I am a student learning both English and Russian, and I find the Russian pronunciation to be very different from the English one. A few months ago I made a detailed post on the Linguistics SE to explain my view that the mechanics of English speech is principally different from the mechanics of Russian speech. In short, my view is this: English speech is rather a continuous flow like meowing of a cat, a continuous flow of vowels whereon consonants are "superimposed," whilst Russian speech is rather built on consonants, which are connected with each other by short vowels, and is like a relaxed walk. To understand English speech, you have to recognize flow patterns, whilst Russian speech is more about individual consonant sounds and their sequences.

I recently caught myself pondering about what factors made the Russian pronunciation and English pronunciation so different, and it came to my mind that frost could be a factor. Russian winter is very cold, with the lowest temperature recorded in Moscow being -42 C. Google says that right now, when I am typing these lines, the temperature in Moscow is -9 C, which is still pretty cold. Under such conditions, your lips get somewhat limp and you also do not want to breathe the cold air too actively. I guess these factors may have affected the development of the Russian pronunciation and resulted, in particular, in the focus being on consonants. Furthermore, Russians tend to pronounce consonants without effort, with the mouth and lips being very relaxed, and this seems to be the natural way to speak when your lips are somewhat frozen.

An interesting related observation is that the Mongolian language is similar to Russian in that the focus is on consonants, and Mongolian winter is notoriously cold as well, with the current temperature in Ulaanbaatar being -13 C, even lower than in Moscow.

Also, comparing northern and southern European languages, I observe that whilst the northern languages sound somewhat rough, the southern languages are more vocal, so the climate might indeed have an effect on the phonetic development of a language.

My question: Have there been any serious linguistic theories put forward that link the Russian way of pronunciation with Russian frost? What do experts think about the possible effect of the Russian cold climate on the Russian way of pronunciation?

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    Talk to Wehrmacht veterans, and they will explain you how cold the Russian winter in the Moscow region is :) Napoleon would gladly share his experience, too, if he were still alive :) And speaking about Canada, you should have considered rather the indigenious languages of Canada. Here is how the Cree language sounds: youtu.be/CFUQyidy46w?t=19 . It is much more closer to Russian than to English in terms of prononciuation, isnt it? :) – Mitsuko Feb 9 at 6:21
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    Counterexample: Semitic languages are very heavily consonant-based (many of their writing systems permit one to omit most vowels when writing, since they aren't really necessary for comprehension), but developed in the Middle East, which has a largely warm and arid climate. – Robert Columbia Feb 9 at 18:28
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    @RobertColumbia Alternately, the largest consonant inventories in the world are the ones that have clicks, which certainly aren't found in arctic climates! – Draconis Feb 9 at 18:49
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    Was a joke. But I seriously wonder if you find Bulgarian or Montenegrin pronunciation very different. (They're spoken on the Mediterranean.) – Adam Bittlingmayer Feb 9 at 19:09
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    Nevertheless, Russian and Mongolian are part of the same cultural sphere. They share many words that don't come from either language. Russian has grammatical structures (like У меня машина) that are typical of Uralic or Turkic than Slavic or wider IE. Russian expanded from Kievan Rus relatively recently, the Moscow area was Uralophone, and Siberia is not anymore Russian than Canada is English. – Adam Bittlingmayer Feb 9 at 20:18

The multidisciplinary study of how climate and other environmental factors can be of influence to linguistic features in general and to phonetics in particular is something very young and results are extremely scarce and actually yet to be proven as solid claims.

There are no such studies specifically about Russian, at least such I'm aware of.

I'm aware of an article "Climate, vocal folds, and tonal languages: Connecting the physiological and geographic dots" in which it is stated that the (well-known) fact that tonal languages are more frequent phenomenon in Southeast Asia, South America and sub-Saharan Africa can be explained by combination of warm climate and higher humidity.

I can speculate that may be for you somehow tonal languages sound more soft but I won't. See, the problem with your question - if we want to discuss anything further we need to establish very firm terminology of what is "like relaxed walk", what is harsh, what is soft etc. Unlike the tonality which one can treat as pretty transparent classification factor, your factors yet to be clearly defined.

That being said my answer still would be no - even if cold is contributing somehow to phonetics, speaking of specifically Russian it's will be an extreme oversimplification of things to say that it's an independent factor.

