The Cyrillic Alphabet

This page is based on a feature by Jan Paulsen, in no. 2/1997, and information found on the internet.

The encoding of this page is "Windows-1251" which is the most common codeset on Russian web pages today. On older pages, you might find other codesets as well, like the KOI-8. Even though neither Windows-1251 nor KOI8 are the official international computer standard for Cyrillic letters, they are the most common codesets on web pages.  If your web-browser does not automatically recognize "Windows-1251", you might see some "funny characters", or letters from quite different alphabets, instead of Cyrillic letters. The first thing to try then,
(or maybe you should do it right away), at least if your web-browser is Microsoft Internet Explorer, is to open up the "View" menu and check "Encoding". If the encoding is not set to something with "Cyrillic (Windows)" in it, you must change it. "Cyrillic (KOI8)", "Cyrillic (ISO)" or any other "Cyrillic" codeset than the Windows-1251 will, on this page, show false characters.

Newer web-browsers will automatically detect whether you have the correct Cyrillic codeset installed on your computer, or not. If not, the computer will ask if you want to download a codeset from the internet. Follow the instructions. If you are working within a computer network, or uses Windows NT, make sure that you have the neccessary permits to install programs. (Administrator access).

From Cyrillic to Latin letters
Translation (or transliteration, to use the correct term) from Cyrillic letters to our Latin alphabet is not always simple. One reason for that, is that there is no international agreement on a single unified system of converting from Cyrillic letters into Latin letters.  Indeed, each language has one or more methods of converting Russian into English or German or French, based on their own pronunciation of sounds. In addition there is an official Russian transliteration from Cyrillic.
The principal differences between the different transliterations are mostly found when translating the letters
(y, ay, ai, oy or ij in Latin), (ya, ia or ja in Latin), (ch, tch, tsj or tsch in Latin), (sh or sch in Latin)  and (shch or stsch in Latin).

A close example is the word Moskvich, (
in Russian), a word that ends with the letter and thereby will get a variety of different spellings in Western Europe. Some Eastern European countries translate the letter as
č, and Moskvich becomes Moskvič. And to make it even more confusing, the East Europeans translate the letter with č or Ž as well. This letter is used in the syllable (and car make) IZh, ( in Russian), which thereby will be written Ič in some countries, and Iž in other countries, like in the Czech Republic. The Russians and some East Europeans will then only use two letters when writing the word , while we will use three letters in Western Europe.

The Germans will use W instead of V, as they pronounce the letter V as F(au). The Germans will often also use S instead of Z, meaning that ZIS and ZIL becomes SIS and SIL. And when English speaking countries uses ch, the Germans will use tsch. Moskvich/Moskwitsch and Chaika/Tschaika can be used as examples. (In Norway, we will in most cases use tch in names, like Moskvitch and Tchaika, even if the "official" Norwegian transliteration of the letter
is tsj). And when it comes to proper names, (cities, rivers, areas etc.), these are often written in different ways as well. An example: (Russian), Moskva (Norwegian), Moscow (English), Moskau (German) and Moscou (French).

Automatic translations
There are programs (web-pages) on the internet that actually translates Russian texts (and even web-pages) into English or German. Two of the best (to our knowledge) are and  Do not expect perfect translations, (the grammar will in most cases not be perfect either), but things will at least be presented in letters and words that you can interprete.

Then comes the pronunciation. A chapter of its own. As an example, how do we pronunce the word IZh? Like "Itsj" or like "Iiisj", with a looong i? According to the Berlitz dictionary for travellers, the letter
should be pronunced as the "ee" in the word "see", and the as the "g" in the word massage, (or as the "j" in the French word "jour"). In other words, a "normal" i, and a "hush-sound" in the end.
Volga (
in Russian), is more simple, at least in writing. There are 5 letters, no matter whether you use Cyrillic or Latin letters. The letter is the clue here. It should be pronunced something like the "o" in the English word "port". But to get the absolutely correct pronunciation, you probably need to be a native Russian. (The same o-sound is found in Moskvich).

