July 16, 2009 | Russian

Alphabetic Acrobatics

Learning the alphabet all over again ain't easy.

One big challenge for me in Russian: there are five different letters that look like the letter b in English.

For Sale in Russian, Brighton Beach

Here they are, in capital-letter form: 

  1. Б – This sounds like the English language b. Confusingly, the lower-case version looks a lot like the number 6.
  2. В – This sounds like the English v. I constantly mess it up and pronounce it as a b.
  3. Ъ – This is known as the hard sign. It doesn’t make a sound. I am still trying to figure it out. The explanations I’ve read haven’t helped.
  4. Ы – Incredibly, this is a vowel. I don’t really understand yet how to pronounce it, but what I am hearing on Pimsleur reminds me of the sound made by the äu in the German noun Häuschen (little house). Or the oy in “boy,” though I haven’t seen any explanations of it in print that compare it to such a sound.
  5. Ь – This is called the soft sign. It doesn’t have its own sound, but it apparently tells you to “soften” the preceding consonant. I might be getting this right about 3 or 4 percent of the time.

In spite of eye strain, headaches, torturous dreams, and alphabet travails, I am really becoming attached to Russian. I feel quite fond of it.

Comments (2)

KCA • Posted on Fri, June 08, 2012 - 12:14 am EST

the only way I can think of ы independent of other letters is as the sound you make when being sucker punched in the gut. love your project.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Fri, June 08, 2012 - 1:16 am EST

Thank you, KCA. I think your explanation should be added to grammar books. :)

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