Language question: Why the apostrophe after Rus' ?

So, the Rus’ were the forerunners of the Russians and gave their name to the Russian language.

Why the apostrophe at the end of the name?

For example, this wiki article: Rus’ people

Rus’ is a transliteration of Русь. The apostrophe is the transliteration ь specifically.

It’s a convention in transcribing Cyrillic words into Roman letters. In Rus’ it indicates that the syllable ends in a sort of soft “s” which most English and German speakers can’t pronounce correctly anyway. For that reason, many texts (like the Encyclopedia Britanica) dispense with the apostrophe.

An apostrophe or reversed apostrophe is, confusingly, used to represent a number of letters or sounds that do not exist in English: e.g., Hawaiʻi, Qur’an, …, but in this case it is a soft sign.

I never knew that. I always thought the ’ in Hawai’i was there like the diaeresis in Noel, to indicate that the ai is a distinct syllable from the final i.

The “soft sign” indicates palatalization. That means that while pronouncing the consonant, the tongue moves close to the hard palate. This is also the movement used in pronouncing y, so palatalization sounds kind of like a y sound along with the consonant sound.

Ditto. In Hebrew and Arabic transliterations, the apostrophe is consistently used to separate sounds that most English speakers would tend to combine into a single syllable (like the Hebrew “Canaan”, which is pronounced in Hebrew with three syllables, as Cana’an), or to otherwise show the correct syllable break (like the Arabic Qur’an, where the “r” is part of the first syllable, and many English speakers might put the r in the second syllable).

I have presumed the same to be the reason for the apostrophe in Hawai’i, to make sure that people pronounce it in three syllables, not two. Personally, I would think that the double-i is sufficient for that purpose, but the two-syllable pronunciation of Canaan proves me wrong.

Regarding the apostrophe in Rus’ – Softening a consonant is usually done by adding an “h”, as in “bh” “dh” “gh” in many languages, and especially “ph” and “th” in English. So why didn’t they choose h for the spelling of Rus’? My guess is that the “s” gets softened, but in a manner very unlike the common “sh” sound. I don’t know any Russian, though.

I’m trying to find an example, with audio, of a terminal /s/ vs /ʂ/ minimal pair but I’m coming up dry. Anyone better at this?

It’s specifically used to indicate a glottal stop, and can occur in word initial positions in Hawaiian as well. It is treated as a consonant. In this case, with the same vowel repeated, you naturally make a glottal stop in separating the two words, but with a word like “Noel,” you don’t – or at least I don’t – make a glottal stop there, but the “oh” glides into the “e” without a break, whereas if you had “no’el,” you’d have a clear glottal stop between the two syllables.

Actually, now that I think of it, it’s not just Cockney and accents like that that have word terminal glottal stops. When I say the phrase “The cat in the hat,” I usually lop off the “t” in “cat” and replace it with a glottal stop.

Distinct from the glottal stop/aleph in Arabic and Hebrew, there is also the consonant ʻayin, represented by a (backwards?) apostrophe in transliteration

In Arabic it is a consonant, the hamza, that is treated like other letters.

We don’t have words that explicitly include this sound in English but we use it all the time to indicate a break between words where one ends in a vowel sound and the next starts with the same vowel sound, like sea eagle is flying, so it doesn’t come out like seegle.

Well, in Hawaiian, it is a consonant, too, called 'okina.

“Soft” is not a term used in phonetics. The orthographic convention of combining h with various letters to show different sounds is used mostly in English and Albanian. The ways one sound could be changed into another are many, and different between different languages. What Russians call “soft” and what English calls “soft” have nothing to do with each other.

The Russian glyph ь (Lance Turbo’s link in the second post explains it) has no equivalent in the Latin alphabet. In transliteration you have to pick something to represent it. They decided not to go with h, but instead replace it with the apostrophe. In Arabic, a completely different alphabet, two completely different sounds, ‘ayn ع and hamzah ء, have no equivalent Latin letters either. So they get contrasting apostrophes: ‘ and ’ respectively, to tell them apart. Hawaiian’s ‘okina is the same glottal stop as hamzah, but its apostophe goes the opposite direction. The new Latin alphabet for Uzbek uses ‘ for various purposes: to change /g/ into /ʁ/, to change /ɔ/ into /o/, and to stand for the glottal stop in Arabic loanwords. It was the only handy glyph left lying around that becomes an orthographic wild card.

How to turn palatalization on and off is central to the phonologies of Russian and Irish. In the case of Russian, the ь turns it on. In Irish, that’s what all those extra unpronounced vowels are for. In Irish, they don’t call it “soft” and “hard,” they call it “lean” and 'broad."

Thanks, Johanna, for that clear explanation.

It’s one of the more distinctive features of American English, which should be taught in English classes and seldom is. (Also unreleased final /t/.)

IME English teachers seldom receive much instruction about English.

Yes – unfortunately, it’s relatively easy to become an English teacher simply because one speaks it.

Yeah, “button” is another good example in American English.

(And I think one of my posts is missing, as I referenced Cockney in a previous post, but it doesn’t seem to have migrated. Either that, or I just dreamt it – but I’m clearly referencing a previous post when I say “it’s not just Cockney.”)

Only if not pronounced correctly.