Russian Politician Blames Hard-to-Pronounce Cyrillic Letter for Country’s Bad Image

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March 12 2014 1:38 PM

Russian Politician Blames Hard-to-Pronounce Cyrillic Letter for Country’s Bad Image

Жирино́вский ... with an и.

Photo by Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

Many first-year Russian students may struggle to properly pronounce the letter Ы, which makes a hard-i sound and is usually transliterated into English as y, but could the letter be responsible for Russia’s poor international image? As Radio Free Europe reports, ultranationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky thinks so:

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Only animals make this sound, 'ы- ы,'" he said, adding that the regular "и" ("i") is enough for the Russian alphabet. 
"Ы" doesn't exist in any other European language, argued Zhirinovsky. "This primitive, Asiatic sound is the reason people don't like us in Europe," he told lawmakers.

Russian spelling is much more phonetic than languages using the Latin alphabet, so making this change would be roughly equivalent to turning “fit” into “feet” or “pill” into “peel.”

Zhirinovsky is the leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party, which is neither of those things, and a lifetime member of the country’s loyal opposition. He’s run in every post-communist presidential election without actually challenging the ruling United Russia party on any matters of substance. He’s best known for doing things like referring to entire regions of the country as “retarded,” starting fistfights on national television, and continuing to accuse Jews of bringing Russia to ruin and bringing the Holocaust on themselves, even after admitting that he is in fact half-Jewish himself.

In the same speech, he proposed that the United States be kicked out of the G-8.

For what it’s worth, the Ukrainian alphabet doesn’t include Ы, though this is the first I’ve heard of it being an explanation for the country’s political divide.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 


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