Friday 5 February 2010

Russian illustrated

No time for a proper blog today, but here are scans of the two pictures mentioned yesterday by David Crosbie, taken from Dennis Ward's Russian Pronunciation Illustrated (CUP 1966), p. 81. The drawings are by George Him.


  1. I would guess that the first picture is intended to make the point that the л ("l") in the word солнтса ("sun") is silent when the word stands by itself, but is pronounced in the compound word for "sunflower," подсолнечник.

    The second picture gives me trouble. The penultimate word looks to be a noun, but the nearest word that I can find in my dictionary is подсобный, which is an adjective, translated in my dictionary as "auxiliary." "The blacksmiths are working in the auxiliary" does not make sense, so I hope that you can tell us what the sentence means.

    As for the phonetic point of the example, I would guess that it has to do with the fact that the word подсобный has the same first five letters as подсолнечник, but beyond that, I can't tell.

    The transcriptions may reflect an older pronunciation, or perhaps one found in St. Petersburg. The vowel corresponding to letter "a" or "o" in pretonic position in most Russian speech that I have heard seems to me to have the same quality as stressed "a," i.e. [a], rather than [ʌ]; and Russian singers that I have studied with tell me that it is the same vowel. Vladimir Nabokov, whose judgments reflect the speech of pre-Revolution St. Petersburg, writes: "In Moscow speech the unaccented o (as, for example, in Moskva) is pronounced in a manner about as 'ah'-like as the accented o in New York English ('jahb,' 'stahp'). In ordinary good [!] Russian the unaccented o (as, for example, in koróva, 'cow') is pronounced like the final a, which sounds like the ultima of 'Eva'" (Eugene Onegin (1964), 1:xxii). What Nabokov attributes to Moscow speech seems now to be the norm.

  2. All being well, these links will take you to my wife's recordings of подсолнечник and кузнецы

  3. MKR

    The point of the two texts was to give pronunciation practice of words with affricate ts and consonant sequence t-s together in sentences.

    The book was modelled on English Pronunciation Illustrated by John Trim with delightful drawings by Peter Kneebone. I suspect that the Trim book enjoyed greater pedagogic success. The drawings are funnier, and there are fewer symbols to learn.

    Lena says that в подсобном цехе sound vague but not unusual in Russian. They're in the auxiliary workshop, whatever that means.

    She considers пособный a rather Soviet word, sometimes used to describe unskilled workers.

    She read the texts from the Cyrillic, not from transcription, so you can compare her pronunciation with Dennis's choice of symbols.

    Back in 1966 Dennis had two native speakers in his Department to consult. One has an accent much like Lena's, although she is of an older generation. The other (now deceased) was, we think, from the Baltic.

  4. @MKR: Most sources on Russian phonetics suggest that the immediate pre-tonic syllable is slightly reduced. I've seen it represented it either by [ʌ] or [ɐ] (the latter is perhaps better?). I agree that it is probably more open than what ʌ usually represents. In singing I think would be usual to pronounce it the same as stressed /a/.

    One factor in this text's use of ʌ may be the Russian tradition of phonetic transcription, a combination of Cyrillic and Roman letters with other symbols, which uses a/o-ʌ-ъ to represent vowel reduction in Russian.Русская_фонетика

    Note that Russians usually transliterate the English STRUT vowel as а, e.g. in Пицца Хат.

  5. @David Crosbie: I was intrigued by your comments on подсолнечник, so I decided to investigate further in the dictionaries:

    Kuznetsov (2009) has подсолнечник, with подсолнух labeled colloquial.
    Ushakov (1935-40) has the same, along with a note giving the pronunciation as -шн- and not -чн- (as in конечно).
    Dahl (1863-66) has подсолнечник, with подсолнух labeled as "southern". It also lists the forms солнечник, солнух, and солноверт (perhaps a calque from tournesol?).

  6. Stephen

    Clearly a comprehensive dictionary must record a word if it has been used in writing. But подсолчечник in the opinion of a highly educated native speaker and university Russian teacher is such an obscure rarity that it has no place in teaching materials such as Russian Pronunciation Illustrated.

    If Lena had been around when Dennis was composing the book, she would have told him to substitute подсолнух. I have no doubt whatsoever that he would have done so.

