Changes in Russian pronunciation in the post-Soviet era

Russian acquires diphthongs and a softer singsong intonation under the influence of provincial speech patterns.

In Moscow, I notice that more and more people keep adopting much softer and longer vowels than what I’m used to. I feel like Russian is starting to be filled with diphthongs in unstressed positions: Shiərəaká strəaná məayá rəadnáyə instead of Shərəká strəná məyá rədnáyə (Широка страна моя родная is the line from a very famous Soviet song).

Moscow dialect

The “Moscow speak” is generally more crispy compared to how people speak in most other parts of the country. Among other things:

  • Shorter, perkier vowels in unstressed positions
  • Unstressed o pronounced as a distinct a, as well as stressing a in unstressed positions: s Maskvý, s pasáda, s kaláshnava ryáda. A provincial would pronounce: s Məskvý, s pəsádə, s kəláshnəvə ryádə
  • Slight nasality in a’s (Russian has no nasal vowels), which makes it sharper and more prominent


Example of the “Moscow-speak”

A Russian visitor in Riga, Latvia, speaking in a diphthongized “non-Moscow dialect”.

My “v” is consistently harder than “v” they use. They often pronounce it a bit like English “w”. Sometimes it falls out altogether. Dyévəshkə (“girl”) sounds much like dyéəshkə.

“Odessa lips”

I’m puzzled by the quirk many Russians have adopted of pulling their lips to the side, showing teeth when speaking. On TV, Putin and Medvedev often do that when they try to make an important point. I can’t remember people doing this when I was young, apart from gangsters imitating the Jewish “Odessa speak”.

Below, a series of interview with residents of Odessa. They display the “scowling lips” when speaking, which in Russia long has been associated with professional gangsters (vóry v zákone). The “scowling lips” is now increasingly adopted by many males around the country who want to look tough.

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