Grumbly Stu sent me a link to this website for a company called ReadSpeaker, which calls itself “the worldwide leader in online text to speech.” I have no idea what the competition is like, but their results are impressive; you can listen to a bunch of short samples of languages on that page, or check out the results in English on this page (click “Listen”) and in German on this one (click the easy-to-miss loudspeaker symbol just below the R in BARACKE). Grumbly says “The German sample is much better than the Deutsche Bahn can manage.”

Also, a slight but amusing little story by Max Fisher from the Washington Post: “CIA officially denies that it is trying to erase a letter from the Russian alphabet“; it links to a longer one from the Wall Street Journal, “Yo: In Russia, Two Dots Can Mean a Lot.” We discussed the “yo” controversy back in 2005 (with proponent Chumakov already making an appearance).


  1. Whatever happens in Russia, I am sure the ë will live on in Albania, as well as on the pages of the New Yorker (whenever they need to talk about a reëntry or reëlection).
    Curiously enough, in the Cyrillic world, the language for which the letter ë is particularly essential is the Dungan: the Chinese dialect spoken by a group of Hui Muslims whose ancestors fled from China to what’s today Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan after the failure of the Dungan Rebellion in the 1870s. The Cyrillic orthography designed for them in the USSR is quite ë-heavy, because this letter is used to distinguish the syllables that are written as yan and yang in China’s Hanyu Pinyin. In Cyrillic Dungan, they are “ян” and “ён”, respectively. Lian/liang are “лян”/”лён”, etc. I am not sure how much Dungan is actually written these days, though, as most Dungans are literate in Russian now (and probably often in Kazakh or Kyrgyz too).

  2. Loved the obligatory crosshatched portrait in the WSJ story.
    “In any country, the alphabet is an instrument to bring order,” he says, carefully brushing a loose wisp of white hair behind his ear. “If it isn’t respected, everything falls to pieces.”
    In other words: “名不正,則言不順;言不順,則事不成;事不成,則禮樂不興;禮樂不興,則刑罰不中;刑罰不中,則民無所措手足。”

  3. I hate the New Yorker for their ridiculous dots. Like they’re in charge of looking for “problems” in English and then issuing the half-arsed resolution that we’re all going to follow obediently. It makes me mad.

  4. Khrushchev, as he is commonly called by the rest of the world.
    (= “Khrushchev as he’s commonly called in the United States.”)

  5. The following demos are just a sample of the different combinations of languages and voices that we offer.
    English (British)
    I can just about tolerate the expression “British English” when it’s about written language differences but I speak English with an English accent, in other words not with a Welsh or a Scottish accent and not with an Indian or US accent, so what they mean here is English (English).

  6. Well, they’re not wrong about the offensive overtones.
    As someone whose Russian is pretty rusty, I like when ё is clearly marked, I need the help!
    Besides, it’s a cute letter, it looks like a little alien with knobbly antennae. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a reach….

  7. I thought it pretty cool that they have an “English (Indian)” version. It brought to mind the numerical proportions involved – USA+GB population compared with that of India – and conjures The Shape of Things To Come.

  8. I thought it pretty cool that they have an “English (Indian)” version.
    Yes, me too.

  9. I like the Indian and I’m looking forward to hearing the woman speak Norwegian with a regional accent – part of my madness is caused by not being able to get any of the recordings to play.

  10. Does nothing at all happen, neither visually nor earie ? I usually have all sound turned off, so when I’m not hearing (say) a youtube clip, I get frustrated until I remember to turn the sound on again.

  11. AJP Hopefully Feeling Happier – from what I found on Wikipedia, the Khrushchov’s are definately in the majority worldwide, but French, Italian, and Turkish seem to prefer -ev with the rest of the name otherwise respelled to their own phonetics, and a handful of other languages (Yoruba, Maltese) used “Nikita Khrushchev” without rephoneticising it. So not the rest of the world, but not only the U.S.
    I didn’t find very many english references to “Khrushchov” on google at all, is that really the usual UK spelling?

  12. It happens visually something and I did turn the sound on. I tried banging the computer against the tabletop but still I get no sounds.

  13. “I tried banging the computer against the tabletop but still I get no sounds.”
    Evidently you’re going deaf.

  14. Can’t you at least hear little pieces of your computer rattling inside, after having banged it against the table ?

  15. Lexifone claims that it “enables telephone calls between people who do not speak the same language. Accessible from landlines and mobile phones, Lexifone carries translated calls to over 100 countries in 15 languages.”

  16. It works when I click “Listen” as Language suggested, it just doesn’t work on the foreign language examples. Even when I kick it.

