Russian Language Blog

Does Russian Sound Different in European Russia and the Far East? Posted by on Oct 13, 2016 in Culture, language

Very often I hear people say that, Russia being so large, there must be distinct regional accents. A person from Moscow surely speaks differently than someone from Novosibirsk. However, in the case of Russia we find that the variation is not nearly as drastic as one would expect.

As explained in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “The degree of dialectal differentiation depends to a great extent on the length of time a certain population has remained in a certain place.” The article notes that there is much less accent variation in Russian as compared to Swiss German due to migrations of the Russian population and an unobstructed geography.

I would like to share some examples of how people from different parts of Russia talk. We’ll also look at some of the expressions they use.

Map of Russia

Here are the cities “sampled” on a map
Map from Google Maps

The Far East

The rock musician Ilya Lagutenko (Илья Лагутенко) was born in Moscow (Москва) but moved to Vladivostok (Владивосто́к) as an infant and spent all of his childhood and college years there.

In this interview, Ilya talks about Vladivostok. From 0:08 to 0:27 he says:

Ну, для меня́ Владивосто́к всё-таки́ всегда́ ассоции́ровался с по́ртом и моряка́ми, кото́рые, в о́бщем-то, и составля́ли бо́льшую часть населе́ния го́рода. Они́ всегда́ куда́-то уходи́ли и не одна́жды возвраща́лись с пода́рками.

  • ассоции́ровать + с + instrumental – to associate with; ассоциироваться с… – to be associated with
  • бо́льший, бо́льшая, бо́льшее – larger (here, part), not to be confused with большо́й, больша́я, большо́е – large
  • моря́к – sailor
  • уходи́ть – to leave or here, likely, to go out to sea
  • возвраща́ться – to come back

Ilya uses a lot of hedging and colloquial interjections:

  • ну – well
  • всё-таки – all in all, untimately
  • в о́бщем or в о́бщем-то – generally speaking

The Urals

Mikhail Kozyrev (Михаи́л Ко́зырев) is a TV host and radio DJ originally from Yekaterinburg (Екатеринбу́рг). In this interview he is commenting on a guitar music festival he hosted.

From 0:27 to 0:48 he says:

Во-первых, залог успеха фестиваля, любого, всегда — это в уникальной и точно найденной концепции. А здесь идея основная, стержневая, она очень хороша, потому что объединить самые разные стили вокруг одного инструмента — это вещь, которая, с одной стороны, лежит на поверхности, а с другой стороны, она до сих пор никому не приходила в голову, поэтому абсолютно справедливо, что это первый гитарный фестиваль.

  • во-пе́рвых – first
  • зало́г успе́ха – cornerstone of success
  • сте́ржень – here, core (noun); стержнево́й – here, core (adjective)
  • объедини́ть – to unite
  • с одно́й стороны́… с друго́й стороны́ – on the one hand… on the other hand…
  • лежа́ть на пове́рхности – to be obvious (literally, “to lie on the surface”)
  • приходи́ть в го́лову + dative case – to occur to someone (as in, an idea occurred to someone)
  • справедли́во – accurate, true (literally, “just” or “fair”)

Mikhail is also using a lot of false starts and hedging in his answer. You can see that he came up with the modifier “любого” (any) after he said “фестиваля,” so this adjective-pronoun appears after the noun, which is not typical for Russian. You can also hear him “double” the subject in the sentence “идея… она очень хороша” (“this idea… it’s very good”). This is typical for colloquial Russian.

Volga Region

Natalia Vodianova (Наталья Водянова) is a Russian-born model from Nizhny Novgorod (Нижний Новгород). She is interviewed about the charity she runs.

From 0:36 to 1:04 Natalia answers the question of how she sees herself professionally.

В пе́рвую о́чередь, я мать и же́нщина, и отту́да интуи́ция, с кото́рой я рабо́таю. Э́то, наве́рно, са́мый… Э́то, наве́рно, тот го́лос, кото́рый меня́ ведёт по жи́зни. И, кро́ме семьи́ и бли́зких, наве́рно, для меня́ вот фонд “Обнажённые сердца́” и то, что мы де́лаем — э́то са́мое гла́вное. Всё остально́е — э́то спо́соб, э́то не цель.

  • в пе́рвую о́чередь – first of all, above all else
  • вести́ – to guide, to lead
  • наве́рно – probably
  • спо́соб – way, method
  • цель – goal

For what it’s worth, “the ends justify the means” is “цель опра́вдывает сре́дства.” Natalia’s answer may evoke this saying.

Obviously, the three speakers talk at a different pace, have different timbres, and make different word choices. However, there is nothing in their answers that would unambiguously point to a specific regional variety of Russian. Yes, there are local pronunciation peculiarities and vocabulary preferences — however, learners of Russian will be relieved to know that they don’t have to worry about regional variation too much.

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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available in English on her website and Twitter and in Russian on Telegram.


  1. samonen:

    The lack of regional variation in speech in such a gigantic country as Russia is indeed striking. I’m only familiar with things like “оканье” and “аканье” of which the former is common in the North of Russia. So they say “кОрова”, “мОлОко”. In Estonia, I noticed that some very old Old Believers (the Russians that settled there over 300 years ago as refugees) pronounced a “я” where standard Russian has a “e”, “они ядят” which I think is an “аканье” feature.

    • Maria:

      @samonen Samonen, I found this external post interesting in terms of the reasons for the greater homogeneity of Russian as opposed to some languages spoken over a smaller territory. Basically, moving people around for jobs under the USSR, a unified educational system, and the relative prestige of speaking “correctly” have contributed to the spread of one variety. So, elitist as this may be, the urban and educated tend to speak in a similar way, and dialects really only persist in rural areas. All good examples!