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Russian orthography (Russian: ?, tr. pravopisaniye, IPA: [pr?v?p'sanj?]) is formally considered to encompass spelling (Russian: , tr. orfografiya, IPA: [?rf?'?rafj?]) and punctuation (Russian: , tr. punktuatsiya, IPA: [p?nkt?'at?s?j?]). Russian spelling, which is mostly phonemic in practice, is a mix of morphological and phonetic principles, with a few etymological or historic forms, and occasional grammatical differentiation. The punctuation, originally based on Byzantine Greek, was in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries reformulated on the French and German models.
The IPA transcription attempts to reflect vowel reduction when not under stress. The sounds that are presented are those of the standard language; other dialects may have noticeably different pronunciations for the vowels.
Russian is written with a modern variant of the Cyrillic script. Russian spelling typically avoids arbitrary digraphs. Except for the use of hard and soft signs, which have no phonetic value in isolation but can follow a consonant letter, one phoneme is never represented with more than one letter.
Under the morphological principle, the morphemes (roots, suffixes, infixes, and inflexional endings) are attached without modification; the compounds may be further agglutinated. For example, the long adjective ?, sharikopodshipnikoviy [?a.r.k?.p?t'.pn.k?.v?j] ('pertaining to ball bearings'), may be decomposed as follows (words having independent existence in boldface):
|'sphere'||diminutive suffix||connecting interfix||'under'
(preposition or prefix)
|'pin'||suffix indicating subject, intended for what is called by the stem (thus 'something to lay under pin')||adjectival suffix of property or innateness||inflexional ending, nominative masculine singular with the same sense as suffix --|
'little sphere', 'ball'
'pertaining to ball bearings'
Note again that each component in the final production retains its basic form, despite the vowel reduction.
The phonetic assimilation of consonant clusters also does not usually violate the morphological principle of the spelling. For example, the decomposition of ? ['?:a.s?t?j?] ('happiness, good fortune') is as follows:
(< *s?- (good), as in A.-Indian su - good)
|'part' (here in the related meaning 'fate')||(ending of abstract noun of state - Neutral Sing. Nom.)|
Note the assimilation with ⟨⟩- so that it represents the same sound (or cluster) as ⟨?⟩-. The spelling <> was fairly common among the literati in the eighteenth century, but is usually frowned upon today.
The phonetic principle implies that:
|[b'zu.mn?j]||'mindless', 'mad' ( [um] 'mind')|
|[bs'sm?e.rtn?j]||'immortal' ( [sm?ert?] 'death')|
Pronunciation may also deviate from normal phonological rules. For example, unstressed /o/ (spelled ⟨?⟩) is usually pronounced [?] or [?], but ('radio') is pronounced ['ra.d.o], with an unstressed final [o].
The fact that Russian has retained much of its ancient phonology has made the historical or etymological principle (dominant in languages like English, French, and Irish) less relevant. Because the spelling has been adjusted to reflect the changes in the pronunciation of the yers and to eliminate letters with identical pronunciation, the only systematic examples occur in some foreign words and in some of the inflectional endings, both nominal and verbal, which are not always written as they are pronounced. For example:
|'of the Russian' |
(adj. masculine/neuter genitive singular)
The grammatical principle has become stronger in contemporary Russian. It specifies conventional orthographic forms to mark grammatic distinctions (gender, participle vs. adjective, and so on). Some of these rules are ancient, and could perhaps be considered etymological; some are based in part on subtle, and not necessarily universal, distinctions in pronunciation; and some are practically arbitrary. Some characteristic examples follow.
For nouns ending in a sibilant -⟨?⟩ /?/, -⟨?⟩ /?/, -⟨?⟩ /?:/, -⟨?⟩ /t/, a soft sign ⟨?⟩ is appended in the nominative singular if the gender is feminine, and is not appended if masculine:
|?||[?rat]||rook (Corvus frugilegus) M||modern levelling; Lomonosov (1755) gives|
The past passive participle has a doubled -⟨⟩- /nn/, while the same word used as an adjective has a single -⟨?⟩- /n/:
|['va.rn.n?j]||'(something that has) been cooked/boiled'|
|['?a.rn.n?j]||'(something that has) been fried'|
Prepositional phrases in which the literal meaning is preserved are written with the words separated; when used adverbially, especially if the meaning has shifted, they are usually written as a single word:
|(?-?)||[v? 'vr?e.m]||'during the time (of something)'|
|( ) ?||['vovrm]||'(he arrived) on time'|
The full stop (period) (.), colon (:), semicolon (;), comma (,), question mark (?), exclamation mark (!), and ellipsis (...) are equivalent in shape to the basic symbols of punctuation ( ? ['znak prp'nanj?]) used for the common European languages, and follow the same general principles of usage.
