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Before I had heard any spoken, Russian was one of my favorite languages. I used to have fun just reading Russian dictionaries, and I thought I'd soon learn to speak it. But when I tried to find some recordings, I felt that what seemed to be the 'main' Russian accent was not to my taste.

It stands to reason that a language with very extensive geographical spread will also develop more than one accent, over time. I am interested in knowing what the main accents are regarding Russian as it is spoken today among native speakers. I am particularly interested in how vowel articulation might differ geographically. To a lesser extent, I am interested in geographical variation in sentence intonation.

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    I think I've heard that one of the notable qualities of Russian these days is its lack of regional variation, at least where it's the first language. Second language speakers can be spotted by stressing the wrong syllable and not knowing when "o" should be pronounced like "a". Dec 5 '11 at 21:07
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    @hippietrail I am not sure about your second criterion, but among other criteria are the wrong palatalization, declension errors, fricative "г".
    – Anixx
    Apr 19 '13 at 17:55
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Geographically, there is not much variation in the Russian language. Basically, the variation is more related to stress placement.

Word usage and stress are different in countries that were part of the Russian Empire and lately, the USSR. Ukraine and Belarus have their own languages, which are close to Russian, but not dialects of Russian. All of them developed from Old Slavic language. In these countries, languages are mixed and we call them "Surzhyk", something like "pidgin". This is the main difference.

Vowel articulation is different in cities that were influenced by other non-Slavic languages. For example, in Vologda, they say [o] instead of the more common [ɒ]. It's like the pronunciation of the word "mum" in British English ([mom]), while Americans pronounce it [mɒm]. In Moscow, people often use [a] in words where Standard Russian has [o] or [ɒ]. Even the word "Москва" is pronounced as "МАсква". People from small cities pronounce the vowel "e" exactly in words where it should be "э". For example, they pronounce "шинель" as it is written, but should say "шинЭль".

The St. Petersburg dialect is perceived by many as more accurate and intelligent.

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    What do you mean by "wrong usage", "strange sounds" and "intelligent pronunciation"? Phrases like that seem to imply some kind of prescriptivist value judgement. Dec 7 '11 at 12:46
  • There is a language standard for Russian language, described since end of XIXth century, in dictionaries and grammars (set of rules). During USSR period they are was confirmed in government as guide, and trained in schools since the 1920s. Before World War I, only 21% of citizens was literate, because of the high cost on education. In soviet period all education was free: from public schools to universities, and language was guided by the government rules, as result 96%. That's why now, there are not so much differences in pronunciation. They still exist mostly with people born in 1920-30s.
    – sigrlami
    Dec 7 '11 at 13:12
  • British English doesn't have the word "mom", they have the worm "mum", and the "u" is pronounced just as in "but" etc... Dec 8 '11 at 12:22
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    Also, Am. English has an unrounded back vowel: [ɑ] not [ɒ]
    – user325
    Jan 13 '12 at 6:45
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    In fact, language variation is not generally a sign of illiteracy. England, for instance, has a long history of high literacy, and also a great deal of regional variation in pronunciation. Anyway, linguists frown on referring to dialect variation in terms of "mistakes" or "bad pronunciation." People who speak Yorkshire English, say, aren't trying to speak like upper-middle-class Londoners and failing out of laziness or stupidity. They're successfully speaking Yorkshire English! Mar 24 '12 at 17:47
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Russian definitely has dialects with pronounciation specifics (e.g. one can distinguish south accents, as mine, from the Moscow one), but at least among cities language it's very "smoothed" due to huge migrations and radio/TV influence. Experts can distinguish urban dialects for hundreds of properties, but most of them aren't detectable by people without special training. Nowadays one can hear original dialects with their full specifics only in villages.

Some examples of original differences:

Sentence intonation is almost equal for most Russian dialects in the sense that in simple sentences only one logically stressed word has changed tone of stressed syllable. Complex sentences with subordinate clauses get smoothed intonation floating. (The notable exception is Olonets region which keeps some reflexes of the old tonal stress system.) The same is true for east Ukrainian dialects, as opposed to west ones, where intonations are closer to common European style (the boundary is approximately between Ternopil and Zhytomir). So, if you want to hear sentence intonation style known in English, German, etc., study west Ukrainian dialects:)

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I found a reference in "Using Russian: a guide to contemporary usage", by Offord and Gogolitsyna. Section 1.5 deals with Regional variation in Russian.

There is a fairly comprehensive discussion with examples – not just okanje and akanje but frication of g, as well as a number of grammatical and lexical variations. In short, they say that the higher registers of Russian exhibit little variation, and that the colloquial register does vary – although it is surprisingly uniform given the large geographical area.

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  • @Otavio thanks for cleaning up my answer; I'm still getting used to the conventions. Dec 11 '11 at 23:03
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The main living dialects are:

1) Moscovian (fast speech tempo, emphasised [a] in unstressed positions, longer [a] in stressed position)

2) North-Western (much similar to modern literary standard)

3) Southern (with fricative [γ])

Caucasian Russian is regarded by some linguists as something between pidgeon and creole, although it does not differ much from the standard Russian.

Siberian Russiad is much like a separate dialect (although some dialects, like чалдонская поговорка, are [almost?] extinct now.

There are also sociolects (e.g. criminal slang, etc.) differing mainly in style.

Some other regional variaties had prevailed, although the modern Russian is mainly a monocentric language with a prescreptive grammar.

The Russian spoken by diaspora wordlwide varies greately, due either to conservation (e.g. Russian spoken by first wave emmigrés in France or China), or because of borrwings and language contacts (Russian in America and in Baltic & Nordic States).

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  • There is NO "Moscovian" dialect different from Standard Russian.
    – Anixx
    Apr 16 '13 at 16:24
  • There IS a Moscovian dialect different from Standard Russian. Brief description: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscow_dialect
    – Manjusri
    Apr 16 '13 at 16:32
  • Although the article postulates similarity between the two dialetcs, the actual situation is different. Proof (in Russian): ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Manjusri
    Apr 16 '13 at 16:37
  • @Anixx: by the way, were you the downvoter?
    – Manjusri
    Apr 16 '13 at 19:02
  • Yes, I was the downvoter. Standard Russian=current Moscow dialect. Historical Moscow dialect is not used anywhere now.
    – Anixx
    Apr 17 '13 at 9:56

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