A Moscow Times story by Victor Sonkin reports on a dictionary I’d very much like to have (at least, if it were a convenient little book instead of a “module” for a piece of equipment I don’t own):
In April, the Moscow-based company ABBYY Software House released a new electronic dictionary. It is the first work of its kind, even though the dwellers of Russia’s two largest cities have needed such a tool since time immemorial. It is a Moscow-St. Petersburg dictionary—one that gives “translations” of Moscow words into Petersburgese.
Social and cultural differences between the two Russian capitals have been piling up for more than three centuries, and language has been no exception to this process. The variations start with phonetics: Muscovites pronounce certain words differently from their northwestern rivals. For instance, the “ah” sound, as in “Mahskvah,” is more prominent in their speech. Small interjections and greetings follow suit. In Moscow a general question is “Chto?” (What?), while in St. Petersburg you will hear “Kak?” (How?) in the same context, at least from older people.
The more noticeable division, however, is lexical: when different words are used for the same things. One often cited example is the word for “curb,” which is bordyur in Moscow but porebrik in Petersburg. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. ABBYY’s dictionary contains 76 items; there are actually many more. The list of objects and notions that are expressed differently includes metro pass, house entrance, eraser, doughnut, turtleneck, newsstand, grand (as in the slang word for “a thousand”), cigarette stub and chicken, to name a few. Even borrowed words react differently. The Middle Eastern snack known in the West as a gyro or doner kebab is called shaurma in Moscow but shaverma—with a different stress!—in St. Petersburg.
The two “dialects” are mutually comprehensible, but misunderstandings do occur. Once, while visiting my St. Petersburg relatives, I went to a shop to buy some bread. “Is the bread fresh?” I asked the woman behind the counter. Bewildered, she replied, “We don’t have any.” Now it was my turn to be puzzled, since the shelves behind her were bursting with bread. Then it dawned on me: It was all white bread, called bulka in St. Petersburg; they only say khleb, or “bread,” when referring to the dark kind.
I can’t find any mention of it at the ABBYY sites (Russian, English), but I probably just don’t know where to look; I don’t imagine Sonkin made it up. At any rate, I’m fascinated by this sort of dialect difference, and would appreciate any further information from Russian readers. For one thing, what are the differing stresses on shaurma and shaverma? And of course I’m curious about the words for metro pass, house entrance, eraser, and so on.
(Via blogchik, Michele Humes’s Russophile blog.)
Addendum. See the article by V.I. Belikov, “Сравнение Петербурга с Москвой и другие соображения по социальной лексикографии” [Comparison of Petersburg and Moscow and other observations on social lexicography].
Update. The Словарь «Языки русских городов» is online and expanding as people add entries.