Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Church Slavonic: Russian's Religious Brother

Church Slavonic is a language from the Slavic family that is used for the liturgy (music, prayers, etc.) of many Orthodox Churches, including the vast majority of Russian Orthodox parishes.  Originally written in Glagolitic script, the Cyrillic script took prominence and has been used since at least 1491.  Up until the 18th century, Church Slavonic was not exclusively a liturgical language but also used in other forms or Russian literature and thus has been regarded by some as a higher form of Russian.

While Russian uses the same alphabet and shares words with Church Slavonic, some differences in pronunciation are noteworthy:

  • There is no vowel reduction, so "е" and "о" are pronounced the same under stress and not under stress
  • No word-final devoicing
  • The letter ё does not exist
  • The letter г can be pronounced as a voiced fricative velar sound or devoiced to a [х] sound as in Бог, often pronounced [Бох]
  • The г in the endings -его and -ого is pronounced as written instead of as a [v] sound as it is pronounced in standard Russian.
Check out this sample of a Russian Orthodox litany sung in Church Slavonic.  It may be a bit difficult to follow in some places, but pay particular attention to the lack of vowel reduction and the pronunciation of -его and -ого.


Martin Barry said...

How do Russians speaking/singing Church Slavonic pronounce щ? As in modern Russian [ɕː], or something more like шч?


Martin Barry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin Barry said...

(In the video it sounds mainly like [ɕː], apart from лежащих at 2:37?)