The different spelling of Russian names.

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Peter Schenkman
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The different spelling of Russian names.

Post by Peter Schenkman » Wed Aug 31, 2005 1:36 pm

I’m hardly a linguist but I’m well aware from discographer friends of mine that the spelling of Russian names can be something of a nightmare. For instance is it Daniil or Daniel Shafran, the Daniil version seems to get somewhat more use on record labels. The Melodiya label opts for Daniel as does DOREMII, Aulos and Yedang use the Daniil spelling. The conductor Kondrashin has three first names, Kyrill, Kirill and Kiril on record jackets and also on Google, with Mravinsky you’re down to two, will it be Yevgeny or Evgeny. The examples could go on endlessly. The spelling of Rachmaninoff’s name has always been something of an issue. Is it Rachmaninov or Rachmaninoff? (neither is more correct than the other - they're both legitimate transliterations and they're both commonly used). Google shows 245,000 hits for "Rachmaninoff" and 293,000 for "Rachmaninov". The Rachmaninov spelling seems to be the choice of the British, as the various publications from that country use it. On this board the choice seems to be the same, while on the Pianophiles board the ff gets the nod. I have no vested interest in which spelling is used, the music and piano playing remains the same, quite magnificent. I do think however that one should have a right to dictate which spelling he or she favors and in the case of Rachmaninoff the ff version was the spelling used by the composer. How can I be sure of this? In the 1920’s my aunt attended a recital given by Rachmaninoff in Denver, Colorado and after the concert went backstage to congratulate him bringing with her a copy of his Cello Sonata which she presented to him and requested that he autograph her copy, which he did very clearly using the spelling Rachmaninoff. That very copy was passed on to me years ago so you might say that I have it straight from the horse’s mouth.

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Aug 31, 2005 1:58 pm

Well, do you spell the great English playwright Shaksper? That's how he spelt his name on at least one occasion .... :-)

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Post by Huckleberry » Wed Aug 31, 2005 3:05 pm

May I be so bold as to say that I rather like "Rachmaninoff" because it informs English speakers that Russian, like a very large number of languages in the world, devoices word final segments. In fact, I am told that this phenomenon is the unmarked or default case in languages. (My friends tell me that this happens in various Slavic languages, Mandarin, Cantonese, etc. I know of word-final devoicing in German, of course.)

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Post by Peter Schenkman » Wed Aug 31, 2005 4:08 pm

karlhenning wrote:Well, do you spell the great English playwright Shaksper? That's how he spelt his name on at least one occasion .... :-)

Cheers,
~Karl
Funny thing about Shakespeare, people endlessly debate who the greatest composer, author, artist is and many names get tossed around. When it comes to the greatest playwright Mr. Shakespeare stands alone by fairly universal consent. Not bad for a man who for many years didn’t exist or if he did under another name (Moliere for instance).

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Post by MaestroDJS » Wed Aug 31, 2005 5:12 pm

Russia has many splendid composers, but their language can cause some confusion. When Russian names are transliterated from Cyrillic letters into Roman letters, many different spellings can result due to the different rules of pronunciation for English, German, French, etc.

French was the preferred language of educated Russians in the 19th Century. French transliterations thus became the most common forms of Russian names in the Roman alphabet, and they are still often used in English. This is why "Moussorgsky" often appears instead of "Mussorgsky", and why we write "Tchaikovsky" instead of "Chaikovsky".

Here are 2 sets of different transliterations of the same name. Each set is pronounced exactly the same.

English: Pyotr (T)chaikovsky * Dmitri Shostakovich
German: Pjotr Tschaikowsky * Dimitri Schostakowitsch
French: Piotr Tchaikovski * Dimitri Chostakovitch
Polish: Piotr Czaikowski * Dmitri Szostakowicz

Polish is a Slavic language closely related to Russian, but it uses the Roman alphabet instead of the Cyrillic. Therefore, Polish transliterations of Russian names may technically be most correct.

Note: Dimitri Schostakowitsch used the German transliteration of his own name as the basis of a musical signature. For example the notes DSCH appear very prominently in his Symphony No. 10 in E Minor.