    The Dahl entry is interesting. It does seem strange that the regionalism took over from the norm so comprehensively after 1866. But I trust Lena's instincts. She lived in an exclusively Russian-speaking environment for the first half of her life, has never since been cut off from Russian speakers, has spent much of her life outside Russia teaching Russian at university level. Her non native speaker colleagues regularly solicited and acted on her judgements.

    I don't know how dictionary publishing works in Russia. But I do know that lexicographers working for publishers in the English-speaking world consult large data banks of actual use. If words are rare, they are omitted from popular dictionaries and marked as rare in the big ones.

    Believe me, Lena's reaction to подсолнечник is extreme and categorical. This may not be the whole truth, but it is very significant data.

    The South of Russia is where sunflowers grow. Quite possibly only a small number of Northern Russian spoke or wrote about sunflowers in the nineteenth century — the flower itself, that is, not the seeds. As the broad mass of speakers outside the South became aware of the flowers, it seems natural that they should adopt the word used where the exotics came from.

  7. MKR

    Dennis Ward's more scholarly The Phonetics of Russian co-authored with Daniel Jones acknowledges the sound they transcribe with ʌ as a 'member of the a-phoneme'.

    But even with Jones as co-author the work has an essentially pedagogic purpose. It is addressed to teachers and learners of Russian. The choice of ʌ rather than a or ə for the pretonic vowel is a pragmatic one.

    1. They wanted to prevent the learner from confusing stressed a with unstressed vowels — whether corresponding to orthographic a or orthographic o. Using a different symbol is a reminder.

    There is also a pedagogic benefit they did not have in mind. My wife has found that students sent to Minsk for language practice may well come back spelling words the Belarusian way —e.g. малако for молоко.

    Presumably at Jones's insistence the section is headed ʌ (or a˔˕).

    [Well, not quite, I can't reproduce exactly the second mark after a but you get the idea.]

    2. They also wanted learners to make a distinction between the unstressed and semi-stressed (pretonic) vowels e.g in молоко. In the Phonetics course she was obliged to teach my wife found this the hardest distinction to get across. When teaching hours were reduced, she resorted to ə for both sounds. She consoles herself that the distinction is less important in Petersbug speech than Moscow speech.

    Jones and Ward decided that these two distinctions were significant. They based their analysis on Soviet phoneticians and the speech of the emigré academic Simon Boyanus.

    Having decided on the need for two symbols in addition to a, the choice of ə for the unstressed sound was obvious. The symbol ʌ has the merits of looking quite unlike a and ə. And it would have been familiar as a symbol to many of the readers they had in mind. These were clearly British readers; reference is made to accents of England and Scotland, but none (that I can see) to American accents.

    Dennis had previously written Russian Pronunciation: a Practical Guide in which he used [ ъ] rather than ʌ. It may be relevant that he also made reference to 'General American' pronunciation.

    After working with Jones, he switched to ʌ for Russian Pronunciation illustrated.

    I asked Lena about Nobokov's accent. She find's his speech posh and plummy and not at all natural — more like an actor on stage than a real speaker. I think that more or less describes his English also.

    Your mention of a as a transliteration of English u reminds me of the wonderful entry in a Soviet Literary Encyclopaedia on Aldous Хаксли with mention of his ancestor Thomas Гексли.

  8. David,

    I'm totally convinced by your arguments that подсолнух has eclipsed подсолнечник in common parlance, probably because of the exotic origins of both word and object that you mention, and that it would be the correct choice for teaching materials such as Russian Pronunciation Illustrated. As I said on the last thread, подсолнечник is specified as "botanical" in one dictionary which has both, and may only survive as a morphological and oleaginous derivative in Lena's подсолнечное масло. I have two more that don't even list подсолнух, but they are obviously out of date.

    And although it is certainly not as MKR supposes the main point that the л in the word солнтсе is silent when the word stands by itself, but is pronounced in these compounds, подсолнух is the unproblematic example of this variance, which is presumably due to the compounds having simpler consonant clusters.

    I just knew that пособный was some sort of Soviet word, and if I had thought about it I might have guessed that it's sometimes used to describe unskilled workers. But after racking our brains with хорватский, she's saved us some thinking with this. I think you're both heroic, as I said when you posted that link on the last thread. Do tell her how much she's appreciated.

    Stephen said...

    Kuznetsov (2009) has подсолнечник, with подсолнух labeled colloquial.
    Ushakov (1935-40) has the same, along with a note giving the pronunciation as -шн- and not -чн- (as in конечно).