Russian as a language for centuries developed in a milder climate and even nowadays in the relatively southern areas where Russian is spoken we don't detect drastic changes in phonetic system that we can attribute to the climate.

Moreover, Russian is not the only language that exists simultaneously in different climate zones, there are more outstanding examples, such as Canadian French and Canadian English, Yakut language native speakers of which live in most cold areas of Russia and which is Turkic language with quite regular turkic phonetic features that one can also find in Turkish; or Afrikaans which is basically a southern offspring of Dutch and, again, we don't see any that huge changes in it.

And by the way southern Slavic languages are, so to speak, more consonant-built in your terminology than Russian.

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    The effect doesn't need to be a 100% and stop immediately when winter is over. The counterexamples aren't decisive either. Hence I also don't buy your notions about the development of Russian. As far as I know, that's poorly understood. – vectory Feb 9 at 10:41
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    @vectory I actually agree and easily can be a devil's advocate here and come up with a lot of counter-arguments - like both Afrikaans and Canadian English exists less than 500 years and it's not enough to make any conclusions. To this counter-arguments I can introduce counter-counter-arguments like there's Canadian vowel shift so either it's affected by climate or not (it looks like it doesn't) and so on. You are right, may be I should've stopped saying that before making any conclusions we need to establish precise definitions. – shabunc Feb 9 at 11:41
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    and you would still miss the question, which is asking "Have there been any serious linguistic theories put forward that link the Russian way of pronunciation with Russian frost?". That is another way of saying look at this thing I just noticed, what about that, huh to conform with the site rules. Rules are rules and as long as you receive netto upvotes nobody seems to care. But in general, the most succint negative answer to is there? is no answer. – vectory Feb 9 at 13:54
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    @vectory let me be clear there was no such linguistics theories, at least ones that I am aware of. – shabunc Feb 9 at 14:25
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    and some discussion was published here academic.oup.com/jole/issue/1/1 – Alex B. Feb 9 at 23:19

I hardly would say Ukraine and Belarus have very cold climate, yet those languages are the closest to Russian (I do not know how do you assess the pronounciation of them).

By the way, if you take for instance Hebrew, its phonology is similar to Russian (except the fricative g which Russian lacks). When Russian speakers learn Hebrew they do not have to do any adjustments regarding pronunciation.

Also, Russian has more vowels than Church Slavonic which developed further South. You can easily guess where is the native Russian word and where is the borrowing from OCS by counting the vowels: глава vs голова, пламя vs поломя, плен vs полон, молочный vs млечный, ворог vs враг, среда vs середина, страж vs сторож, брег vs берег, град vs город, бремя vs беременность etc.

Similarly, Czech language has much less vowels than Russian.

Georgian language from South Caucasus is famous for its enormous consonant clusters. Consider for instance, გვფრცქვნის (gvprtskvnis) with 8 consonants in a row or ვეფხვთმბრდღვნელი (vefhvtmbrdgvneli) with 11 consonants in a row.

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  • 1. Most Jews are Ashkenazi, frequently from CCCP. This suggest the current Hebrew phonology were secondary. That warrants it's own question, no need to answer in comments. Perhaps you can improve the question, but you yourself doubted there was a valid measure. That's inconsistent. 2. There is always a sustained low vowel surrounding a syllabic sonorant on the one hand, and there's semivovels on the OCS hand, no? No, I'm confusing terms, I'm sure. 3. Georgian sounded nevertheless smooth(?) to my ear. Also, Russian influence in the last decade, for what it's worth, though not on the script. – vectory Feb 10 at 17:55
  • 4. Georgia is famous for its skiing-reservoirs. Georgia is one friggin mountain site. Speaking of which, Swiss German is frequently mocked for being extremely rhotic (what's the word). But of course it can sound smooth (which I have to say so I don't contradict myself), just consider yodeling. ... I mean, while we are talking about stereotypes. – vectory Feb 10 at 18:12
  • Just as a side note because I've seen this misconception elsewhere, Hebrew does not have a velar fricative: the Hebrew rhotic is a uvular approximant. – TKR Feb 10 at 23:42
  • @TKR i am not talking about rhotic. – Anixx Feb 11 at 3:12
  • What "fricative G" are you talking about, then? Hebrew does not have a voiced velar fricative. – TKR Feb 11 at 6:06

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