Spelling Period Russian in Period English

By Sofya la Rus
Updated 17 November 2005


This page owes a great deal to Paul Wickenden of Thanet's webpage about Spelling Russian Names in Period English. Inspired by his effort, I decided to expand his work to include Middle English, Old English, and a little more on the Elizabethan or Early Modern English that he dealt with in his analysis of Giles Fletcher's 1591 book about his visit to Russia.

There is nothing I can add to Wickenden's splendid discussion of the handicaps that Giles Fletcher faced in trying to record the Russian names that his foreign ears weren't trained to hear properly, or the challenges we face dealing with Elizabethan English whose spelling is notoriously eratic. It's been my experience that modern re-enactors, myself included, struggle mightily against this. We like things neat and tidy and consistent. But when it comes to medieval language, spelling, names, and many other things in re-enacting, there simply is no "one right way". (Although there can be plenty of wrong ways.)

My purpose on this webpage is merely to provide a relatively concise comparison of modern Russian, Early Cyrillic, Church Slavonic, Gile Fletcher's Russian, Early Modern English, Middle English, and Old English. Terminology and dates for the evolution of these languages can be confusing and, at times, controversial.

My qualifications? I'm fluent in modern English, of course, and also the King James Version of the Bible (Thanks, Mom and Dad). I have a four-year degree in modern Russian, and I know a little Middle English and bits of various other languages (a fair amount of Spanish, a wee bit of Latin, French, German, Arabic, Kurdish, Sign Language...). In other words...

Please read the references listed in the bibliography to get a more complete introduction to the languages involved.


Old Cyrillic/Early Cyrillic/Old Church Slavonic - the original Cyrillic alphabet/language developed when Bulgaria was converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in the 800s and spread to the rest of the Slavs with the spread of Christianity. Based on Greek (with some Latin?).

Church Slavonic - developed from the above, and still in use in many Eastern Orthodox Churches for liturgy, icons, etc. The modern Russian alphabet was developed from this alphabet through the Westernizing reforms of Peter the Great, and similar actions by later Russian rulers.

Old English/Anglo-Saxon - 400s-1000s C.E. Germanic language developed by descendents of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes who migrated to England.

Middle English - approx. 1100-1500. Development of English after the Norman conquestwith strong influence of Norman French (a German-flavored version of French spoken by descendents of the Vikings) and continued Latin influence.

Early Modern English - approx. 1500-1800 C.E. The English language after the "Great Vowel Shift". Has notoriously varied spelling, although perhaps not actually worse than in Middle English.

Bibliography

(The first group of references were my main sources for this article. This is not an exhaustive list of the references I examined.,)


"The Table"

Different sources give different versions of the old Cyrillic alphabet and its pronunciation. There were also regional differences in medieval Russian pronunciation, (and English pronunciation, for that matter). These have been blissfully ignored.
OE is Old English. ME is Middle English. EME is Early Modern English. The Fletcher column is Paul of Wickenden's analysis of Giles Fletcher's transliteration "system."
I have included the modern pronunciation of Russian letters and the Library of Congress (LOC) system of transliterating Russian into English for comparison.
The "<>" symbol indicates that the letter would probably be skipped, i.e. not transcribed at all. A "-" means that the letter wasn't included in the source. A "?" means that I'm not sure about the answer for an item. (The questions never end. Suggestions are always appreciated.)
For the sake of brevity, I have used quotation marks with letter sounds to indicate that you should look at the main entry for that letter sound to see all the possible ways it can be written. For example, the "o" sound can be written many, many ways in English. I did not bother to repeat all of them in every part of the chart where the "o" sound is found.

 

Old Cyrillic

Pronounce

OE

ME

EME

Fletcher

Modern

Cyrillic

Pronounce

LOC

А

Ah

A

A, AA

A

A, O

А

Ah

A

Б

B

B

B, Bb

B, Bb

B

Б

B

B

В

V

F

v, u

v, u, vv, uu

V, W, <>

В

V

V

Г

Hard G

3, g

G, gg, y

G, gg

G

Г

Hard G

G

Д

D

D

D, dd

D, dd, ed

D

Д

D

D

Е

eh

E

E

E, ea

E, I

Е

Yeh or eh

E

-

-

Go, o

Yo, go, & see “o”

Yo, & see “o”

-

Ё

Yoh or oh

E

Ж

zh

j”= Cg ?“sh” = Sc

j” = Cg, gg, j, i, g, 3 or ?“sh”

Z, s, si, g

Sh

Ж

zh

Zh

ς

Z, dz

Ds

Ds, dz, dzz, d3

Ds, dz, dzz

-

-

-

-

 З

Z

S

S, z, zz, 3

S, z, zz

Z

З

Z

Z

И

Ee

I, y, ie

I, y, ii, j, ij, ie

E, ee, ea, ie

I, e, y

И

Ee

I

Ο

Ee or like y in boy?