    I had assumed this for подсолнечник, but Lena gives -чн- for it, perhaps because she is gritting her teeth at being asked to pronounce this inappropriate word.

    David, I'm so glad you've dealt with MKR and Stephen's points about a/o-ʌ-ъ in spades. You have all thrown light on a wrangle I got involved in on an earlier thread: (Warning: weirdness alert!)

    There it's фотоаппарат that's causing the trouble. I'd be pushing my luck to even wonder what Lena would make of that, but she's such a good model.

  9. MKR, far's I know that lenghtened pretonic a (spelt a or o) is still somewhat typical of Moscow.

  10. David, mallamb -- my Russian is very rusty, even though I had eight years in the primary and secondary school. So I absolutely don't mean to undermine anybody's trust in native speaker intuitions. But подсолнечник, and in particular солнечник struck me as expectably similar to Polish słonecznik. So I gave it a try, and found this:

    A modern source

    And a search for подсолнух takes you here, to a specific species, where the word is only found deeper in the article, glossed as a "common name" or something along the lines...

    Sorry for this...

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  13. wjarek

    Even if I weren't married to her, I would place infinitely more trust in Lena than in Wikipedia.

    We've already established that botanists have used the word подсолнечник for quite some time. Those Wikipedia entries do nothing to suggest that ordinary Russians have changed to using the word in non-technical contexts to describe a plant growing in a field.

    Of course there may have been a dramatic shift in usage since Lena left Russia. But before I believe it I'll need to see the sort of corpus data evidence that's used in English lexicography.

    I repeat, she's not just saying that подсолнечник is rare. She's saying that it's unthinkable for an ordinary educated Russian to use the word.

    How many sunflower fields are there in Poland? It's surely possible that you've taken over the technical word used in the North of Russia, but without the influence of a sunny South to displace it.

  14. Thank you wjarek. We should have thought of Wikipedia. But it actually vindicates Lena all over the place!

    The first article you link to is for Подсолнечник, which it says is the name of the _genus_ (род растений семейства Астровые) and that the best-known _species_ is подсолнечник масличный (Helianthus annuus), but as soon as it gets out of the botanical technicalities into merely related technicalities (Математика и подсолнечник) it starts talking about модель для распределения цветков и семян у подсолнуха, with no explanation or apology!

    And the second, for the _species_ Подсолнечник однолетний, redirected (not for nothing) from подсолнух, gives its alternative name Подсо́лнечник масли́чный, by which it was referred to in the first article, and where you say it says подсолнух is the popular name (for the _species_) it also says it's the name in heraldry, AND the name of Van Gogh's: -«Ваза с двенадцатью подсолнухами»

    So David, there's no need to get exercised about these references. It's only supposed to be an encyclopedia, not a dictionary of current usage. (Perhaps it would mollify you more if I said it's only supposed to be an encyclopedia!)

    And the huge joke is that the references to Подсолнечник масличный (and Масличный подсолнечник) as the botanical name of the species, alongside Подсолнечник однолетний, more or less vindicate your references to подсолнечное масло to boot! I have to retract my statement about подсолнечник that "I don't see why she thinks it's a backformation from подсолнечное масло, rather than the latter being a regular derivative, morphologically as well as oleaginously!" I do see now. It must indeed seem as recherché as that in common parlance. As if we were to be quite accustomed to call the stuff 'helianthic oil' and then see a picture of what we know as a sunflower labelled 'helianthus' in an EFL textbook!

    You have put me out of another agony with your new sound file of фотоаппарат (though I thought for a moment there must have been some spelling reform I hadn’t heard about, docking one of its пs!) Lena gives фо subsidiary stress and pronounces the rest more or less as I would have expected, even to the extent of having some sort of transitional ʌ/a between tə and paː ˌfotə̆ʌpaˈrat.

  15. And did v Gogh call his hélianthes?

  16. This has become as off-topic as it gets ;)

    (1) David -- I should've pointed out more explicitly that I got interested and was just asking a question and doing some simple research using the remnants of my Russian. Really, no undermining whatsoever on my part.

    (2) Sorry, I hadn't seen the reference to the botanical usage, my bad.

    (3) My point was merely that подсолнечник does live on.

