Russian Dialects

map of Russia

Unlike Spanish translators, who struggle to make their translation usable in multiple Spanish-speaking areas, Russian translators don’t really have to worry about locales.

Are there regional dialects in Russia?

Most academic resources, like this one, will tell you there are two (or three) main Russian dialects, the most prominent difference being pronunciation. However, the extent of dialectal variation must not be overestimated. Due to population migrations and relatively unobstructed geography, Russian is much more uniform than some languages spoken on smaller territories. The Encyclopaedia Britannica contrasts Russian with Swiss German dialects:

It is also typical that phonological differences are more far-reaching in Switzerland between Swiss-German dialects than throughout the vast territory where the Russian language is spoken, extending from St. Petersburg to eastern Siberia. Such a situation results not only from migrations of the Russian population (as compared with the centuries of Swiss stability) but also from the contrasting geographic configurations: in Russia there is unobstructed communication in many directions; in mountainous Switzerland the territory is carved into small isolated units.

I have lived in Chelyabinsk (in the Urals) and Moscow, and  I have family in the Northern Caucasus (South of Russia). I have not noticed any significant dialectal differences beyond pronunciation and occasional word choice and don’t imagine these differences would have any bearing on the translation of, say, a technical manual.

The Extent of Variation

When I tell my colleagues about the lack of significant dialect variation in Russia, I hear their incredulous “But sure people in Vladivostok talk differently from people in Moscow.” Since territory is the largest cause of their disbelief, let’s use the US as a comparably large country. Granted, there are vocabulary distinctions — think of the infamous “soda” and “pop” — and grammar quirks (“the car needs washed”). However, these are unlikely to play any role in the authoring or translation of business or technical communication for the US. The main reason for that, both in Russia and the US, is that regional dialects are mostly spoken and seldom make it to written communication (with the possible exception of fiction and marketing, where dialectal idiosyncrasies may be preserved for their dramatic effect).

What does it mean for a client looking for a translation into Russian? Russian is fairly uniform across regions and countries; for better or for worse, there is one standard of written Russian. Except for specific fields that may require local terms, like advertising or legal, there is one standard for Russian. Get in touch today for your Russian translation needs.

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