I, y, ie

I, y, j, ie

I, y, j, e

I, y, <>

Й

Like y in boy

I

К

K

C, k only rarely

K, kk, c, cc

K, kk, c, cc, ck, ch

K, c, ch

К

K

K

Л

L

L

L, ll

L, ll

L

Л

L

L

М

M

M, n

M, mm

M, mm, mn

M

М

M

M

Н

N

N, m

N, nn, gn

N, nn, gn

N

Н

N

N

О

Oh

O

O, oo

O, oo, ou, ow, oa, ough, ovgh

O, ou, a

О

Oh

O

П

P

P

P, pp

P, pp

P

П

P

P

Р

R (rolled)

R

R, rr

R, rr

R

Р

R (rolled)

R

С

S

S

S, ss, c

S, ss, c, t

S, z

С

S

S

Т

T

T

T, tt

T, tt, d, ed, et

T

Т

T

T

OY/У

Oo

U

U, ou, ow, ov, ogh, o3

O, u, ou, ov, oo, ough, ovgh, v, eu, ew

Ou, e, o

У

Oo

U

Ф

F

F

F, ff

F, ff, gh, ph

F, ph, th

Ф

F

F

Х

Kh

H

Gh, h, 3

h

F, ch, tch

Х

Kh

Kh

ω

Oh (oht)

O

O, oo

O, oo, ou, ow, oa, ough, ovgh

 

-

-

-

Ц

Ts

Ts

“t” + “s”

“t” + “s”

Cz, tz

Ц

Ts

Ts

Ч

Ch

C (or h?)

Ch, cch

Ch, t, c, cch, tch

Ch

Ч

Ch

Ch

Ш

Sh

Sc

Sc, sh, ssh, sch, ss

S, sh, c, ti, ss, si, ssi, sch

Sh

Ш

Sh

Sh

Щ

Shch

(ditto) + t?

(ditto) + t?

(ditto) + t?

Sh, sch

Щ

Shch

Shch

Ъ

Uh/schwa

?

E, a, o, u, v

U, v, (a, e, o)

E, <>

Ъ

“hard sign”

“

Ы

Tense “I”

Y, i, ie

Y, i, j, ie

I, y, j, e

Y

Ы

Tense “I”

Y

Ь

“i” as in fit

Y, i, ie

Y, i, j, ie

I, y, j, e

E, <>

Ь

“soft sign”

‘

Δ

Ya/eh/yeh

Ya, ia, ga/ E/Ye, ie, ge

“Ya” / E/“Ye”

“Ya”/E/”Ye”

-

Э

Eh

E

Ю

You

Yu, iu, gu

Ju, eu, ev, u, iu, ew, 3u, gu, yu

Yu, iu

Yu, u

Ю

You

Iu

Ζ/Я

Yah

Ya, ia, ga

Ja, 3a, ya, ga, ia

Ya, ia

Ya, ia, e

Я

Yah

Ia

Ε

e/a/ya?

E/A/”ya”

E/A/”ya”

E/A/”ya”

-

-

-

-

°

yah

Ya, ia, ga

Ja, 3a, ya, ga, ia

Ya, ia

-

-

-

-

Ψ

O in on

O

O

O, a, au, av, aw,

augh, ough, avgh, ovgh

-

-

-

-

Œ

Yo in yon

Yo, io, go

Jo, 3o, yo, go, io

Yo, io

-

-

-

-

9

Ks

X

X

X

-

-

-

-

Ψ

Ps

“p” + “s”

“p” + “s”

“p” + “s”

-

-

-

-

Θ

F/th/t

f/thorn/t

“f”/thorn, th, y/ “t”

“f”/th, thorn, y/ “t”

-

-

-

-

ν

V/ee

F/ “I”

V, U/ “ee”

“v”/ “ee”

-

-

-

-

-

yeh

Ye, ie, ge

Je, 3e, ye, ge, ie

Ye, ie

-

-

-

-

Ђ

G/ dj, j

G,3/Cg

“g”/”j”

“g”/”j”

-

-

-

-

ώ

Ot (to, tw)

ot

“o” + “t”

“o” + “t”

-

-

-

-


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