    (4) More sunflower-stirring indeed shows that поле подсолнечников indeed loses out to поле подсолнухов by a factor of about 1:28 on Google. However, the former still gets hits such as this or this. If people do tag their photos in that way, the term can't be all that learned. "Field of helianthuses", which would have to be the English equivalent (would it?), only gets 3 (!) hits on Google. None tag a photo. Again, no ugly intentions here, I'm just doing corpus research out of innocent curiosity ;)

    (5) Many of those hits for поле подсолнечников are indeed from southern Russia (e.g. Krasnodar) or Ukraine. So it seems it's still persists in Russian as spoken in those parts. (And I do realise it's just the Internet. But that's how you research living usage these days, isn't it?)

    (6) mallamb: Van Gogh of course called it Tournesols, not Hélianthes.

  17. mallamb

    I just copied the spelling of the people trying to sell that camera!

  18. wjarek

    Don't worry, I wasn't taking it personally!

    It might be interesting to see how many of your references could be translated as a sunflower — the meaning of the text here — and how many mean the sunflower where the is used for generic reference.

  19. Stephen: I've seen it [viz., pretonic "a" or "o"] represented it either by [ʌ] or [ɐ] (the latter is perhaps better?). I agree that it is probably more open than what ʌ usually represents. In singing I think would be usual to pronounce it the same as stressed /a/.

    How delightful, and how rare, to hear something that confirms my understanding of a difficult point in Russian phonetics instead of overthrowing or complicating it!

    Of course, as an American, I have to remind myself not to assume that [ʌ] represents the vowel that I have in STRUT words, especially when the author of the notation is English! My STRUT vowel is probably what Dennis Ward was representing as [ə], while [ʌ] represents a vowel not in my accent.

    David Crosbie: Thanks for the account. Your wife's observation that "the distinction [between fully unstressed and pretonic vowels represented by letter "a" or "o"] is less important in Petersburg speech than Moscow speech" confirms what I had drawn from Nabokov's statement. That she finds Nabokov's Russian speech "posh and plummy and not at all natural — more like an actor on stage than a real speaker" is unsurprising, given his prose style.

    Your mention of a as a transliteration of English u reminds me of the wonderful entry in a Soviet Literary Encyclopaedia on Aldous Хаксли with mention of his ancestor Thomas Гексли

    That gave me some trouble, till I inferred that "e" there must be "ë." I suppose the conventions of transliteration were very different in the 1860s from what they were in the 20th century!

    Lipman: MKR, far's I know that lenghtened pretonic a (spelt a or o) is still somewhat typical of Moscow.

    I haven't noticed its being lengthened, but certainly the quality is brought close to that of stressed [a]. To me it often sounds as if the speakers (I don't know if all the ones in whose speech I have observed this are Muscovites or not) are giving greater stress to the pretonic than to the tonic syllable! E.g., their pronunciation of "Татьяна" or "Шостакович" will sound to me as if stressed on the antepenultimate rather than the penultimate syllable. Russians think I am crazy when I report this impression to them, but I think that they are raising the pitch (though not the loudness) of the pretonic vowel above that of the preceding and following syllables, which to my Anglophone ear gives the impression of primary stress.

  20. Yes, higher (and rising) pitch and lengthened. I never thought of it, but I see how that might be perceived as the word accent.

  21. Wjarek,
    I think we are less off-topic than usual! John is more or less giving us as well as himself carte blanche here.

    > Van Gogh of course called it Tournesols, not Hélianthes.

    That was, like, my point. "And did v Gogh call his hélianthes?" was a rhetorical question!

    Russians think I am crazy when I report this impression to them, but I think that they are raising the pitch (though not the loudness) of the pretonic vowel above that of the preceding and following syllables

    That is exactly what I thought, and have no difficulty in perceiving, because it is so like Japanese.

    > Yes, higher (and rising) pitch and lengthened.

    Your polyglottism always seems to be so much more of a real live phenomenon than mine that I might as well ask you rather than run the gauntlet of letting Lena in for some more recordings: of MKR's examples "Татьяна" and "Шостакович", would I be right in thinking the rising pitch would be in Татьяна rather than Шостакович?

  22. mallamb: "And did v Gogh call his hélianthes?" was a rhetorical question!

    Oops. So obvious. I was in my hyper-literal-no-subtext mode.

    MKR: Now I think of it, the Хаксли-Гексли thing is striking. Any other examples along similar lines? Or English u transliterated as a simple o, not ë? Or, for that matter, a transliterated as a vs. e (or э)? If anybody can point me to examples or published sources, they'll be getting a thank-you note in a forthcoming paper...