More about Cyrillic codesets on the computer
As mentioned in the section about "Encoding", the computer will, in most cases, automatically detect whether you have the correct Cyrillic codeset installed, or not.  (Same thing with other codesets, like Japanese, Chinese, Korean etc.). If you do not have the proper codeset, the computer will ask if you want to download and install it from the internet. Just follow the instructions. Manual installation demands a bit more computer knowledge, but is normally an easy thing to do.
Windows 2000/XP: If your operating system is Windows 2000 or Windows XP, the standard web browser is the Microsoft Internet Explorer, and the codesets are found under "Settings" and "Control Panel".  Choose "Regional settings" and mark out the codesets (languages) you wish to install. The system might ask you to insert the Windows 2000/Windows XP disc.
Windows 95/98/NT: The procedure is mainly as for Windows 2000, but instead of using "Regional settings" you need to use "Add/remove programs". Then you will need the correct program, like "Cyrillic Language Support" or "Pan-European Language Support", on a disc or downloaded from the internet. If you want to be sofisticated, and use a Cyrillic keyboard, you need to visit "Regional settings" here as well. (Remember that Windows NT will require the permit to install programs. ("Administrator access")).
Mac(Intosh): Probably, only a few of us uses Mac computers, as these are mainly used by newspapers, magazines and advertising agencies.  (They are supposed to be better than Windows-based computers on artwork and pictures). Therefore, we will not deal in particular with Mac computers here, but refer to two features on Macs found here  and
Netscape: If Netscape is your web browser, you will need version 3.X or higher to read Cyrillic codesets. The same feature as mentioned in the section about Mac computers, also have a section on Netscape. If you have problems with viewing Cyrillic letters in Netscape, you need to enter the "Edit"-menu and from there "Preferences" (or "General preferences") to see whether you have Cyrillic codesets on your computer or not. If not, they (or it) need(s) to be installed.  As in Microsoft Internet Explorer, you can change codeset  in the "View"-menu. (Under "Encoding" or "Character Coding".)
Other web browsers: Other web browsers, like Opera, Linux and Eudora, have their own, but usually rather similar methods of reading Cyrillic letters. Check your software manual, click the "Help" button or search the web for tips.

Search engines
The most common search engines, like Google and other, do find Russian web-sites as well. (They also have Russian (Cyrillic) versions). Additionally there are also pure Russian (Cyrillic) search engines, like  and . You will have to search in Cyrillic letters, and without a Cyrillic keyboard, you will have to "cut and paste" the letters from a symbol chart, a text file o.a.
The best Cyrillic search engine for users in "non-Cyrillic" countries, is therefore perhaps  Yandex , were a "keyboard" on the screen allows you to write in Cyrillic letters without cutting and pasting.

The Alphabet
Below is an overview of the Cyrillic Alphabet, an alphabet named after the Greek missionary Cyrill, who contributed to the christening of Russia during the 9th century. Cyrill, and his brother Method, a christian missionary as well, based their alphabet on the Greek alphabet.
Find a pen and some paper, and start practicing. Begin with something simple, like ZIL. When you manage Zaporozhets, you are beginning to get a hold of it. And if this last word should end up totally wrong, write Yalta instead, as that was the export-name used on the Zaporozhets cars, when they were marketed in Western Europe during the 1960's. Please note that the alphabet includes two characters that shall not be pronunced. ( and ). Their task is only to tell you whether the consonant in front shall have a "hard" or a "soft" pronunciation.

If your computer should completely refuse to show the Cyrillic characters, click here for a scanned version (jpg file) of the Cyrillic Alphabet.

Upper case letters Lower case letters English transliteration


a Like the a in father
b Like the b in bank
v Like the v in victor
g Like the g in good
d Like the d in dog
e or ye Like the y in yes
yo Like the yo in yogurt
zh Like the g in massage, (or the j in the French word jour)
z Like the s in nose (or z in zebra)
i Like the ee in see
j Like oy in toy, (or y in goodbye or ay in hay)
k Like the k in kangaroo
l Like the double l in fill
m Like the m in mouse
n Like the n in north
o Like the o in port (but like 'ah' if not stressed)
p Like the p in pepper
r Like the r in red  (rolled at the tip of the tongue)
s Like the s in soon (or yes)
t Like the t i tea
u Like the double o in fool
f Like the f in fire
kh Like the ch in scottish loch
ts Like the ts in sits
ch Like the ch in chair
sh Like the sh in short
shch Like shch in french cheese
(tvjordy znak) ("Hard" sign. (Not pronunced))
y Like the i in ill
(mjakhky znak) ("Soft" sign. (Not pronunced))
e Like the e in let
yu or iu Like you in youth
ya or ia Like ya in yacht

Buses from the ATUL Works in Leningrad were quite simply named L () for Leningrad.
This one is from the mid-1930's and based on a ZIS-8 chassis.

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