Gorbachev/Gorbachov – which is right?

Who was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991? If your answer is Mikhail Gorbachev, then you’re right … nearly.

The Russian alphabet is different from our own. With 33 letters, it can take some getting used to if you’re more familiar with the Latin alphabet we use in the West.

One issue that can cause confusion is the Russian vowels ‘e’ and ‘ё’. The ‘e’ is pronounced ‘ye’ while the ‘ё’ is pronounced ‘yo’. So far, so good. But things get complicated when you realise that the Russians often leave the umlaut (two dots) off the ‘ё’, meaning that ‘e’ can be pronounced both ‘ye’ and ‘yo’.

Gorbachev’s name in Russian is correctly written Горбачёв – so it’s actually pronounced Gorbachov. But because the Russians can leave the umlaut off, and so also spell it Горбачeв, so we also tend to follow the same convention, meaning his name gets transliterated as ‘Gorbachev’. Strictly speaking, that’s incorrect – there’s only one correct way of pronouncing his name, but the convention persists and, as a result, millions of Westerners get it wrong. And as for Nikita Krushchev/ov…

PS  The letter ‘ё’ is always stressed, so it’s ‘Gorbachόv/Krushchόv’, not ‘Gόrbachov/Krύshchov’.

This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Post Comment