Accents in spoken Russian?

I have a few questions about the accent or accents of spoken Russian.

First an observation. Maybe this is trivial and to be expected, but I notice that I don’t really detect any accent when listening to native speakers speaking in Russian. They just sound normal. Maybe that means my ear has become attuned. (That is important and non-trivial – I find it very hard to understand native English speakers from the Bahamas, e.g., because I’m not attuned to their accent.) It is a bit of a shock when I watch a video of someone speaking Russian when they switch to English, and suddenly they have a heavy accent. :wink:

As for the questions…

When a native Russian speaker hears an American speaking in Russian, what in their speech marks them as an American? I guess that this is a way of asking what I should work on to reduce my American accent.

I have searched a little bit on the topic of Russian accents, and most seem to say that there is not much of a variety of accents by region or class. Some mentioned less flattening of “О” in northern regions. I understand if there are no major dialectical variations, but are there clues in native Russians’ speech that tell you where they’re from?

When I was watching some Russian movie recently, I was struck by how similar the sound of one character was to that of the character Кот in the movie “Сволочи” (the role of Александр Головин). If you’ve seen that movie, can you tell me whether Головин spoke with a particular accent in that role? Or was it perhaps just a case of two actors sounding similar?

It seems that the older the movie, the more strongly the “Р” (r) is trilled. Is this an accurate observation – is that sound softening somewhat over time? Or is it perhaps due to actors in older films just speaking more emphatically? It is possible to notice American accents changing over time in movies, so I wonder if the same is noticeable in Russian movies.

It’s a subject for a long discussion :slight_smile:

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We had more accents 100 yeares ago, but now you are right, we have only very small differences in speaking in different areas of the country.
The situation is this that we had and have a very centralized country - and Moscow radio and later Moscow TV influenced greatly the whole country.
What about ‘r’ - it depends on the person, there is no general trend to moderate this sound.

Evgueny, it seems strange but your personal “что” sounds a bit different from the traditional one they speak on radio and TV.
But in general you are right. Especially it was evident for me in Germany when I travelled with a Russian immigrant company. The passangers of each trip were from different parts of the ex-USSR, means from different independant republics. It was impossible to say (or to hear) who came from St. Petersbourg and who came from Kazakhstan.

I’ve noticed a difference between Ukrainians speaking vs. Russians speaking.

Perhaps the Ukrainians I heard were more from the Ukrainian speaking area.

Sure, there exist Ukrainian, Belarusian, Baltic, Caucasian accents in Russian. Basically it means such people use their local languages much more often than Russian. But at the same area there can live many people who speak only Russian, they usually have the standard Russian accent.

Re. Ukranians and others, that’s to be expected. My query more concerns native Russians in Russia.

(To get off subject a bit, when I hear Ukrainian – which I do not know – it sounds to me like someone trying to speak Russian with a Spanish accent. :smiley: I doubt that’s how it sounds to a pair of Russian ears, though.)

when I hear Ukrainian – which I do not know – it sounds to me like someone trying to speak Russian with a Spanish accent

I can attest to this as well. Ukrainian sounds a bit more fluid and soft than Russian. Almost like Romanian, or perhaps Spanish like you say!

When I was in Russia with a group of high school students during Brezhnev’s days, one of our group went into an army supply store to buy a pair of “СА” shoulder boards as a souvenir. Some one stopped him – police? I don’t recall – and asked where he was from. An American in those days caught buying items for a Soviet Army uniform could be in trouble. So he risked making it worse by lying – he said that he was from Lithuania and studying at МГУ, having been told once that an American accent and a Lithuanian accent are similar when speaking Russian. I have no idea whether that is true. But he was not accosted further.

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During Brezhnev’s days we had no much opportunity to hear American accent in Russian but it was used to hear Baltic accents which sound very “western” and foreign.

There is even not just that, but also somewhat like a dialectic continium (surzhyk) in the rural Ukraine between the Russian and Ukranian languages. But other than that Russian has no real dialects, just regional phonological differences (and even that just minor). Interesting to me is the former dialect of Russian Cossacks - Balachka. It stays to some extent presented in the literature, including Quietly Flows the Don (Тихий Дон) by Sholokhov.

