Sunday, December 14, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Is ё the ‘Most Russian’ Letter of the Alphabet?

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 14 – Even though its inventor Princess Ekaterina Dashkova may have taken the ё from the spelling of the French champagne Moёt et Chandon as a replacement for “io,” some Russians today are celebrating its 231st birthday and declaring it to be “the most Russian” letter in the Cyrillic script. 


            Dashkova’s idea quickly caught on with the poets Fonvinzin and Derzhavin and later with Russian historian Nikolay Karamzin. Indeed, because of his efforts, some Russians to this day ascribe the alphabet innovation to Karamzin rather than to Dashkova, specialists say (


            The ё survived the alphabet reforms of 1917, but it really came into its own during World War II – and thanks to the Germans!  At that time, points out, German maps which were more accurate than Soviet ones made use of the Russian letter, and Stalin, having learned about that practice, ordered Soviet cartographers to follow suit.


            With that, all Soviet newspapers and all Soviet textbooks followed suit, but after Stalin’s death in 1953, the battle between those who love the ё and those who don’t broke out with renewed force.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a partisan, but linguists like Artemy Lebedev opposed it as unnecessarily pedantic.


            In 2005, supporters of ё erected a statue to the letter in Ulyanovsk, but they did so with the mistaken understanding that Karamzin was its inventor. Later Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov tried to promote a new car with the name ё-mobile, but so far that has not led to anything.


            But something should, the portal suggests, arguing that its promoter Belarusian designer Vladimir Tseler “is truly genial” because “what could be more Russian than the letter ё?” especially at a time when matryoshka dolls are passing out of fashion.


            The fate of the ё almost certainly depends on technology. Until the mid-1950s, few typewriters had the letter on their keyboards. Since then, most do at least in the former Soviet space.  But the situation with regard to ё in the information technology age is more complicated: some systems have it, and some don’t.


            Whatever anyone thinks, ё remains important, says, and it adds that “philologists have calculated that the letter is used in more than 12,000 Russians words, that it begins 150 words and ends more than 300.” As such, ё is the seventh most often used letter in the Russian alphabet.


            Moreover, the portal continues, ё “is present in the alphabets of other peoples living in Russia: the Belarusians, Udmurts and Chuvash” as well as “in the languages of historically close to [Russians] Transcarpathian Rusins, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, and Tajiks on the basis of the so-called civic Cyrillic.”


            It thus links all these people across the former USSR together and thus deserves to be promoted as “the most Russian letter” in the alphabet.




No comments:

Post a Comment