Do Russians Have Regional Accents?
25 April, 2018
In the UK, where I’m from, accents are a big deal. Regional accents can vary hugely across distances of just a few miles, and accents are often used (however unfairly) as a basis for judgements about a person’s background, class or education.
So, when I began learning Russian in St. Petersburg, it seemed only natural to me that I’d be picking up Russian with an accent specific to the city. After all, someone in St. Petersburg would surely speak differently to someone almost 10,000 km away in Vladivostok… right?
The “Standard Russian” Accent
As it turns out, that’s only partly true. In fact, Russian is one of the most standardised languages in the world. While there is some regional variation, it’s often not particularly pronounced. If you’re not a native speaker, you’d be forgiven for not even noticing it at all.
There are several historical reasons why the Russian language is so homogenous despite Russia’s large size. Part of it stems from the mass movements of people around the country, and between rural and urban areas, that occurred under the USSR, which significantly reduced regional variation. Another cause was the Soviet introduction of universal, compulsory education, which set out to replace regional dialects with the Standard Russian that is still spoken today. And, of course, all Soviet media was delivered in Standard Russian too, which only made things even more uniform.
Some Diversity in Dialects
While you’re unlikely to notice the Russian accent change much, you might notice a few differences in dialect between regions. (To clarify, accent refers to pronunciation alone, while dialect refers to vocabulary and grammar as well.) In Russia, most regional variation can be found in vocabulary and grammar quirks rather than pronunciation.
Russia’s regional dialects can be divided into three categories: Northern, Central and Southern. There are also a few dialects spoken by particular ethnic groups (e.g. the Balachka, Goryuns and Pomor dialects) and mixed dialects spoken near the borders that combine elements of Russian with neighbouring languages, such as Belarussian (Transianka dialect) and Ukrainian (Surzhyk dialect).
It’s also worth noting that Russian is widely spoken in many parts of the former USSR. In these areas, the majority of Russian speakers speak Standard Russia. While there are of course subtle regional differences, again, as a non-native speaker, you’re unlikely to pick these up. That’s why you can learn Russian in Riga without worrying that you’re learning a distinctly Latvian version of Russian!
So do Russians have regional accents? Not as much as you would expect – which is fortunate for us foreign language learners!
If you’d like to read more about learning Russian, feel free to browse our blog for more tips, advice and interesting facts.