Phonology

Dialects of the Russian Language

There are a large number of dialects of the Russian language. So far, you have probably only been exposed to Standard Russian. Standard Russian is the “Moscow dialect” that nearly every student of Russian learns about first.

Linguists typically divide Russian dialects into three groups: Northern, Central, and Southern. The Central Russian dialects are transitional dialects between North and South. Moscow lies in the middle of the border between the North and South dialects.

Standard Russian is based off of the Moscow dialect, therefore Standard Russian could be considered a Central dialect! Continue reading to learn more about Russian dialects!

Note: This post uses IPA to transcribe sounds.

диалекты русского языка
Dialects of Russian (in Russian)

Quick Guide to Dialects

Here is a little table that explains most of differences between Russian dialects that you can read more about below…

North
Russian
South
Russian
Standard
Russian
Unstressed /o/ /o/ /a~ɐ~ə~ɨ/ /ɐ~ə/
Unstressed /e/, /a/, /o/ after palatalized consonants /i/, /e/ /æ/ (pre-stressed), /i/ /i/
/g/ /g/ /ɣ/ /g/
/v/ /v/ /w~u̯/ /v/
/f/ /f/ /x~xv~xw/ /f/
Present third-person singular and plural verbs /t/ /tʲ~Ø/ /t/
Final /l/ /l/, /v~w~u̯/ /w~u̯/ /l/
/w/ before /u/ and stressed /o/ no yes no
Hardening of final soft labials no yes no

Northern Russian

Northern Russian is spoken north of Moscow in Arkhangelsk Oblast, the Republic of Karelia, Kirov Oblast, the Komi Republic, Kostroma Oblast, Leningrad Oblast, Murmansk Oblast, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, Novgorod Oblast, Perm Krai, Udmurtia, Vologda Oblast, Yaroslavl Oblast, Siberia, and the Far East.

Dialects of Northern Russian have a phonemenon called okanye (оканье), in which unstressed /o/ is pronounced clearly. This contrasts with Standard Russian, which has a phonemenon called akanye (аканье), in which unstressed /o/ and /a/ merge. Therefore, a Northern Russian speaker would pronounce много “many” as [ˈmnogo] instead of [ˈmnogə].

Some Northern Russian dialects have a postpositive definite article -то, -та, or -те: до́мот “the house”, жена́та “the woman”, село́то “the village.”

Some dialects have a high vowel /e̟ – o̟/ or diphthong /i̯ɛ – u̯ɔ/ in place of Proto-Slavic ě and o in stressed closed syllables, while Standard Russian has /e/ and /o/.

In some dialects of Northern Russian, /v/ and /f/ may be replaced with a semivowel (/w~u̯/). This phenomenon is found in Southern Russian dialects.

In Novgorod there is cokanye (цоканье), the failure to distinguish between <ц> and <ч>. These speakers have only one voiceless affricate which may be pronounced as /t͡s/ or /t͡ɕ/. This phenomenon is also found in the Southern dialects of Pskov and Ryazan.

In Vologda, final hard /ɫ/ may be replaced with a semivowel (/w~u̯/).

Southern Russian

Southern Russian is spoken south of Moscow in Belgorod Oblast, Bryansk Oblast, Kaluga Oblast, Kursk Oblast, Lipetsk Oblast, Oryol Oblast, Ryazan Oblast, Smolensk Oblast, Tambov Oblast, Tula Oblast, Voronezh Oblast, and southern parts of Moscow Oblast, Pskov Oblast, and Tver Oblast. It is also spoken in areas of lower Don and Volga rivers as well as Southern Ural, Siberia, and Far East regions.

Dialects of Southern Russian have a phonemenon called yakanye (яканье), in which unstressed /o/, /e/, /a/ are pronounced as [æ] when preceding a stressed syllable. This is unlike Standard Russian, which pronounces these vowels as [ɪ] in this position. So, несли is pronounced as [nʲæsˈlʲi] instead of [nʲɪsˈlʲi].

Southern Russian dialects also have strong akanye, in which unstressed /o/ and /a/ are pronounced as [a] and less often as [ɐ], [ə], or [ɨ].

/g/ is pronounced as a fricative: [ɣ] in Southern Russian. Soft /gʲ/ is usually pronounced as [j] or [ʝ].

A semivowel (/w/ or /u̯/) replaces Standard Russian /v/ and final /l/. So, восемь may be pronounced as [ˈwosʲɪm] and сказал may be pronounced as [skaˈzau̯].

/f/ is pronounced as [x], [xv], or [xw].

Final soft labials: /mʲ pʲ bʲ/ are often hardened.

In Pskov and Ryazan there is cokanye (цоканье), the failure to distinguish between <ц> and <ч>. These speakers have only one voiceless affricate which may be pronounced as /t͡s/ or /t͡ɕ/.

Southern Russian dialects also have protetic /w~u̯/ before /u/ and stressed /o/, and protetic /j/ before /i/ and /e/. Therefore, окна is pronounced as [ˈwokna]; улица [ˈwulʲɪt͡sa]; этот [ˈjetat].

Third-person forms of verbs are palatalized (i.e. /tʲ/ instead of Standard Russian /t/) or dropped entirely: он ходит [ˈxodʲɪtʲ~ˈxodʲɪ].

мяне́, табе́, сабе́ in place of Standard Russian мне, тебе, себе.

Central dialects

The Central dialects are basically transitional dialects between North and South. Some dialects have okanye (i.e. Tver) , while others have akanye (i.e. Moscow).

Sources:
Companion to Russian Studies: Volume 2, An Introduction to Russian Language and Literature by Anthony Kingsford
Wikipedia: Russian dialects
Wikipedia: Northern Russian dialects
Wikipedia: Southern Russian dialects

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