as /a/ in such positions (e.g. несли is pronounced as [nʲasˈlʲi], not as [nʲɪsˈlʲi]) – this is called yakanye/ яканье;[6] many southern dialects palatalize the final /t/ in 3rd person forms of verbs and debuccalize the /g/ into [ɦ]. However, in certain areas south of Moscow, e.g. in and around Tula, /g/ is pronounced as in the Moscow and northern dialects unless it precedes a voiceless plosive or a silent pause. In this position /g/ is debuccalized and devoiced to the fricative [x], e.g. друг [drux] (in Moscow’s dialect, only Бог [box], лёгкий [lʲɵxʲkʲɪj], мягкий [ˈmʲæxʲkʲɪj] and some derivatives follow this rule). Some of these features (e.g. the debuccalized /g/ and palatalized final /t/ in 3rd person forms of verbs) are also present in modern Ukrainian, indicating either a linguistic continuum or strong influence one way or the other.

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The town of Velikiy Novgorod has historically displayed a feature called chokanye/tsokanye (чоканье/цоканье), where /ʨ/ and /ʦ/ were confused (this is thought to be due to influence from Finnish[citation needed], which doesn’t distinguish these sounds). So, цапля (“heron”) has been recorded as ‘чапля’. Also, the second palatalization of velars did not occur there, so the so-called ě² (from the Proto-Slavonic diphthong *ai) did not cause /k, g, x/ to shift to /ʦ, ʣ, s/; therefore where Standard Russian has цепь (“chain”), the form кепь [kʲepʲ] is attested in earlier texts.

Among the first to study Russian dialects was Lomonosov in the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth, Vladimir Dal compiled the first dictionary that included dialectal vocabulary. Detailed mapping of Russian dialects began at the turn of the twentieth century. In modern times, the monumental Dialectological Atlas of the Russian Language (Диалектологический атлас русского языка [dʲɪɐˌlʲɛktəlɐˈgʲiʨɪskʲɪj ˈatləs ˈruskəvə jɪzɨˈka]), was published in 3 folio volumes 1986–1989, after four decades of preparatory work.

The standard language is based on (but not identical to) the Moscow dialect.


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