The letter “Ё” in the Russian alphabet

“Ё” is, perhaps, the most intricate letter in the Russian language. It is often being ignored and replaced by a letter “e”. In addition, there is still no clear guidance on its use.

Creation of the letter “ё

Letter “ё” is relatively new. It was introduced into Russian alphabet on 29th of November 1783 during one of the first meetings of the newly created Russian Academy where a draft of a Slavic-Russian dictionary was discussed. One of the attendants suggested to start using a new letter “ё” instead of two letters “іо” by taking advantage of the existing letter “e” and putting two dots over it – umlaut. The idea was welcomed by everybody.

Yet, for a long time “ё” was still considered as a separate letter and was not included in the alphabet. The problem was the attitude of the Russian people: letter “ё” was associated with commoners’ speech.

12 years long years passed until it was first used in print. The first word typed with a new letter was “всё” (everything).

Letter “ё” in the 20th century

In 1904 the Orthographic Commission was established at the Imperial Academy of Sciences, which included the largest linguists of that time. 8 years later, in 1912, the Сommission proposed to eliminate letters that didn’t signify any sounds, such as “ъ” at the end of words. In addition, the commission recognized the use of the letter “ё” desirable, but not mandatory.

In Soviet times, the letter “ё” was officially recognized in 1942. The legend goes that in 1940s Joseph Stalin himself got furious with a document where his generals’ surnames were all typed with “e” instead of “ё”. The next day Pravda newspaper started to use “ё” in its print issues. A few years later though, the use of “ё” became optional again.

Nowadays

Nowadays, the letter “ё” is used selectively. If the author wishes, the letter “ё” can be used. Despite the optional use, it is unfair to say that there are no rules regarding the use of “ё” at all. According to the reference book “Rules of Russian spelling and punctuation”, the letter “ё” should be used:

  • to prevent incorrect reading of the word;
  • to indicate the pronunciation of a little-known word;
  • in dictionaries and orthographic books; in textbooks for foreigners who study Russian; in children’s books, and in other special types of literature.

What about letter “ё” in names?

The undetermined use of letter “ё” in given names and surnames poses a lot of problems for millions of Russian when it comes to documents and correct pronunciation. The issue is still not resolved, as the spelling preference remains on the discretion of government officials.

So the struggle continues… Could you think of another language that has an optional letter?

Алёна from team EBC (victim of letter “ё” phenomenon)