NOTES ON BIEŁARUSIAN PRONUNCIATION AND TRANSLITERATIONS

The Biełarusian language uses two alphabets, Kirylica (Cyrillic) and Łacinka (Latin), but modern Biełarusians use mostly the Cyrillic alphabet. Spelling in the Cyrillic alphabet has two versions. The first one, Taraškievica, is based on the method elaborated by the linguist Branislaǔ Taraškievič (1892–1938). It was prohibited by the Soviets and replaced by the Soviet Narkomaǔka (the “Communist one”), a heavily Russified version of the Biełarusian language.

The written Biełarusian language of the Taraškievica tradition (unlike Narkomaǔka) has its own Łacinka (Biełaruskaja abeceda) and Cyrillic. Though attempts are being made to introduce Łacinka into the Library of Congress (LoC), it still uses a heavily Russified form of transliteration. Even the latest Biełarusian transliteration, offered by LoC, slavishly shadows the Russian one. The reader may see several forms of Biełarusian transliterations, as reflected in different spellings of the Biełarusian language: Byelorussian, Byelarussian, Belarusian, Bielarusan, Belarusan, and a few more. Another good example is the spelling of the Biełarusian capital: Miensk turned into Minsk under the Soviets in 1938; the country’s present leaders have kept this spelling; the opposition and émigrés use the original Miensk.

Unlike LoC, all variants of Łacinka incorporate diacritical marks, similar to the Czech, Polish, Serbian, Sorbian, and other alphabets in Latin conversion.  Though variants of Łacinka were used from the sixteenth century, The Portrayal of Jews in Biełarusian Literature uses the transliteration system, based on the Taraškievica because Taraškievič’s Łacinka innately reflects Biełarusian sounds compare to any other systems. I hope the following charts will be of help to English speakers and will allow the reader to experience the richness of Biełarusian phonetics.

 

Cyrillic Łacinka Pronunciation LoC
A a A a; see charts and notes below a (in ah) A a
Б б B b b (in bid; bow) B b
В в V v v (in vim; in vow) V v
Г г H h h (in how) H h
Д д D d d (in dean; deaf) D d
Е е see notes and charts below E e
Ё ё see notes and charts below Io io
Дз дз Dz dz dz (in aze) absent
Дзь дзь Dź dź dź (followed by soft sign ь: palatalized) absent
Дж дж Dž dž j (in jet) absent
Ж ж Ž ž sue (in pleasure) Zh zh
З з Z z (in zorro) Z z
Зь зь Ź ź z (palatalized in shorten eu of Zeus) absent
І і I I; see charts and notes below I i (in machine) Ī ī
Й й J j; see charts and notes below y (in boy) Ĭ ĭ
К к K k k (in cat) K k
Л л Ł ł l (in lamp); followed by hard  vowels: a, o, у, ы, э L l
Ль ль L l l (in million) followed by soft vowels or soft sign: я, ё, ю, і, е, ь; please see the chart below absent
М м M m m (in mom) M m
Н н N n n (in no) N n
Нь нь Ń ń n (in onion) absent
О о O o; see charts and notes below o (in horse) O o
П п P p p (in pot) P p
Р р R r r ( close to Scottish ‘r’ in row) R r
С с S s s (in so) S s
Сь сь Ś ś s (Sirius: palatalized) absent
Т т T t t (in to) T t
У у U u; see charts and notes below u (in rule) U u
Ў ў Ǔ ŭ w (in how) U u
Ф ф F f f (in fat) F f
Х х Ch ch ch (in Scottish loch) Kh kh
Ц ц C с ts (in tsetse) Ts ts
Ць ць Ć ć t (palatalized) absent
Ч ч Č č ch (in church) Ch ch
Ш ш Š š sh (in shine) Sh sh
Шч шч Šč šč Please see note 1 Shch
Ы ы Y y y (in Mary) Y y
ь Soft sign “ь” palatalizes a consonant, as in: ź, ś, ń, and others, and/or divides it with a following vowel: ź’ia.
ъ Hard sign divides a consonant and a vowel.
Э э E e e (in ten) Ė ė
Ю ю see notes and charts below Iu iu
Я я see notes and charts below Ia ia

 

Notes and charts:

Note 1 *[Щ щ] is absent in modern Biełarusian but is replaced by a diagraph шч*

 

After Consonants (other than Ł/ł and L/l).

Cyrillic Łacinka Pronunciation LoC
Я я Ia ia ya (in yah) ia
Е е Ie ie ye (in yet) e
Ё ё Io io yo (in yonder) ё
Ю ю Iu iu yu (in tune) iu

 

After the consonant L/l, the following vowels are always soft.

 

Cyrillic Łacinka Pronunciation LoC
Я я Lia lia ya (in yah) ia
Е е Lie lie ye (in yet) e
Ё ё Lio lio yo (in yonder) ё
Ю ю Liu liu yu (in tune) iu

 

After the consonant Ł/ł the following vowels are always hard.

Cyrillic Łacinka Pronunciation LoC
лa ła la (in latitude) N/A
ло łо lo (in lonely) N/A
лу łu lu (in looney) N/A
лэ łe laj (in lady) N/A

After vowels or beginning of the word

Cyrillic Łacinka Pronunciation LoC
I i ji yi (in yield) N/A
Е е je ye (in yet) E e
Ё ё jo yo (in yonder) Io io
Ю ю ju yu (in you) Iu iu
Я я ja ya (in yah) Ia ia

Biełarusian Łacinka: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belarusian_Latin_alphabet.

Gimpelevich, Z. Vasil Bykaŭ. His Life and Works. Montreal & Kingston & London & Ithaca: MQUP, 2005.

Kasaty, P. “Belarusian Alphabets and Transliteration.” http://www.belarus-misc.org/bel-alpha.htm.

Kipel, V., and Z. Kipel, eds. Byelorussian Statehood. New York: Byelorussian Institute of Arts and Sciences, 1988.

McMillin, A. Belarusian Literature in the 1950s and 1960s. Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 1999.

– . A History of Byelorussian Literature. Giessen: Verlag, 1977.

Rich, V.  Like Water, Like Fire. London: Allen and Unwin, 1971.

 

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