Let's begin with the everybody's favourite first Russian sentence:
Мама мыла раму.
What?! How can I read that?!
If you can't figure out the first word, you probably need a better browser,
better fonts, or a different OS. Otherwise, let's move on.
Yes, your guess is right. The first word means "mom". You can read it
like Italians do for the time being. (If you don't know how Italians say mama,
go watch some gangster movies.)
The second word has two unfamiliar letters. ы (it's one letter,
not two) reads almost like "i" in "sit" or "y" in "myth". You can make a
better approximation by noticing the difference between "beet" and "bit"
and then extrapolating this difference even further. The other letter, л,
resembles a scaled-down Greek capital lambda, which it basicly is. It reads
like English "L". So The overall sound of the second word is something like
"myh-lah". The stress in this word is on the first syllable. The meaning
of the word is "washed" or "was washing" -- Russian verb tenses are much
more coarse-grained than English ones.
The third word starts with р but it's not the same as English
p, it's more like Greek rho, and reads accordingly. Similarly, the last letter
looks like English y, but is related to Greek upsilon and reads like u in
"full" or "oo" in "moo". The stress in this word is on the first syllable
again (don't be so fast, there's no general rule), the overall sound is
something like "rah-moo", and the word means "frame". (The sentence in children's
textbooks usually goes with a picture showing a woman washing a window frame.)
And here's an amazing fact: this sentence is completely analogous (as
far as nouns are concerned) to the first Latin sentence of The Trollaxor
Approach to Latin, which reads Anna Sullam amat. Two distantly
related languages, Latin and Russian, in fact share a lot of structure --
no wonder, because both are relatively archaic members of the Indo-European
In both cases, the first noun is the subject and so is in the nominative.
The second noun is in accusative, for it's the direct object. The subjects'
endings are even identical in Russian and Latin! The objects' endings don't
look the same, but linguists can trace the Russian -у ending back
to Indo-European -am. A nominative form of раму is рама -- all nouns in Russian
dictionaries are listed in nominative, and it is important to be able to
recognise this basic form.
So the meaning of the sentence is "mom washed a frame". Or maybe "the
frame". With Russian one can never be sure because the language (surprise!)
does not mandate any notion of specificity on the grammar level. In simpler
words, English "a" and "the" have no counterparts in Russian.
Let us look at another specimen of the Russian speech:
Скоро Новый Год.
A reader familiar with the Greek language would probably guess that С
is related to Sigma, Г to Gamma, and Д to Delta. I can only
confirm that. В is like Beta and reads like English V. Н is,
however, unrelated to Eta. It is, in fact, a modified Latin/Greek N and reads
just like it. An interesting beast is й: one of only two Russian letters
with diacritics, it is a non-syllable-making wovel which sounds approximately
like "y" in "yet". The о letter isn't very different from its English
or Greek counterparts, and neither is к.
A quick reader would conclude that the first word reads like "skoh-roh".
Well, that would be too quick. The correct reading is "skoh-rah". Why? Because
the stress is on the first syllable, and unstressed о reads just
like а in Russian. Confusing? Wait, there's more! The meaning
of the word is "soon".
The second word is not very troublesome, except I don't know how to transcribe
it into English well. The first (stressed) syllable is "noh", the second
one is best approximated by the "vy y" part of "navy yet". The word means
The third word would sound like "god", except it sounds like "got". Why?
Because д in the end of a syllable (and in some other cases) is read
like "t", not like "d". That same word in accusative would be "года",
and there д reads like d. The word means "year" and is linked,
in mysterious ways, to English "good".
So the overall meaning is something like "New Year is soon". Except there's
no werb in the Russian sentence. That's OK, Russian almost always omits its
equivalent of "to be" in the present tense. So phrases like "I am a kuro5hin
user", "he is a troll" or "they are serious" would all be verbless in Russian.
In conclusion, let's review what ve've learned today:
In our next lesson we will see more. More letters, more sounds, more cases, more vocabulary. Good bye -- пока! (The stress is on the second syllable here. How do you read this word?)
- The subject is in the nominative case
- The direct object is in the accusative case
- There no counterparts to "a" and "the" in Russian
- A letter can change its reading depending on position
- "To be" is omitted in the present tense
- мама: mom
- рама: frame
- новый: new
- год: year
- скоро: soon
- мыла: washed