русски Shwa for Russian

It's difficult even to imagine Russian written in any other script than Cyrillic - they seem so well matched! When we see Russian written in the Latin alphabet - shchi da kasha pishcha nasha - it looks silly, and look at all the accents, dots, hooks and strange letter combinations in written Polish or Czech! But is Cyrillic really the best way to write Russian? Thinking about it, we have to admit it has several flaws.

First of all, graphically: too many letters look too much alike, for example лпцнимшщ. We need three diacritics: йёа́ (as in за́мок). And we have four forms for each letter - does that really help us read and write?

Second, we have only 5 vowels, but we have twelve vowel letters! Yes, twelve, because we have to count ъ and ь as silent vowels, since we use vowels to indicate whether the preceding consonant is soft or hard. The Serbians also use the Cyrillic alphabet, but they only need the five letters аеиоу to write the same five vowels, plus ј to soften the preceding consonant or iotify the following vowel (they also have letters for soft љ њ).

Third, we have some odd spelling. The word его and the endings -ого and -его should be spelled with a в, not a г. Легко and мягко should be spelled with a х, not a г. Хлеб should be хлеп, жаренный should be жареный, and солнце should be солце.

Fourth, we're missing letters for a lot of sounds that occur in foreign words and names, like the h in хобби or the дж in джаз, or even Russian dialects, like the хг in Го́споди. These missing letters are a big problem when we use the Cyrillic alphabet to write other Russian languages, like Tatar, Chechen, Komi and many more.

Fifth, we don't write the reduction of vowels - аканье, иканье and so forth - even though it's very important in pronunciation. Because of that, people often don't know how to spell a vowel sound, with а or о, with е or и. In general, Russian spelling is phonemic, not phonetic: we write what we're thinking, not what we're saying, and that makes it easier to write, but harder to read.

Sixth, and most important, it has become impossible to keep up with the world unless we also know the Latin alphabet, which forces us to learn even more letters and to switch between different keyboards. We have to figure out whether to write Chaikovsky Tchaïkovski Tschaikowski or Czajkowski, depending on the language. And we have to write the romanization of metro stops and train stations, streets and towns, so that foreigners can find where they're going.

Shwa solves all these problems, and will be shared by many other languages around the world, enabling us to read their names and them to read ours. Shwa has full digital support, and it enables all the languages of the world to be written on the same small keyboard: only 20 keys!


Russian is written in Shwa using eight vowel letters (International Phonetic Alphabet in green):

Cyrillic Stressed
ы ɨ ɨ
и i ɪ
э е e
а я a ɐ
о ё o
у ю u ʊ

In contrast to Cyrillic, in Shwa we write the reduction of vowels. In Russian, vowels are only tense when stressed and reduce to lax when unstressed. In rapid or lazy speech, vowels are often reduced further, but this isn't spelled.

In Shwa, stressed vowels are written high, and unstressed vowels, low.


б b д d г g
п p т t ц ʦ ч ʨ к k
в v з z ж ʐ г¹ ɣ
ф f с s ш ʂ щ ɕː х x
м m н n
л l р r й j

¹as in Го́споди!

The consonants in blue are always hard, while those in green are always soft - we'll explain below.

In Shwa, we don't write doubled consonants unless they are pronounced double. So грамматика, интеллект, аппетит, металл, грипп are all written with single consonants in Shwa.


All the Shwa consonants with tops to the left of the stem -           - are voiced (your vocal chords vibrate as you say them). All the Shwa consonants with tops to the right of the stem -           - are unvoiced (your vocal chords don't vibrate as you say them).

When consonants occur in a sequence, they normally acquire the voicing of the last one. The Cyrillic spelling doesn't show this, but the Shwa spelling does! For example, вокзал is spelled  (the k becomes a g), and водка is spelled  (the d becomes a t). Because of this, you may see some Shwa letters that aren't in the table above:    are the "missing" voiced equivalents of   .

A final consonant may even assimilate to the first consonant of the next word, if there's no pause. In fact, final consonants before a pause also lose their voice, as if they were assimilating to a following unvoiced consonant. For example, зуб is spelled  (the b becomes a p).

The sound в is involved with many exceptions; for some reason, this sound doesn't affect the voicing of consonants as much as others. But in any case, there are many odd cases and exceptions, and the Shwa spelling follows a simple rule: spell it as you pronounce it!


Most consonants can be hard (velarized) or soft (palatalized). In Cyrillic, this is indicated by the following vowel or sign : ы э а о у ъ indicate that the preceding consonant is hard, while и е я ё ю ь indicate that it's soft.

But in Shwa, we use a different approach, with only one letter for each vowel. Consonants before back vowels are assumed to be hard, and consonants before front vowels are assumed to be soft, and if that's not the case, we insert a special sign, just like the hard and soft signs ъ ь in Cyrillic. We use the Shwa hard suffix to harden a consonant before soft sounds, and we use the Shwa soft suffix to soften a consonant before hard sounds.

These suffixes are often attached to the preceding consonant to form a ligature. Here's what that looks like with the soft suffix - the hard suffix works the same way:

 бь  дь  гь
 пь  ть  кь
 вь  зь
 фь  сь  хь
 мь  нь
 ль  рь


Now that you've learned the letters, why don't you try reading a sentence?

Волков бояться - в лес не ходить.



Белеет парус одинокий
В тумане моря голубом...
Что ищет он в стране далёкой?
Что кинул он в краю родном?

Играют волны - ветер свищет,
И мачта гнётся и скрипит...
Увы, - он счастия не ищет
И не от счастия бежит!

Под ним струя светлей лазури,
Над ним луч солнца золотой
А он, мятежный, просит бури,
Как будто в бурях есть покой!

© 2002-2018 Shwa 22jun18