I recently discovered starosti.ru, a site that reprints excerpts from century-old Russian newspapers (and I mean exactly century-old—they’ve just put up material from June 15/28, 1907). I was planning to post about it anyway, but today I happened on one of their many subsections, called Без’Ятие (bezyatie, “yatlessness”), about efforts to reform Russian orthography, and in particular to expel the letter yat. I had no idea there was such serious discussion of it as early as 1904 (the actual reform didn’t occur until 1917), and it’s fun to see the journalistic discussion of it. I particularly enjoyed this, from the Apr. 14/27, 1904 issue of Rus’:
Diary of a Columnist
Today I received the following letter:
“In Petersburg a club has been formed called “Azbuka” [‘Alphabet’], with the aim of eliminating the letter yat from Russian spelling by the simple method of not writing it any more. Anyone joining the club is thereby committed to writing without the letter yat. Those who wish to join the club should send their full name to the following address: St. Petersburg, Znamenskaya 10, apartment 3, Pavel Bryunelli.”
Fully sympathizing with the goals of the club, I immediately enrolled and thus am obliged to write from now on without the yat, and I invite all my readers to do the same. The sooner this completely superfluous and unneeded letter is removed, the better it will be for both schools and life: in school there will be fewer chances to waste years unnecessarily, printers will eliminate one compartment from their type cases, typesetters and especially proofreaders will feel a tremendous sense of relief in correcting proofs. I am not exaggerating in the least if I say that every newspaper that decides to expel the letter yat from use will come out half an hour, if not an entire hour, earlier…
So godspeed! long live “yatlessness”! may social/public/voluntary [общественная] initiative go forward even in this small matter.
It all makes me even more eager to read Orfografiya.