  17. But, Mad Ratting-Cap, which English English do you speak? There’re surely dozens available.

  18. Trond Engen says

    AJP: You mean this page, don’t you? I just played the two Norwegian Bokmål voices. Both sounded fine (except from those oddly (un)stressed words). Then I proceded to Nynorsk, and nothing happened. Same with Danish. Reloading the page didn’t help either. Could the software be having issues with Mozilla Firefox? I would rather not try banging the computer against the kitchen table. I need them both tomorrow.

  19. Yes, Trond you’re right. It’s the nynorsk woman who’s doing it. After you click there nothing else will work because it’s still trying to play her voice. Thanks.
    dearie, you’re right too. I myself speak a weird slurred mid-Atlantic English that can also vary from cockney to Bertie Wooster, according to whom I’m a-talking to. But it’s pretty clearly not a Scots, Welsh or Irish accent.
    Roger de Coverley, yes, I am going slowly deaf as well. My family says I shout without realising it.

  20. I was pleasantly surprised by the Chinese (Mandarin), but really it should’ve been labelled Putonghua or Guoyu, Chinese (Mandarin) being about as helpful a description as British English.

  21. Mandarin can mean ‘Guanhua/Putonghua/Guoyu’ (Standard Chinese), or it can mean ‘Beifanghua’ (Northern dialect group). That’s just the way things are in English.

  22. des von bladet says

    Luckily for all of us, “ë” is also a part of Luxembourgish (IIRC it corresponds to a stressed schwa, which is pretty awsum in its own right) and as such it is included in iso-latins 1 and 9.
    (Of course I haven’t checked.)

  23. S/o, I’m sorry, I’d missed your comment.
    The spelling of Khruschev during the 60s varied a lot in the London newspapers (I know this because I researched it for a school quiz). I don’t remember any of them spelling it -ov, but the pronunciation has always been -ov in Britain. That was my point, not the spelling. On the BBC radio during his time in office they used to call him “Mr Krooss-CHOV” but I think the emphasis has evened out since.

  24. Fair enough. Also, since the two reporters clearly haven’t looked into the worldwide spellings or pronunciations of the name, they really should only claim to speak for the US.

  25. Capa: As someone whose Russian is pretty rusty, I like when ё is clearly marked, I need the help!
    Me too! It’s bad enough that the stress (as in English) is not indicated.
    Khrouchtchev is how the name is spelled in French, and even though you could hear the chtch distinctly pronounced by radio announcers, I think that most people pronounced as if it were “croûte-chef”.
    Didn’t “Gorbachev” also end in [ov] ?

  26. Didn’t “Gorbachev” also end in [ov] ?
    He sure did. Горбачёв.

  27. Trond Engen says

    It’s the nynorsk woman who’s doing it.
    Actually, maybe there is no such woman to find. Even the text she’s supposed to be reading is Bokmål.

  28. Trond. Yes, I noticed. Maybe they had a discussion about nynorsk not being one dialect and haven’t resolved it. Too bad, though. It really ought to be there.

  29. Could the software be having issues with Mozilla Firefox?
    I had no problem playing the voices in my Firefox 17.0.1.

  30. That may be it, Stu. I only have 16.0.2.

  31. Do I detect a breath of sarcasm there ? Know then that all versions of all browsers are often in some respect malfunctional on some hardware and operating systems, and that one can expect, at most, only a net cumulative improvement over time as newer browser versions come out. New bugs appear, old bugs reappear.
    The reason why I stated my Firefox version is not in order to show that I have the latest and greatest version (it is the latest at this instant), but to provide a point of reference. Someone with an older version now knows that there is a newer version, in which the particular malfunction may have been fixed (or not, because the problem may not be merely the browser, but something additional).

  32. I can’t even say with impunity: “it won’t hurt to upgrade your browser version”, but only “on the whole, it won’t hurt much if at all.”

  33. Apparently I too have Firefox 17.0.1, which astonishes me; I am rarely on the cutting edge of technology.

  34. Sometime around version 16.0, Mozilla started automatically upgrading your browser without asking for your permission. As I recall, for a while there was no way to turn the new “feature” off – and there was a big stink in the internet over that.
    At any rate you now can turn it off. This tells you how to disable automatic updating.

  35. Just saw a small flood of the news about the couple whose children’s names are E and Yo. Dalton Conley (whose new Parentology book must have unleashed the torrent) credits himself with some sort of a mad-scientific approach which resulted in these two names. But back before he divorced their kids’ equally mad-genius mother, Natalie Jeremijenko, they claimed that the kids’ names owed at least as much to *her* creative imagination. Since Mom’s name strongly hints at the family roots in old Russia, I would be very surprised if these E and Yo weren’t thinly disguised Cyrillic letter-siblings Е and Ё!

  36. Ha, an excellent surmise!

    Great to see these old threads come back to life; the comments in this one are quite funny (as was seeing AJP get Madder and then calm down).

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