Pronouncing Russian names (like Putin)

I like to try to learn how to pronounce the names of people that might nuke me someday. It’s just polite.

Isn’t the “in” at the end of a Russian name pronounced “een”?

Isn’t a “u” normally pronouced like “oo”?

Isn’t the “in” ending normally unstressed?

If those (and other) assumptions are true, the President of Russia is named:

vLAH-dee-meer POO-teen.

NOT Pyewt’n, Pyew-TEEN, or POO-tin.

I know–from hearing the untranslated word spoken aloud in the background of a TV special–that Tchaikovsky ought to be pronounced tCHEEkov-skee, not cheye-KOV-skee.

So how does a proper Russian pronounce Putin? (Other than “very carefully”!)

My stab at it as someone who desultorily learned Russian as a hobby for a few years; hopefully someone more qualified will weigh in and be able to correct/particularly explain about the reduced a, the r and in -> jin

vla-DEE-meer POO-tjin

A Russian would probably also rather refer to him by patronymic as vla-DEE-meer vla-DEE-meerovitch

It would be difficult to say exactly what the “correct” pronunciation would be without consulting Mr. Putin himself. One could take a stab at it by learning the Cyrillic alphabet (thus being able to read the name in its original spelling) or listening to a Russian newscast featuring a story on Mr. Putin, and trying to say the name as the newscaster does.

While I learned Russian and can read it, I’ve never seen Putin’s name rendered in print (it’s been a while since I’ve read Russian newspapers), so I won’t try to guess at its Russian pronunciation.

The problem with transliterating Russian words in the Cyrillic alphabet to the Latin alphabet for pronunciation in English is that there are no hard and fast rules. Various style guides, from news and other organizations will tell you how they do it; but often, the rules are not the same between guides. This doesn’t quite answer the questions posed in the OP about pronunciation, but it should explain why they have no easy answers.

Another problem is that some Russian names have picked up their own pronunciation when said by English speakers. This is where the Tchaikovsky problem fits, as do names like Tolstoy (in Russian, tal-STOY), Lenin (LYEH-neen, certainly not the same as John Lennon), and Khruschev (hroosh-CHOFF, where the initial sound is more like a throat-clearing noise, and definitely not a K sound).

(Note that my placement of the stress in Khruschev may be incorrect. Stress in Russian doesn’t seem to follow any rules, and I’m going on long-ago memory here.)

Unless you want to learn Russian quickly, my advice would be to listen to respected news sources in the English language (BBC, CNN, and so on), and copy the pronunciation of those newscasters. You’ll be fine with the way they say it, and I’m sure that Mr. Putin will forgive a small error in pronunciation if you ever meet him.

Spoons sounds pretty savvy about this.

But I can add some guesses, for whatever it’s worth.

I would guess the Cyrillic spelling of his name, handwritten, would look somewhat like:

  1. The Greek Pi (or a large English lowercase “n”) for a P sound
  2. The English lowercase “y” for an “ooo” sound
  3. The English lowercase “m” for a sound closest to “T” but with a little bit of breathy “Th”.
  4. The English lowercase “u” (or if typed a cross between English uppercase “H” and a backwards English lowercase “N”) for an “eee” sound
  5. What would look like a cursive attempt to produce a typewritten uppercase English “H” without lifting the pen, for an “N” sound
  6. Maybe after the “T” sound or the “N” sound there would be a little curled thing looking like a small “6”, which does not have its own sound but makes the preceeding consonant a little breathier.

My Russian is old and was never very good, so take me with a grain of salt. Maybe, as the Russian saying goes, “Luche mulchatth” (“Better to be silent”).

Russian-speaking Doper here: tschild is correct, or at least as correct as we are likely to get in a format where we can’t attach sound files. And keep in mind that there are regional variation in pronunciation; not all Russian-speakers will say it exactly the same way. And un-emphasized vowels, as in the second syllable of “Putin,” tend to get a bit swallowed up. I’m told by native speakers that my accent became a lot more convincing when I took a friend’s advice not to enunciate so darn clearly.

Well, consider that you pronounce “Rasputin” raz-poo-tin, I guess you just take off the first syllable…


Vladimir Putin as spelled on Pravda’s webpage in Cyrillic.

Âëàäèìèð Ïóòèí

Gee, I thought that cut and paste was gonna work. Guess you’ll have to look at to see it for yourself in Cyrillic.
Better luck next time I hope.

You can see it on this page too if you switch your encoding to Cyrillic (Windows-1251).

Related anecdote: Our tour guide at the Kremlin gave our tour in English. She kept saying StalEEN. Don’t know any country in the world that pronounces it like that.

[hijack] - Eva Luna, I will be picking up some cookbooks this coming weekend in Tbilisi. I’ll give ya a shout when I’m back in “the real world.” I am currently “in the field” at the marine terminal in Suspa, on the Black Sea. - [/hijack]

radar ralf, you are a sweetheart! Now I just have to think about logistics…is there anything I can send you from Chicago?

Finally an appropriate place to post this:

As you’ll note in the song Rasputin is pronounced raz-poo-teen. While I’ve previously always pronounced it Raz-peu-tin, I believe the song to be correct.

