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Russia Mulling Switch to ‘Western Cyrillic’ in Bid to Popularize Language Abroad

MOSCOW– Russia’s State Duma is currently proposing a historic language reform bill that would see the Russian language switch from Cyrillic to what they are calling “Western Cyrillic.” The new alphabet is based on the way Cyrillic often appears in advertising and art in the West, particularly in the United States. Chairman of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin explained the basis and rationale for the new alphabet in an address to the legislative body on Friday.

“Westerners apparently think the letter ‘ya’ is an R, and that our letter ‘D’ is an A- well soon they could be right,” Volodin said.

To demonstrate how the new alphabet would work, Volodin presented slides of various advertisements, book covers, t-shirts, and video game cases in order to explain how words would be pronounced in the new alphabet. One example was the cover of the book Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs―A True Story of Ambition, Wealth, Betrayal, and Murder

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Cover of Once Upon a Time in Russia, which Duma Chairman Volodin claims is a good example of why the alphabet needs to change

“In our current alphabet, this cover would be very confusing to read,” Volodin said.

“As a Russian speaker, your mind wants to read ‘Oisye Uroi a Time Ii Yaussia.’ With the new alphabet, however, what the Westerners call ‘those backwards N’s or backwards R’s’ will actually be N’s and R’s.”

The new alphabet was designed at Moscow State University’s linguistics department, whose researchers scoured the internet for Western media containing examples of faux-Cyrillic to use as a basis for new letters. At times different Cyrillic letters have been used to replace Latin ones, which means that linguists sometimes have to debate which replacement is more common and therefore more suitable. Many examples come from the 1980’s, however, even recent media can be useful, such as the promotional material for HBO Films The Romanovs, and the very popular FX series The Americans.

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In the current Russian Cyrillic alphabet, this would read “The Amyeyaisans,” but if the new language reform passes, it will be read as it appears in English

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Unfortunately not all examples are salvageable. This name shown in the film The Bourne Identity cannot be corrected in any was as to be pronounceable by a human being.

So far it isn’t clear whether Vladimir Putin will approve the new reform should it pass the State Duma. However, Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov recently hinted that the Russian President could see the reform as a way to secure his historical legacy.

“This would be the biggest reform of the Russian language since the Bolshevik Revolution,” Peskov said.

“We could finally start to improve our relations with the rest of the world. Instead of telling them they’re writing our language incorrectly, we’d essentially be telling them they were right all along, and that our Cyrillic alphabet is really just a funny looking equivalent to their Latin alphabet- nothing more.”

During the same briefing, Peskov showed reporters a slide to demonstrate how President Putin’s name would be written in the new alphabet: “VLДDIMIЯ РЦТIИ.”

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