In the case of Sergei Rachmaninoff, the spelling "Rakhmaninov" more closely matches its Russian pronunciation. However in the United States, the version adopted by the person and used in legal documents is deemed the correct spelling, and the composer himself adopted the English transliteration "Rachmaninoff".

Dave

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Post by Huckleberry » Wed Aug 31, 2005 5:27 pm

MaestroDJS wrote: English: Pyotr (T)chaikovsky * Dmitri Shostakovich

In the case of Sergei Rachmaninoff, the spelling "Rakhmaninov" more closely matches its Russian pronunciation. However in the United States, the version adopted by the person and used in legal documents is deemed the correct spelling, and the composer himself adopted the English transliteration "Rachmaninoff".

Dave
I apologize for disagreeing, but as briefly (and, perhaps, inadequately) explained above, Russian has voiceless consonants at the ends of words. As in a majority of languages, this anticipates the silence at the word boundary. So a v becomes an f sound - never mind the spelling. See Gorbachev, Andropov, Kiev (Russian pronunciation), etc. The same as in German. Or in Mandarin, which is one of my ancestral languages.
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Post by MaestroDJS » Wed Aug 31, 2005 5:36 pm

I stand corrected. So that's what you meant by "devoices word final segments"

Dave

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Post by Huckleberry » Wed Aug 31, 2005 5:42 pm

MaestroDJS wrote:I stand corrected. So that's what you meant by "devoices word final segments"

Dave
Sorry. I should have hyphenated "word-final," as I was taught to in highschool
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Post by MaestroDJS » Wed Aug 31, 2005 5:48 pm

Now for some reason I'm thinking about George Bernard Shaw and his zany ideas about English orthographic reform (like his "ghoti" = "fish" example). He might have proposed the spelling "Rachmaninough" (rhymes with "trough"). :D

Dave

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Post by Huckleberry » Wed Aug 31, 2005 7:28 pm

MaestroDJS wrote:Now for some reason I'm thinking about George Bernard Shaw and his zany ideas about English orthographic reform (like his "ghoti" = "fish" example). He might have proposed the spelling "Rachmaninough" (rhymes with "trough"). :D

Dave
Mr Shaw either deliberately, or for his own humorous purposes, failed to note that ghoti is structurally impossible in English since gh = f appears only at the ends of words or syllables and ti as the orthographic correlate of "sh" only in -tion.

The grammarians of yore, some of whom were my teachers some decades ago, did leave me with a partial understanding of the workings of English and various dead languages.

I do appreciate your joke, however, Mr Stybr.
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Post by MaestroDJS » Wed Aug 31, 2005 8:58 pm

Huckleberry wrote:I do appreciate your joke, however, Mr Stybr.
Excellent. As Oscar Wilde once said, "Life is too important to be taken seriously." And as I say: life is good when I can learn something new every day. Is English your native language? Which other languages do you speak? I learned a few languages simply because they were useful and fun: first French and German, and later Spanish.

When I began to collect LPs in the 1970s, I spent a lot of time and money in Rose Records in Chicago, and they had many fascinating imports in their racks. Nowadays in the CD era most recordings seem to be available everywhere, but in the LP era many recordings were available only in their home countries. Naturally I began to wonder what else was available beyond the US Schwann catalog, but special orders (such as the British EMI box set of Vaughan Williams symphonies) could be very expensive and involve long waits. Eventually I discovered the Gramophone Classical catalogue and began to order LPs directly from British dealers. This opened up a large European market to me, and I saved time and money too. Luckily everything was in English.

Next I began to wonder about other European record dealers, but they involved language barriers. Naturally I couldn't learn every language, so priorities were needed. It seemed that the French and German record markets had the most to offer, so I learned just enough of these languages to read their catalogues and fill in the order forms. Then after the records arrived, well, I had to learn a bit more to read the jackets. My uncle, who spoke 5 languages after living in Europe for 2 decades, encouraged me too.

Naturally I learned English as a child, so when I studied German I used a similar aid: children's books. It was fun to read the Brothers Grimm and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen in the original German.