Well, that’s where the stress is actually supposed to be.

There are ten vowels in Russian, and I wish to avoid the sometimes-it-works-and-sometimes-it-doesn’t attempt to code in the Cyrillic, so I’ll describe them instead.

First important point is that five of the ten palatalize the preceding consonant, producing sounds similar to Spanish -ñ- or -ll- (Castilian pronunciation), or Italian -gn- or -gli-. We can approximate it by inserting a -y- sound between vowel and consonant.

That said, here’s the list:

E is a Russian Cyrillic letter, but carries the sound “yeh.” A related letter Ë (E with diaeresis) carries the sound “yaw” (Y-short-O). A mirror image N is the “ee” sound, but does palatalize, producing a sound almost like “yee.” A mirror image R is “yah” (and is the first-person nominative pronoun, “I”). And something that looks like a 10, with a hyphen-like bar connecting the 1 and the left side of the 0, is “you.”

Russian also has an “eh” sound without palatalization, resembling a reversed Euro symbol with only a single bar. (3 does not work; that is the Cyrillic for Z.) A is a short vowel “ah” much as in English. O is short O, the “aw” sound of “song” or “pot” in some dialects (if you hear an “ah” in “pot”, think how you’d pronounce “paught” instead). Y is an unpalatalized “oo” sound – think the difference between Tuesday and two’s day.

The last letter is written “bI” and carries a sound midway between “ih” and the German and French vowel not used in English, as in “jeune” or “Nüremburg” – if you know Greek, think the proper sound of Upsilon.

Russian words are phonetically spelled in Cyrillic, noting two conventional variations: The upside down L used for G in most situations (and derived from Greek gamma) carries a V sound between vowels, and final V, very common in Russian (and written B), is sounded F. And the accent generally comes early multisyllable words, as opposed to most Western languages where it falls on the final or penultimate syllable.

Random notes from fellow Dopechik

True enough, Russian I is pronounced ee, although English speakers will glide this to a short I sound in an unstressed terminal syllable almost every time

The approximation “POO-tjin” is excellent. For speakers having a tough time dealing with that J, POO-t(y)in gets the idea across. The slight (y)-glide sound does a thing to the T called “softening” it. A soft T is spoken with the tongue against the back of the upper incisors, not against the hard palate behind them as in a normal English (hard) T. Instead of saying “tin” like the metal, think of inserting just the beginning of the Y sound in “yin” right between the T and the I–with a tiny hiss as you take your tongue off your teeth from the T to say the Y… t(y)in

Because the letter I follows the T, there is no need for a soft sign (looks like letter b) to be inserted to soften the T. Also no soft sign at the end of his name. (I can’t recall ever seeing -n followed by soft sign at the end of a word)

The stress in khrush-CHOFF is correct. The vowel in the final syllable is E with umlaut (dieresis) over it, pronounced YO. This vowel has the distinction in Russian of always taking the stress in every word in which it appears. It reverts to regular e (no dieresis, pronounced YEH) in certain cases where the stress must be shifted to a different syllable within the word, e.g., to accommodate a new appended ending

Unlike French, syllabic stress in Russian is far from random: Every word is assigned a specific syllable upon which to place the stress, just as in English. (When spoken quickly and with less enunciation, many of these syllabic stresses do indeed get muffled, smoothed over or swallowed up.) Russian surnames are a little trickier, as individual families get to choose a syllable to stress that makes their name sound the way they like

Rasputin would not be pronounced raz-POO-tin. The s is followed by a voiceless consonant § and so itself is voiceless also. Even if the name were SPELLED with Z it would still be pronounced as S

Vladimir Putin is addressed as Vladimir Vladimirovich only if his father’s first name is also Vladimir. If it were Karl, for example, Putin’s friends would call him Vladimir Karlovich. If he had a sister Natasha, she would be Natasha Karlovna

If Putin has daughters, they likely all have the middle name Vladimirovna (stress on 2nd syllable)
Sr. Airman Hyjyljyj, USAF (Ret.)

I get the impression you are aware that the sounding of Russian “ge” as “ve” is a rather exceptional use (genetive adjectival endings, IIRC).

Russian “ge” normally sounds like English hard “g” between vowels.

Actually, the finial consonant is always devoiced, V or not.

And the G->V conversion happens in the o-g-o and ye-g-o contructs. “Kniga” is not pronounced “Kniva”. There is a good linguistic reason for the G->V conversion, but it was never explained to me.

AAAH!!! Da’hell was that? That was bizarre!
[sub]Nitpick-there was no Russian QUEEN, but a Russian Tsaritsa/Empress, and she was NOT Rasputin’s lover[/sub]

Okay, I mispronounced Rasputin, I appologize.

Eva Luna - When I get back home (Alaska) on 12 November, I’ll contact you and we can work out the shipping arrangements. What can you send me from Chicago? Hmmm… is Jenny McCarthy busy on the 15th of November?

**The only exceptions are L, M and N, which have no convenient voiceless counterparts.

Good observations aktep. A quick googling yielded no explanation for the conversion either. Maybe some czar in antiquity had a lithp or thomething.