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A Pop Fan's Guide to Russian

Presented here is a basic guide to the Russian alphabet and language, to enable you to find your way about the internet and enjoy all the Russian pop music that is out there.

The Russian Alphabet

The Russian Cyrillic alphabet, like the Roman/Latin alphabet, is derived from the Greek alphabet, so there are some common letters between various combinations of the three.

Roman equiv.UpperLowerItalicsLowerLetter NameComments
gГгГггэnote the lower case italics/handwritten form
dДдДддэsometimes written like 'g'
yeЕеЕееusually transliterated just as 'e'
yoЁёЁёёsometimes written just as 'е', even though it is pronounced differently!
zhЖжЖжжэpronounced like French 'j', sometimes transliterated as 'j'
iИиИииnote the lower case italics/handwritten form
short iЙйЙйи краткоеusually transliterated as 'y', similar to 'y' at end of English words
lЛлЛлэльsometimes written like 'Λ' i.e. the Greek Lambda
pПпПппэsometimes written like 'n'
tТтТттэnote the lower case italics/handwritten form
hХхХххаsometimes transliterated as 'kh', not unlike the Gaelic 'ch'
tsЦцЦццэsimilar to 'ce' at end of English words, sometimes transliterated as 'c'
hard signЪъЪъ hardens the preceding consonant
iЫыЫыыusually transliterated as 'y'
soft signЬьЬь softens the preceding consonant
eЭэЭээsometimes replaces the letter 'a' in words transliterated into Russian
iІіІііBelorussian/Ukrainian 'i', abolished in Russian

NB: In some forms of transliteration (changing writing from one alphabet to another without translating the language), 'ye', 'yo', 'yu' and 'ya' are shown as 'je', 'jo', ju' and 'ja' instead. Hard and soft signs may be shown with an apostrophe.

Pronouncing Vowels

Russian consonants are mostly pronounced much as you'd expect, except for 'г' ('g') which in some words is pronounced 'h', but vowels are slightly different from English.

Roman equiv.CyrillicPronunciation
aаas in 'apple'
yeеas in 'yes'
yoёas in 'yonder'
iиas in 'see'
short iйas in 'see'
oоas in 'hod'
uуas in 'book'
iыas in 'hit'
eэas in 'ted'
yuюas in 'unite'
yaяas in 'yahoo'

The exception is when a vowel is unstressed, when 'а' becomes a little like 'э', 'е' becomes like 'и' or 'ы', 'о' becomes like 'а' or 'э', and 'я' becomes like 'и'. For instance, in the name of the Russian city Ryazan/Рязань, since the latter syllabol is the one that is stressed, the 'ya' becomes 'i' or 'ee', i.e. Reezan.

Other vowel sounds can be constructed with pairs of vowels.

Roman equiv.CyrillicPronunciation
ae, or eh-eeеиas in 'hay'
ie, or ah-eeаиas in 'eye'

Common Words in Pop Songs

I've listed a few Russian words that will pop up frequently in pop songs and on websites related to pop music.

Roman equiv.CyrillicMeaning
ya, menyaя, меняI, me
moy, moyaмой, мояmy - various forms
my, nas, nashмы, нас, нашwe, us, our
vy/ty, vam/tebe, vas/tebeвы/ты, вам/тебе, вас/тебеyou (formal/informal) - various forms
vash/tvoyваш/твойyour (formal/informal)
lyubit, lyublyu, lyubovлюбить, люблю, любовьlove - various forms
solntse, lunaсолнце, лунаsun (or equivalent to "honey" when referring to a person), moon
vesna, leto, osen, zimaвесна, лето, осень, зимаspring, summer, autumn, winter
den, nochдень, ночьday, night
malchik, devochka/devushkaмальчик, девочка/девушкаboy, girl (child/young woman)
starye, novyyстарые, новыйold, new
i, iliи, илиand, or
da, net, neда, нет, неyes, no, not/do not
znat, znaete, znayuзнать, знаете, знаюknow - various forms
privet, pokaпривет, покаhi, cheerio
horoshiy, dobryyхороший, добрыйgood, kind
pozvonit, golasпозвонить, голасring (on telephone), voice
pesnya, pevets/pevitsaпесня, певец/певицаsong, singer (male/female)
gruppa, V.I.A.группа, В.И.А.group, vocal instrumental ensemble
pop chart, hit paradпоп чарт, хит парадpop chart, hit parade
hip hop, rapхип хоп, рэпhip hop, rap
novosti, forum, chatновости, форум, чатnews, forum, chat
nazad, daleeназад, далееprevious, next
ssylku, skachat/zagruzkaссылку, скачать/загрузкаlink, download
www-pronounced "tri doubleyu" or "weh weh weh"
.ru-pronounced "dotchka ru"

That said, Russian relies heavily on changing the ends of words to indicate dozens of different grammatical situations - even plurals are not simple - and anyone wanting to get further into the language should buy a decent dictionary, or at the very least try translating with Babelfish or Google Translate.

Follow this link for Numbers (with audio).

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