Eventually my boss heard about my language hobby and assigned me to engineering projects in France and Germany in the 1980s and 1990s, so I became immersed their languages. Although most engineers in Europe also spoke English, my projects went much more smoothly simply because I tried to speak French and German. Naturally I made plenty of mistakes, but these were far more amusing than annoying (like the time when I couldn't think of the German word "Werkstatt" [garage] so I invented the word "Autokrankenhaus" [car hospital], which got a big laugh but also helped make me one of the team). This meant that I was assigned to more and more European projects, and my language skills improved. One day it occurred to me that I was in a roomful of Bavarians and kept up just fine with the boisterous conversation. What a treat that was! By sheer dumb luck I happened to be in Germany when the Berlin Wall fell too, so my interest in languages helped make me a witness to history too. Likewise I got really good service in shops and restaurants in France and Québec, which encouraged me to learn still more. Parisians even complimented me on my accent (unaware that I was trying to emulate their accent almost to the point of mocking it), and were amused when I sometimes slipped up and used a Québécois phrase.

Since the turn of the millennium I don't use French and German as much as before, but have begun to learn Spanish on a "need to know" basis, much as I learned French and German 2 or 3 decades ago. This has opened up still more avenues of discovery. To judge from my experiences in Puerto Rico, Chile and Argentina, so far, so good. Languages can also be funny. For example last January for our 25th anniversary my wife & I took a long cruise along the Pacific coast of México. At first I thought this would also give me a great chance to polish my Spanish, but our cruise ship was full of passengers from Québec, so I wound up speaking a lot more French.

One of my favorite incidents was in Montréal as I stood reading a large sign in front of a building. A woman approached me and asked if I spoke English, and if I could translate the sign for her and her friends. Yes I could, but from her accent I asked if they happened to be German tourists. Yes they were. So I read the French sign to her group in German, and their jaws dropped! They asked if I lived here in Montréal, and almost fainted when I answered no I was from Chicago.

I've also tried to fumble my way through Russian, at least to read the names of composers and simple words in the Cyrillic alphabet. One day in the checkout line at a 2nd-hand record shop in Chicago, I noticed a Russian LP on a rack behind the counter. I sounded out the Russian words in my mind: "Paul McCartney: Back in the USSR (CHOBA b CCCP)." Darn. Thought it might be some Russian composers.

Adventures in languages. :D

Dave

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Brendan

Post by Brendan » Wed Aug 31, 2005 10:30 pm

Pedantry is a curse . . . whilst Shakespeare (who never spelt his name that way himself) unquestionably stands alone as the greatest playwright in English, Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles and Seneca are often mentioned as greatest playwrights of all time.

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Post by Huckleberry » Wed Aug 31, 2005 11:13 pm

Brendan wrote:Pedantry is a curse . . . whilst Shakespeare (who never spelt his name that way himself) unquestionably stands alone as the greatest playwright in English, Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles and Seneca are often mentioned as greatest playwrights of all time.
I'm not entirely sure what your phrase "pedantry is a curse" refers to, but I do indeed agree with the sentiment in a general sense.

As for Shakespeare in relation to the Greek (and ensuing Roman) playwrights, we aren't really looking at a pool of comparable candidates. If we consider tragedy, for example, Greek and Shakespearean traditions diverge, as is apparent when one examines the "flaw" that undoes the protagonist, in one case a flaw that is contrary to the will of (often unethical) gods, and in the other, a flaw in the person's psyche or being. The cases of Oedipus and Othello illustrate this point well.

Furthermore, to make a fair comparison between the output of the Greeks and Shakespeare, we would need to be proficient in Ancient Greek and Middle English.

As for "all time," the artifacts of all civilizations would need to be considered. I say this as as an elder schooled in some of the great epics of other civilizations.

The above notwithstanding, I would humbly choose the Sweet Bard of Avon as my personal favourite of all time.

Respectfully,
Huck
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Brendan

Post by Brendan » Wed Aug 31, 2005 11:24 pm

Since I'm learning Ancient Greek and have read Middle English for years that isn't an issue for me. As to comparison, the points made may not be relevant to, say, Seneca, whose influence is often credited for the form of Shakespeare's tragedies (as well as other from the Mermaid Tavern).

We are closer in culture to Shakespeare than Sophocles, so would be surprised if he wasn't favoured today. "Greatest" may entail different criteria for making a judgment, however.

