Let’s Learn a Little More about Russian-Influenced English
Russian does not contain the phonemes /w, ŋ, dʒ, θ, or ð/. In particular, phonemes such as /w/ and /m/ are difficult for Russian-ELLs to differentiate. Therefore, substitutions, distortions, or omissions of these sounds should not be misdiagnosed as a phonological or articulation disorder, as there isn’t an overlap of these sounds in the phonemic inventories of Russian and English. In addition, final consonants in Russian are always devoiced. Knowing this, devoicing at the end of words should not be considered a disordered phonological process in Russian ELLs.
The vocalic system of Russian is smaller and less complex than the English vocalic system. The vowels that do not exist in Russian (dipthongs) may be distorted in Russian-English bilinguals, and should not be misidentified as a disorder of articulation, but rather as a difference present in typical English-Russian speakers.
However, in both English and Russian, all obstruents have voiced and voiceless counterparts. Therefore, voicing and devoicing processes (i.e. /læv/ for /læf/, /sɪp/ for /zɪp/) in Russian ELLs is likely not an issue of second-language acquisition, but a possible indication of a phonological processing disorder. In addition, Russian is a language that presents with many clusters, and can contain up to 4 consonants clustered in one word. Therefore, cluster reduction of English words after developmental norms are reached can be interpreted as an abnormal phonological process in Russian-English bilinguals (Belyakov, 2008).
Russian adjectives have gender, case, and number agreement with the nouns they describe. Therefore, the Russian structure is more complex and concrete, in comparison to the adjective-noun elaboration structure in English. Errors of noun-elaboration and adjective-elaboration may be present in Russian-English bilinguals, due to this distinct difference between the two languages (i.e. “They have two house” would not be considered a disordered syntactic error) (Grosman, 2014).
Russian does not contain any indefinite or definite articles, so accurate use of “the”, “an”, etc. may be challenging even for typical Russian-influenced English-speakers. Conceptualization of articles will need to be explicitly taught to Russian ELLs, due to the lack of articles in Russian.
Russian marks gender by inflection, while English has different lexical entries for gender. For example, “he”, “she”, and “it” are distinct in English, but are more ambiguous in Russian (in Russian, all three of those words vary by one letter, demonstrating connection in meaning across the Russian lexicon) (Grosman, 2014). Errors of “he”, “she”, and “it” may be present in Russian-influenced English and should not be misunderstood as disordered, due to the lack of cross-linguistic carry over in both languages, as each marks gender differently.
In general, word order in Russian follows a subject-verb-object sequence. However, flexibility in this general structure exists (Chakraborty et al, A Clinician’s Guide to Russia – see link). For example, “impersonal, indefinite-impersonal, reflexive, and passive constructions” are all grammatically-acceptable syntactic structures in Russian. The final position of nouns and adjectives “always change depending on their function and position in the sentence” (Sumerset, 2016). Therefore, when working with Russian-ELLs, explicit instruction of the obligatory subject-verb-object construction in English will be necessary in order for adherence to this word order.
Written by: Taylor Viggers, MS, CF-SLP
Sumerset, L. (2016). English and Russian: Similarities And Differences. Retrieved April
Grosman, J. D. (2014). Language Development of Bilingual Russian/ English Speaking Children
Living in the United States: A Review of the Literature. OpenSIUC. Retrieved April 19,
2016, from h p://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/uhp_theses.
Belyakov, Irene (2008). “From Russia with /lav/: Transitioning into a New Culture and
Phonology.” ASHA. 18 Apr. 2016. Lecture.