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The Russian letter “Ё” celebrates its 230th birthday


The letter “Ё” is celebrating a jubilee today. Its 230 years old. It’s the most vocally powerful – double dots mean a double stress. As well as the most scandalous one – many cases when its necessary, and many when its not. Its been causing debates since the late 18th century. Alexey Zhukov dotted all the “Ё’s”.


Fellows from a records studio willingly agreed to create a congratulating song to the most scandalous letter in the Russian alphabet. But admitted – its been a while since they last heard a traditional rappers’ “YO!” greeting.  

Sereja Berlusconi, director of record studio: “This exclamation appeared in the Russian rap in the beginning of the 1990s – and everyone used it: rockers, punks – when they saw a rapper, they always said “Ё” (“Yo”). In the early days we had the so-called Baltic clan of rappers in St. Petersburg, they used phrases like that, then they faded away around 1998 and the phrases did too”. 

According to Sergey, rappers’ lyrics are now closer to Russia’s reality and there’s no place for “Ё” in them. There are, in fact, very few words with this letter in Russian. Only 150 start with it and around 300 end with it. It appeared at the end of the 18th century. Countess Dashkova masterminded it. In 1783, it received the majority of the votes at Imperial Academy, including that of Derzhavin. The Bolsheviks first kept it, then lost it, then Stalin revived it – having seen correct names of Russian villages on German maps – but then the two-dotted letter disappeared again.

Today, the letter “Ё” still doesn’t have a legitimate status. It is definitely necessary in three types of text: in children’s books (that is to avoid incorrect pronunciation among the growing generation), in language textbooks for foreigners (with the same aim) and in encyclopedias. It was also made obligatory in a number of personal and geographical names. 

In all other cases it is optional. However, teachers in schools are still seriously looking out for the letter “Ё”. 

Nina Luneva, teacher of Russian and literature: “If my students don’t put dots above the letter “Ё” in a dictation, I classify it as a mistake and such a student would not receive a top mark. My name is Nina Vasilyevna LunYOva, but if I open my passport I see Nina Vasilyevna LunEva. But im LunYOva, not LunEva”. 

Theoretically, Gerard Depardieu is experiencing the same problem today, similarly as Duke de Richelieu could have experienced. Nowadays, persuading an officials handing out passport to put the correct letter is as difficult as conquering Troy. It results in complication while receiving inheritance, when a child’s last name differs, and many other red-tape issues. The fate of the letter is decided by the inter-body council on the Russian language. But in 2013 it hasn’t assembled a single once. Linguists have are divided about “Ё”. “YO-ficators” are rigorous fighters to keep the letter, make it strictly necessary. Those who favor optional usage believe such approach can even harm the language. 

Dr. Valeriy Efremov, professor of Russian language faculty of the Gertzen Russian State Pedagogical University: “We’ve got used to reading a text without noticing the double-dots. In those texts where it is used, we often become confused and read slower. It clear as daylight that no Russian man would read YOzh (a hedgehog) as Ezh, YOlka (a pine tree) az Elka” 

Lyudmila Verbitskaya, president of the SPSU: “No-one argues about YOzhik and YOlka, right? That’s why we’re talking here about far more complex word, with a far more complex rhythmic structure – from which the letter “Ё” has disappeared. That’s where, I believe, this letter must be a full-time member of the Russia alphabet and, eventually, lead to correct pronunciation”. 

The difficult life of the letter “Ё” is often explained by implementation of new technologies. It is rarely seen in newspapers – more difficult to print. These dots do not fit into television titles. The letter is tucked away into a corner on a Russian computer keyboard, and hidden underneath its “sister” – letter “Е”on some smartphones. It takes an effort to find it even in a dictionary. 

Alexey Zhukov, correspondent: “Formally speaking, the letter “Ё” exists anyway. But its being neglected, to put it mildly. Written mistakes made an impact on verbal language. The GrenadErskiy Bridge long became the GrenadYOrskiy, the PlanYOrnaya street – named this way in 1988 after the first engineless flying object – now turned into PlanErnaya. Mistakes are made even in words especially typical for St. Petersburg. What is the correct pronunciation – gololEditsa (ice-crust) or gololYOditsa? Its unclear who will win this battle – the “YO-ficators” or those professing the optional usage approach. But common sense suggest that forgetting and neglecting the 7th letter of the Russian alphabet would not be a smart choice.