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Post by pizza » Thu Sep 01, 2005 1:04 am

Since humor is a key factor in this discussion, I've always wondered how a Russian can laugh since there is no "H" sound in their alphabet. But I've never heard a Russian laugh with a "G" sound, or even with a "Kha" sound! :?

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Post by karlhenning » Thu Sep 01, 2005 6:45 am

MaestroDJS wrote:Russia has many splendid composers, but their language can cause some confusion....
Not for Russians, it doesn't :-)

Oh, and English doesn't cause confusion?

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Post by MaestroDJS » Thu Sep 01, 2005 6:46 am

My wife is a part-time school psychologist and full-time author. Several years ago, many parents were adopting children from Russia. She told me that one Russian boy at her school had limited English, and kept getting into trouble with his teacher because he kept saying "c*ck!" all the time. That was about the same time I was fumbling through Russian (to learn enough Cyrillic to read composers' names), and I said I wasn't sure, but I think he's saying какой?", which simply means "What?"
karlhenning wrote:Oh, and English doesn't cause confusion?
Well, there are known knowns, there are known unknowns, there are unknown knowns and there are unknown unknowns. :lol:

Dave

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Post by karlhenning » Thu Sep 01, 2005 6:51 am

Huckleberry wrote:
MaestroDJS wrote:In the case of Sergei Rachmaninoff, the spelling "Rakhmaninov" more closely matches its Russian pronunciation ....
I apologize for disagreeing, but as briefly (and, perhaps, inadequately) explained above, Russian has voiceless consonants at the ends of words.
I think what Dave might have meant was that this spelling more closely matches its Russian spelling.

(As an aside, the spelling "Rachmaninoff" also relies in the German reading of the combination "ch" which can be misleading. One fellow I work with has sort of internalized the false orthographical rule that "in transliterated Russian, ch is the same as German" ... and for that reason he consistently mispronounces dacha.)

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Post by BuKiNisT » Thu Sep 01, 2005 7:25 am

Well, i'd say that Rachmaninov matches the russian pronunciation better than Rachmaninoff. Those -off suffixes were adopted a lot by emigrants from Russia, true. Mostly by those who had moved to Germany, Holland, Denmark etc. But to a russian ear this version looks and sounds as a funny foreign distortion.
Explanation for this is a simple one.

While indeed in russian consonants at ends of words are voiceless, russian has various vowel endings for representing gender, plurality, case etc.

So Rachmaninov, for example, ends with a -v only in one case of a hundred. Other forms would be
Rachmaninova
Rachmaninovu
Rachmaninovy
etc.
In which cases the consonant already isn't at the end and thus isn't voiceless at all.

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Post by Peter Schenkman » Thu Sep 01, 2005 7:30 am

I think that my point was, if an individual, in this case Rachmaninoff, chose to spell his name in a certain manner it should be respected. Rachmaninoff used this spelling as his one of choice and on this there is no argument.

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Post by BuKiNisT » Thu Sep 01, 2005 7:34 am

What were we talking about, again?
The right of an individual to be respected or which spelling is closer to the russian origin?
For the latter - i gave an answer. And the former, in my opinion, isn't subject for discussion at all :).

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Post by Huckleberry » Thu Sep 01, 2005 8:32 am

I respect the views above and find the jokes above actually humorous (even though some are not phonetically accurate), but as my mentors once taught me, there are differences between orthographic and phonetic representation. In fact there are differences between phonemic and phonetic respresentations.

But we can let the matter rest - since not all have been schooled in phonetics - with a joke from a Rabbi friend of mine about the time he was reading from the Great Code to a small group of children, and only a tiny girl, Deaf and beginning to lip-read, noticed that when he had read

"And the Pharoah misled the people ..."

he had pronounced "mis-led" as "misl-ed".

So let's not be "maizld" by spelling. :)
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Post by karlhenning » Thu Sep 01, 2005 8:34 am

Perhaps there's a Lost Rakhmaninov Score: Isle of the Maizled

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Post by Huckleberry » Thu Sep 01, 2005 8:36 am

Peter Schenkman wrote:I think that my point was, if an individual, in this case Rachmaninoff, chose to spell his name in a certain manner it should be respected. Rachmaninoff used this spelling as his one of choice and on this there is no argument.

