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Are Russian Dialects Difficult to Understand?

Dialects, or spoken variants of a language, exist in all languages, and people from one part of a country often speak differently to those who live in other parts. In this post, we focus on the dialects in the Russian language. To explore detailed information about the history of Russia, learn Russian with a tutor.

How Many Dialects Are There in Russian?

Although some say there are no dialects in Russian at all and that people speak standard Russian throughout the country, some dialects do exist. Linguists usually divide dialects into three major groups: northern, southern, and central Russian dialects.

The good news is that dialects do not differ very much. This means that a person from Moscow can easily understand someone from Vladivostok, despite the many thousands of kilometers that lie between them. The main difference between the northern and southern dialects is pronunciation.

Northern Russian

People who live in the north of Russia pronounce the letter “о” very clearly. This phenomenon is called “оканье” (okanye). For example, they will pronounce the word “молоко” (milk) “moloko,” while in standard Russian it’s pronounced “malako.”

This dialect is spoken in Leningrad Oblast, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, Siberia, the Russian Far East, and some other areas.

Southern Russian

Dialects that belong to this group have the same peculiarity: the unstressed letter “o” is pronounced as “a,” a phenomenon called “аканье” (akanye). Thus, when pronouncing the word “борода” (boroda – beard), people from the south will say “barada.”

Another phenomenon, called “яканье” (yakanye), is characterized by pronouncing unstressed “o,” “a,” and “e” as “æ” when they precede the stressed syllable. For instance, the word “несли” (carried) is pronounced “næsli,” while in standard Russian it’s “nisli.”

These dialects are spoken in Southern Ural, Siberia, Ryazan Oblast, Voronezh Oblast, and other regions.

Central Russian

Central dialects bear the characteristics of both the northern and southern dialects, but they are transitional. Some feature okanye, while others feature akanye.

Regional Vocabularies

Dialects include more than regional pronunciation differences: in Russia, like in other countries, people may use different names for the same objects.

Citizens of Saint Petersburg call the porch “парадная” (paradnaya), while in Moscow and other cities the word “подъезд” (pod’ezd) is used. There is also no difference between the words “пончик” (ponchik) and “пышка” (pyshka): “пончик” (ponchik) is used in Moscow for “doughnut,” but this becomes “пышка” (pyshka) in Saint Petersburg.

Why Are Russian Dialects so Similar?

Russian dialects are so similar because during the Soviet era people learned standard Russian at schools and universities. Thus, everybody in the country was taught “proper” Russian. The increased mobility of the population at that time also led to partial elimination of dialects, as people from different regions needed to understand each other.

That’s why you shouldn’t be worried: when you learn standard Russian, you’ll be able to understand people from all the regions of the country. They may use some local words, but you can just ask them the meaning. Work with a teacher to start understanding the Russian language.

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