The colon is used exclusively as a means of introduction, and never, as in slightly archaic English, to mark a periodic pause intermediate in strength between the semicolon and the full stop (period) (cf. H.W. Fowler, The King's English, 1908).
The comma is used very liberally to mark the end of introductory phases, on either side of simple appositions, and to introduce all subordinate clauses. The English distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive clauses does not exist:
|?, ? ?!||So the tsar has been overthrown!|
|?, , ?.||The man you ran over yesterday has died.|
|?, ? ? ? ?, ? ?.||This strange phenomenon, which is so often reported in the press, remains unexplained by science.|
The hyphen (-), and em dash (—) are used to mark increasing levels of separation. The hyphen is put between components of a word, and the em-dash to separate words in a sentence, in particular to mark longer appositions or qualifications that in English would typically be put in parentheses, and as a replacement for a copula:
|?: 242-01-42.||Our telephone: 242-0142. or Our telephone is 242-0142.|
|? ? -- , ? ? ? ? ? ? ? -- ? -2002.||Without a strong team -- like the one that Tikhonov in the past selected and trained -- Russia did not win the gold medal at the 2002 Olympics.|
In short sentences describing a noun (but generally not a pronoun unless special poetic emphasis is desired) in present tense (as a substitution for a modal verb "?/?" (to be)):
|? -- ?, -- ?. ? -- (but ?, .).||My brother is an engineer, his boss is a scoundrel. This building is an architectural landmark. ('I am a student, he is a driver.')|
Quotes are not used to mark paragraphed direct quotation, which is instead separated out by the em-dash (—):
|— ? ! — ?.||'I adore you!' said the bear to the fox.|
Inlined direct speech and other quotation is marked at the first level by guillemets «», and by lowered and raised reversed double quotes (,,") at the second:
|« ,,?"» ?: «? ».||'Goncharov begins his "Frigate Pallada" with the words: "I am surprised."'|
Unlike American English, the period or other terminal punctuation is placed outside the quotation. As the example above demonstrates, the quotes are often used to mark the names of entities introduced with the generic word.
As in many languages, the spelling was formerly quite more phonemic and less consistent. However, the influence of the major grammarians, from Meletius Smotrytsky (1620s) to Lomonosov (1750s) to Grot (1880s), ensured a more careful application of morphology and etymology.
Today, the balance between the morphological and phonetic principles is well established. The etymological inflexions are maintained by tradition and habit, although their non-phonetic spelling has occasionally prompted controversial calls for reform (as in the periods 1900-1910, 1960-1964). A primary area where the spelling is utterly inconsistent and therefore controversial is:
These two points have been the topic of scientific debate since at least the middle of the nineteenth century.
In the past, uncertainty abounded about which of the ordinary or iotated/palatalizing series of vowels to allow after the sibilant consonants ⟨?⟩ [?], ⟨?⟩ [?], ⟨?⟩ , ⟨?⟩ [ts], ⟨?⟩ [t?], which, as mentioned above, are not standard in their hard/soft pairs. This problem, however, appears to have been resolved by applying the phonetic and grammatical principles (and to a lesser extent, the etymological) to define a complicated though internally consistent set of spelling rules.
In 2000-2001, a minor revision of the 1956 codification was proposed. It met with public protest and has not been formally adopted.
The modern system of spelling was rationalized by Grot in the 1880s. The spelling reform of 1918 significantly changed the appearance of the language by eliminating two frequently used letters ? and ? (and two rarely used ones ? and ?), as well as the use of the word-final ? (hard sign), although it did not introduce fundamental theoretical changes to the principles he laid down.
Contemporary spelling and punctuation follow the 1956 rules, which were aimed at codifying existing practice rather than establishing new principles.