Peter Schenkman
Sir, I agree. There is good reason for pronouncing a person's name as he wishes it to be, even if this pronunciation counters our views on what the shape of the sound is. This is one instance where a person's rights over-ride the rules of spelling, phonetics, and phonotactics.
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Post by Huckleberry » Thu Sep 01, 2005 8:39 am

karlhenning wrote:Perhaps there's a Lost Rakhmaninov Score: Isle of the Maizled

Cheers,
~Karl
You are very witty and talented, my lad.
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Post by MaestroDJS » Thu Sep 01, 2005 9:18 am

BuKiNisT wrote:So Rachmaninov, for example, ends with a -v only in one case of a hundred. Other forms would be
Rachmaninova
Rachmaninovu
Rachmaninovy
The world-famous goofy spelling of the English language is perfect for this situation. One spelling fits all:

"Rachmaninough" can rhyme with "trough" as well as: bough, cough, enough, slough, though, through, tough etc. etc. :D

But seriously folks, I think Sergei's wife Natalia also spelled her name Rachmaninoff in the US. Yes, Rachmaninova would have been the Russian way, but it would confuse the average English-speaker.

It could have been worse. Icelandic naming conventions sure are fun. :lol:

Dave

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Post by Peter Schenkman » Thu Sep 01, 2005 9:31 am

I knew when I presented this topic with a very limited goal in mind that I was probably opening a can of worms, which indeed it has become. Going to various sources (as I clearly pointed in my original post, “I’m hardly a linguist”) the following would appear to cover many bases.

The most frequently encountered Russian composer’s name, and the one with (at least) four different spellings, is Rachmaninoff (USA), spelled Rachmaninov in Canada, Britain, and some European countries, and Rachmaninow in Germany, while the 1965 and 1980 editions of Grove’s Dictionary1 spell it Rakhmaninov. Why do these differences exist?
Grove’s Dictionary, the most prestigious musical encyclopedia in the world, presumably adopted the spelling Rakhmaninov for its fourth and fifth editions because it is closest to the name in its original Cyrillic script, Рахманинов, but the current online edition has two entries, with two different spellings.2 In Britain, Canada, Germany, and Holland, for example, the spelling Rachmaninov is used; whoever decided to convert the Cyrillic “x” into “ch”, rather than “kh”, started a trend that continues on both sides of the Atlantic. Retention of the final “v”, as opposed to an “ff” ending, is presumably an attempt to adhere reasonably closely to the Cyrillic original, and it raises the issue of when to use “voiced” consonants versus their “voiceless” equivalents, which is a feature of many languages, though not English. Suffice it here to say that a final “v” in Russian words is pronounced as an “f”.
The US spelling varied appreciably during the 20th century. Thus, Upton3 spelled it Rachmaninov, whereas both Goepp4 and Borowski5 both spelled it Rachmaninow. By the 1950s, the spelling seems to have been standardized to Rachmaninoff; the final “–ff” was presumably adopted so that readers would pronounce the name with a final voiceless “f” sound.

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Post by karlhenning » Thu Sep 01, 2005 9:59 am

Peter Schenkman wrote:... Why do these differences exist?
Grove’s Dictionary, the most prestigious musical encyclopedia in the world, presumably adopted the spelling Rakhmaninov for its fourth and fifth editions because it is closest to the name in its original Cyrillic script, Рахманинов, but the current online edition has two entries, with two different spellings.2 In Britain, Canada, Germany, and Holland, for example, the spelling Rachmaninov is used; whoever decided to convert the Cyrillic “x” into “ch”, rather than “kh”, started a trend that continues on both sides of the Atlantic.
The conversion is likely related to German, where "ch" is close to the Russian "kh" (but imagine spelling the name of that guy who toom off his shoe at the UN Chruschtscheff ....)
Peter Schenkman wrote:Retention of the final “v”, as opposed to an “ff” ending, is presumably an attempt to adhere reasonably closely to the Cyrillic original, and it raises the issue of when to use “voiced” consonants versus their “voiceless” equivalents, which is a feature of many languages, though not English.
We have plenty peculiarities in English without that specific wrinkle, hence Bernard Shaw's fanciful spelling ghoti (for fish) . . . adopting the way the sounds are spelt in laugh, women, and initial.

