Category: "Communications"

Текстовое сообщение, СМС, смс-ка, SMS

July 10th, 2009 — posted by Don

As I recall, back in 1997 nobody had cell phones in Russia.* Now they are all over the place. “Mobile phone” is trans­lated мобильный телефон or мобиль­ник, and cell phone is trans­lated сотовый телефон, although sometimes people just say сотовый. And young Russians send text messages like crazy. Properly speaking, the text message protocol is called SMS, the Short Message System. “Text message” is translated текстовое сообщение, but really almost no one says that. Usually people write СМС (pronounced эсэмэс) or смс-ка (pronounced эсэмэска), or sometimes they just write it in Latin letters as SMS.

In the early days of Russian texting, only Latin letters were available, so the Russians wrote things like:

Zhdu tebjа u vkhoda v biblioteku
=
Жду тебя у входа в библиотеку
I'm waiting for you at the entrance to the library.

That approach to writing Russian is often called транслит. There are several ways to go about transliterating Russian with Latin letters, and you can read about them in this Wikipedia article. The Russians aren't particularly consistent in how they use транслит, so the example we used above might come out “zdu teba u vhoda v biblioteku.” Sometimes that leads to humorous misunderstandings:

СМС:
- privet kak dela? =)
- splu. S Pashoi. Hristos Voskres!

Звонок:
- С каким Пашей???

SMS:
“Hi, how are you? =)”
“I'm sleeping. Happy Easter. Christ is risen!”

Phone call:
“What Paul [are you sleeping] with???”

Here the texter meant “S Pashoi” to represent «С Пасхой», which is an Easter greeting. The other texter mistook the h to be part of ш, and thus a typo for «С Пашей» “With Paul.”

Although many Russian cell phones can now send/receive text messages in Cyrillic, often people send them still in Latin letters. Sometimes they do this because the person they are sending to has a phone that can't receive Cyrillic. But there is another reason that people write in Latin even when both sender and receiver have phones that work with Cyrillic. It turns out that for technical reasons a Cyrillic text message is limited to a maximum of 70 characters, whereas one written in Latin letters and numbers can have up to 160 characters.

Я только что получил смс-ку от подруги. I just got a text message from my girlfriend.
Советую набирать все смс-ки латиницей, потому что латиницей в одну смс-ку помещается в несколько раз больше символов, чем кириллицей. (Adapted from this source) I advise writing all text messages in Latin letters because using Latin one text message can hold several times more characters than using Cyrillic.
Прочитай эту смс-ку. Я не совсем понимаю, что она значит. Read this text message. I don't exactly understand what it means.
Я посылаю, наверное, двадцать смс-ок в день и получаю примерно столько же. I send probably twenty text messages a day, and I receive roughly the same number.
Пришли мне смс-ку, когда закончишь заниматься. Send me a text message when you finish studying.

Quick texters in English use T9 predictive keying. Not surprisingly, it has also been adapted to Russian:

Т9 - офигенно удобная штука, смс-ки сейчас набираю только ею. (source) T9 is awesomely convenient. It's the only way I type text messages now.
А я всегда пользуюсь этой функцией… только смешно получается, если я что-то пишу, а слово получается не то, а я так и отправляю :) Например, если написать "сижу дома, скучаю, хорошо, что у меня пиво есть", то автоматом вместо "пиво" пишется "план" :) (Adapted from this source) Well I always use this function… only it comes out funny if I write something and the wrong word comes out and I send it. For instance, if I write “I'm at home, bored, good thing I have beer,” then the algorithm writes “dope” instead of “beer.”

* For comparison's sake, I should say that I purchased my first cell phone in the States in 1998, although they were available before that.