Russian Phonology & English Translation

In English we have eleven vowel sounds represented by  various combinations of five vowel orthographic symbols.

Two of those sounds are:

[i] & [ɪ]

That’s IPA. They’re equivalent to the “hard” i in “bite” and the “soft” i in “bit.”

But Russian doesn’t phonemically make that distinction.

Conceptually, those two sounds function together as allomorphs for a single phonemic sound. What that means is that [i] & [ɪ] in Russian are roughly similar to the -s plural form in English which is -s in “cats,” -z in “dogs,” and -es in “boxes.” In our minds (our English phonological system), they’re the same, even though physically speaking they are completely different sounds.

So what happens when Russians translate certain phrases from Russian to English and put them on street signs?


…something like this:

Green who?

Disclaimer: I know some of my readers are uncomfortable with foul language. Please remember that its not supposed to be foul. And if you’re still uncomfortable, just don’t click on it.

One thought on “Russian Phonology & English Translation

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  1. Ah yes, I’m familiar with this problem among speakers of Russian, and other languages for that matter, learning English. Other confusions are between sneakers and Snickers bars, and between “sheet” and …

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