Perhaps the original questions were too broad and ought to have been posted separately. No one has addressed the question of what marks an American accent , and more specifically what we should work on to loose an American accent?

For example, similar advise for Russian speakers wishing to speak English with less of a Russian accent:

  • Don’t be satisfied with how you pronounce “R”. You almost certainly don’t do it correctly. Work on it some more.

  • Russian “У” does not substitute for English “W”. “W” is a consonant: it should be very short and should restrict airflow a little. (Russian “В” is no substitute for “W” either!)

  • “H” should be much, much softer than “Х”.

  • English has a large number of vowel sounds that vary subtly, and many of them are not used in Russian. Variations in vowel pronunciation are a large part of regional accents in English. Choose your preferred English pronunciation – BBC or Standard American, e.g. – and work to imitate all the nuances of the vowels of a native speaker. “Put” and “putt” should sound different, and neither should sound like “poot” or “pot”, for example (at least not in my regional accent).

  • Long “O” is one vowel sound in particular that is different between Russian and English, and it needs your attention. You need to use you lips for this one.

  • “Th” represents another set of sounds not present in Russian, but I don’t notice it being too much of a problem. You can probably get it right with practice. Don’t use “Ф” as a substitute, for goodness sake.

Much of that is probably already familiar to you. So what do Americans do wrong when speaking Russian? For example I suppose we have a tendency to use long “О” in unstressed syllables. What else?

Отвечайте по-русский если вы хотите. Как обычно, я читаю совсем лучше чем говорю или пишу.

гораздо лучше, чем

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Дейтвительно, обсуждать русское произношение на английском языке более, чем странно. По интонации легко определить москвичей - они побыстей говорят, растягивая слова с понижением интонации на окончаниях. В Поволжье Окают, на Урале говорят отрывисто, угрюмо, в южных регионах Краснодарского, Ставропольского краев говорят напевно, завлекательно. Есть слова, используемые в определенной местности, “шифоньер” - на Урале, “синенькие” (баклажаны) - в Краснодарском крае, “Москва-река” - москвичи никогда не склоняют название в этом словосочетании. Они скажут: “По Москва-реке ходит ракета”. Ракета - это вид водного транспорта. Дикторы на ТВ говорят с правильными интонациями, но приглашённые гости своим произношением могут выдать регион проживания. Кроме государственного русского языка в России используется ещё 173 языка, из них - 23 языка признаны официальными языками. Русские не поймут тех, кто говорит на татарском, башкирском, осетинском, абхазском, адыгейском и т.д.

  • In Russian there are only two degrees of word stress (stressed and unstressed).
  • Do not forget that some vowels undergo reduction in an unstressed position.
  • There is a world of difference between Russian consonants “т”, “д”, “c”, “ш”, “л”, “н” and their English counterparts.
  • Russian consonants “п”, “т”, “к” are not aspirated.
  • Voiced consonants at the end of the word are pronounced as voiceless. Devoicing also occurs when a voiced consonant appears in front of a voiceless consonant.
  • Voicing occurs when a voiced consonant precedes a voiceless consonant.
  • Do not substitute Russian “и” with English “i”.
  • To get Russian “ы”, you should place your tongue in the position right between the positions of English sounds “i” and “u”.

Я посмотрел несколько видео на YouTube на русском языке в котороым обсуждают правильное произношение английского. Я не считаю это странно. Благодарю вам за ответ – он очень интересно и точно как я искал.

И вот буквы “ш” и “щ”. Steve Kaufmann сам сказал что он не может отделить их.

I found this paper useful for learning to distinguish the way English (or French for that matter) sh, zh differ from Russian ж and ш and then, the latter from щ. The x-ray tracings of the mouth pronouncing the sounds are especially useful. One bonus point: if you pronounce properly a hard sound (as ж and ш are) it’s easy to pronounce the ы after them: