Прописные буквы

by Don  

One of the ways that Russian orthography differs from English is in its use of capital and lowercase letters. The phrases «прописная буква» and «заглавная буква» mean ‘capital letter,’ and «строчная буква» means ‘lowercase letter.’

С прописной буквы пишется первое слово предложения. The first word of a sentence is written with a capital letter.

Notice that in Russian we say that a word is written "from" a capital letter (с + genitive) not "with" a capital letter.

Rules for Russian capitalization (all in Russian) are available here. One of the curious things to note is that during the Soviet period the names of holidays associated with the revolution were written with a capital letter on the first word (not the others, if any), thus: Первое мая May First, Международный женский день International Women's Day, Новый год New Year's, Девятое января January Ninth. (Why the heck they thought New Year's was a revolutionary holiday is beyond me.) Religious holidays, in keeping with the Communist Party's general denigration of religion, were supposed to be written with a lowercase letter: рождество Christmas, троицын день Trinity Day (which is usually called Pentecost in the West), святки Yuletide. That bit is changing nowadays, and the first letter of the first word of religious holidays is often capitalized. The Soviet period rules are still reflected in some places, including the link just given.

Last but not least, first names, patronymics, Western middle names, and surnames (last names) are always capitalized:

Дмитрий Анатольевич Медведев Dmitri Anatolievich Medvedev
(current president of Russia)
Джордж Уокер Буш George Walker Bush
(previous President of the USA)
Barack Hussein Obama II Барак Хусейн Обама II
(current President of the USA)

Picky detail: the «II» of Obama's name is said «второй» out loud.

1 comment

Comment from: Жана [Visitor]

Very interesting- and it’s funny that you say “out loud” about Obama II, because as far as I’ve noticed, most Americans will ignore it, lest they sound pretentious. Or maybe that’s just me ;)

Don responds: Interesting. I’ve never thought about that, but you’re right. If the name ends in “Jr” we are comfortable saying “junior” out loud, but when we see “II” perhaps we aren’t so sure if we are supposed to say “two” (which I have heard) or “the second” (which I have also heard). I also wonder if the fact that the name isn’t of English provenance makes the junior/second/third enumeration sound odd to us. “John Owens, Jr” sounds normal. “Martin Luther King, Jr” sounds normal. But something like “Nabil Khouri, Jr” or “Helmut von Lilienfield, Jr” has an odd ring to it. It’s perfectly good language, of course, it just sounds a little funny.

02/23/09 @ 22:57

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