The future of the unique Russian letter “¸” (sounds as “yo”) is up in the air after the ministry of education and science decided to draft up a bill to regulate its usage.
Minister Dmitry Livanov said he received complaints from people who argue that lower-ranking officials do not pay enough attention to the letter, which causes a lot of problems when applying for welfare benefits or certificates from the register office.
“No doubt that his issue needs to be addressed, the lives of millions of people are at stake,” he said on Friday.
The move, however, raised eye-brows with linguists who say the rules have been there for a long time now and suggest that officials are only too lazy to consult the books when necessary.
“To my mind, the rules have been set a long time ago. This letter is part of the alphabet. You can look it up in any dictionary. It’s just that people don’t find it comfortable to use it due to its position on the keyboard’s layout. Not all cell phone models have it on their keyboards,” says Tatyana Bazzhina, from the Linguistics Institute of the Russian State University for the Humanities.
Konstantin Polivanov, a professor at the Higher School of Economics, insists the letter should remain since it helps to distinguish the meaning of many similar words.
In a management system ridden with red tape, misprints could spell trouble whose size you could have never predicted. In 2008, the migration agency in the city of Perm issued a passport to Tatyana Tetyorkina where the letter “¸” was substituted with “e”. If she failed to spot the mistake and ring the alarm bell on time, she could have run into numerous cases of mistaken identity or be reduced to a immigrant status, since her Russian citizenship for a new name would not be registered anywhere.
The Vinogradov Institute of the Russian Language is aware of such stories and has set up a special service to issue certificates confirming that their names written with “¸” and with “e” are actually the same. “Dozens of people apply to us daily,” says Maria Kalenchukm the institute’s deputy director.
Linguists agree the letter has been largely ignored for decades, first due to higher costs for the printing business (two upper dots are to blame), then to the shift from handwriting to typing on a PC.
The authors of the bill need to be careful about their ideas, keeping in mind that this letter is still part of more than 12,500 words, at least 2,500 names of Russian and CIS citizens, thousands of geographical names and thousands of foreign names transliterated into Russian.
Author: Mikhail Vesely