Cheers,
~Karl
Karl Henning, PhD
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BuKiNisT
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Post by BuKiNisT » Thu Sep 01, 2005 10:07 am

There is no need to deliberately pronounce the final -v as an "f", it will sound ok both ways :) If you emphasize on the "f" though, it'll be weird :p

The -ff trend isn't originally for representing russian pronunciation at all, I may suggest. It is rather a germanisation/scandinavisation of russian family names, adopted by many emigrants.

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Post by karlhenning » Thu Sep 01, 2005 10:13 am

BuKiNisT wrote:If you emphasize on the "f" though, it'll be weird.
Which is one reason I dislike the -ff ending; the double-consonant (and its resemblance to the musical marking fortissimo :-) seemm to invitte emphasiss.

Cheerss,
~Karll
Karl Henning, PhD
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Post by Huckleberry » Thu Sep 01, 2005 10:18 am

BuKiNisT wrote:There is no need to deliberately pronounce the final -v as an "f", it will sound ok both ways :) If you emphasize on the "f" though, it'll be weird :p

The -ff trend isn't originally for representing russian pronunciation at all, I may suggest. It is rather a germanisation/scandinavisation of russian family names, adopted by many emigrants.
Again, you are speaking about spelling, young lad. All non-sonorants (the term I once learnt) are voicless word-finally in Russian, and most Slavic languages.

People normally don't emphasize the last sound in a word or name such as Rachmanino*'s unless it is for a special reason.

I imagine that this case regarding word-final devoicing should be closed now, except perhaps for those who have difficulty separating orthography from phonetics.
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BuKiNisT
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Post by BuKiNisT » Thu Sep 01, 2005 11:18 am

Again, you are speaking about spelling, young lad. All non-sonorants (the term I once learnt) are voicless word-finally in Russian, and most Slavic languages.

People normally don't emphasize the last sound in a word or name such as Rachmanino*'s unless it is for a special reason.

I imagine that this case regarding word-final devoicing should be closed now, except perhaps for those who have difficulty separating orthography from phonetics.
Can I take the liberty saying that maybe I do know what i'm talking about? Russian being my mother tongue and all...o_O

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Post by karlhenning » Thu Sep 01, 2005 12:41 pm

English is my mother tongue, but I won't stand for anyone telling me that I always know what I'm talking about viz. English :-)

Cheers,
~Karl
Karl Henning, PhD
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Modernistfan
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Post by Modernistfan » Thu Sep 01, 2005 3:28 pm

The "-off" ending now seems somewhat old-fashioned. Most Russian emigres now spell their name -"ov" in Roman characters, as in "Maxim Vengerov" (never seen as "-off"). Incidentally, while we are talking about Rachmaninoff, does anyone know whether he was originally of Central Asian origin? The term "Rachman" is a Semitic word meaning "merciful" and shows up in many Arabic and Muslim names, and thus suggests a Central Asian (Muslim) orgin. The word also occurs in Hebrew; "mercy" in Hebrew is "rachmanut".

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Post by BuKiNisT » Thu Sep 01, 2005 4:11 pm

The word "rahman" in "Rachmaninov" has two different inheritance suffixes, the first one being "-in", and the 2nd - "-ov". Both are slavic, but from different regions, so it's easy to guess that the semitic in origin lastname is rather far from its roots - having been modified at least twice.

As for Sergei Rachmaninov, he was born in a town near Novgorod, from russian parents. :)

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Post by Peter Schenkman » Thu Sep 01, 2005 4:33 pm

Rachmaninoff was born in Semyonovo, near Novgorod, (Но́вгород) a city in North-Western Russia. Since 1998 the official name of the city has been Velikiy Novgorod (Great Novgorod). It is the capital of Novgorod Oblast. The city lies along the Volkhov River just below its outflow from Lake Ilmen.

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Post by karlhenning » Fri Sep 02, 2005 6:28 am

Peter Schenkman wrote:Rachmaninoff was born in Semyonovo, near Novgorod, (Но́вгород) a city in North-Western Russia. Since 1998 the official name of the city has been Velikiy Novgorod (Great Novgorod).
Indeed, this is a partial restoration of an old traditional name, His Majesty Lord Novgorod the Great.

Cheers,
~Karl
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