  23. No difference, I'd say, but as always, it would be best to listen to a naive native spaeaker.

    The intonation in Москва isn't unlike aaaand cut, depending on the type of English, the vowels can be the same, too.

  24. I meant, of course, u for STRUT and a for TRAP.

  25. And I answered to mallamb, in case somebody's agonising.

  26. MKR

    No, it was Гексли not Гёксли.

  27. DC: "No, it was Гексли not Гёксли." --So they were pronouncing the name as [geksli]! How bizarre! (I assume that they would pronounce "e" as "э," as is usually done with foreign names in Russian.) Here is a speculative explanation: The first Russians to translate or write about T. H. Huxley took the STRUT and TRAP vowels of English to be identical; they had a convention of using "e" to represent TRAP; so they used it for the vowel in the first syllable of "Huxley." But I don't know of any examples in which Russians use "e" (or "э") for TRAP.

    Wjarek, I looked up the Russian transliterations of some names of US states with TRAP -- Kansas, Alabama, California, Nebraska -- in Google Translate, and they all came up with "a" (Канзас, etc.).

  28. Thanks, MKR. I was actually thinking more of common words, along the lines of менеджер or истэблишмент vs. сканирование and компакт-диск. I'll do some searching tomorrow; a quick peek hasn't revealed any recent sources...

  29. MKR

    Nobody said anything about pronouncing the English vowel. Russians transliterated from script to script according to conventions operating at the time. The joke in the Huxleys example is that the conventions changed.

    Readers then use a spelling pronunciation, which makes the joke at least a wee bit amusing in oral retelling

    In fact the reality is not quite so silly as the joke as I heard it. You can see that the editors of the Энциклопедическия Словарь were in fact aware of the anomaly.

    I've also included the entry for Mark Twain to show another use of Ге to transliterate Hu.

    Now visit Huxleys & Huck Finn

  30. wjarek

    For a recent example of a transliterated as a, look no further than Гарри Поттер.

  31. wjarek

    And here's one spelling (there are others) of a word that didn't exist last week — at least not officially.

    Brand new word

  32. Photographs from sterostopic negatives in the key stone-mast collection.They are presented by Californina museum of photography.

  33. Thanks David. Геккльбери and Ге are good!

    Sure, it's more about transliteration conventions than pronunciation. But the conventions do come from somewhere, don't they? The people who thought Hu should be rendered as Ге, etc., didn't select any old random letter.

    The reason I'm asking: In Polish, there are of course examples of both "graphemic" and "phonetic" borrowings, like in Russian; thus menedżer 'manager' and flesz 'flash lamp' vs. skan 'scan'. It's telling that you have both, because it shows the ambiguity of TRAP to non-English ears.

    The above invariably use "spelling pronunciations". In turn, Flash 'graphics technology' is of course written as in English, but varies between /a/ and /ɛ/. Interesting that the ambiguity persists only at the level of pronunciation.

    Since, it seems, Polish prefers "graphemic" borrowing from English these days, I thought Russian might be a good testing ground, because it's half a step further away graphically, and most of the time can't do with a total graphemic copy. If it sticks to a for the newer borrowings (i.e., if the e/э convention is weaker these days), it would lend some support to a point I want to make elsewhere ;)

    Off to the library. Electronically, of course ;)

  34. wjarek

    You know about менеджер and Lena doesn't know of a cognatе for flash. But the Russian for scanner is сканер. Other electronic words are факс and лазер.

    At least these spellings were in use when they were first used in popular writing such as advertising copy. You'd have to check whether they've been abolished by more recent editors.

  35. Thanks, David. If anything there's more of a rise on the та in Татьяна than in Шостакович. But Татьяна starts higher in isolation. I still wonder if it couldn’t be the other way round in context, with a lower or higher pitch before both of them. But I shouldn’t just have adopted MKR's Шостакович for the comparison. I should have thought of фотоаппарат again. (Goes back to sound file and finds you have corrected the advertiser's spelling. Such punctilio!) Even in isolation that is an example of the point I was trying to make.

  36. The level of Russian I have equals my knowledge in Huttesse so I don't expect myself to actual understanding at no point what any of those pictures mean

  37. "The word солнтса ("sun")" - sun is солнце, silent 'н'.

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