Monday, December 25, 2017

Ignoring the ё Threatens Russian Language and thus Russia, Scholar Warns

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 24 – Seventy-five years ago, at Stalin’s direction, Soviet citizens were ordered to use the letter ё rather than carry on as they had and use e in its place because it was critically important to designate names and places during wartime, according to historian Yevgeny Pchelov.

He argues that ignoring this difference as ever more Russians seem inclined to do is “fraught with serious consequences” and thus something he and others like him are prepared to “fight to the death” to preserve the difference between the letters ё and e (

Stalin’s directive was “the only official document” in Russia regulating the alphabet with regard to this letter; but it didn’t last. In 1956, during the anti-Stalin campaign, the order was rescinded and today “almost nowhere” is the letter ё used, a trend that some scholars including Pchelov are seeking to reverse.

The history of the letter is complicated. In Old Church Slavonic, the ё doesn’t exist, even though there is evidence that in oral speech, Russians spoke as if it existed.  It began to appear in written form in the 18th century and appeared set to become a standard as a result of the alphabet reforms of 1917.

But that hasn’t happened, Pchelov says, despite his efforts and that of his late co-author Viktor Chumakov at the end of the 1990s to promote it via a book about its importance and in speeches and articles across the country.  There has been some improvement, the scholar says, but not nearly enough – and the stakes are high. Without it, the Russian language is at risk.

Unless the ё makes a comeback, there will be increasing confusion about personal names and place names as well as confusion between words that are distinguished only by the presence or absence of that letter, Pchelov continues. And thus there shouldn’t be any real reason for people not to use it consistentlyi.

“Nothing needs to be renamed,” he points out. “It is only necessary to begin to write correctly. And for this are needed [only] will, desire, and respect for the Russian language.”

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