В (degree of comparison)

by Don  

English and Russian both have special comparison forms for adjectives and adverbs, which makes them seem sort of similar. In English the comparative form often ends in -er, and in Russian it often ends in -е or -ее:

The Ferrari is faster than the Toyota. Феррари быстрее, чем Тойота.
Bill Gates is richer than Eike Batista. Билл Гейтс богаче, чем Айке Батиста.
This building is taller than that building. Это здание выше, чем то здание.
Joan Collins is older than Keira Knightley. Джон Кaлинз старше, чем Кира Найтли.¹

But here is a curious thing: if you want to say how many times someone or something is faster, richer, taller or older, then in English there are two constructions you can use. One of them uses an “as...as” phrase without a comparative form, and one of them uses a comparative form with a ‘than’ phrase.

The Ferrari is twice as fast as the Toyota.
The Ferrari is two times faster than the Toyota.

Joan Collins is three times as old as Keira Knightley.
Joan Collins is three times older than Keira Knightley.

This building is five times as tall as that building.
This building is five times taller than that building.

In Russian you always use the comparative form. The word for ‘time’ in this context is раз, which has an irregular genitive plural ‘раз’, and the number must be preceded by the preposition в, which in this context works with the accusative case of the number:

Феррари в два раза быстрее, чем Тойота.
Джон Калинз в три раза старше, чем Кира Найтли.
Это здание в пять раз выше, чем то здание.

Oh, let's try a few more.

Население Москвы в двадцать два раза больше, чем население Тулы. The population of Moscow is twenty two times larger than the population of Tula.
У моей двоюродной сестры в три раза больше зубов, чем у меня. У неё такая красивая улыбка. My cousin has three times as many teeth as I do. She has such a pretty smile.
Бриллианты в сорок раз дороже, чем муассанит. Diamonds are forty times more expensive than moissanite.

¹ If you look at the Wikipedia article on Joan Collins, you will see her name transliterated as Джоан Коллинз, which has an unpronounced ‘а’ and an unpronounced extra ‘л’, which have been added under the influence of English spelling. That is a *bad thing*. Dear Russian Wikipedia authors, please do not fall under the terrible influence of English spelling. You have a marvelous tradition in Russian of spelling things much more closely to their pronunciation. It is why the Russian application of Cyrillic is superior to the English application of the Latin alphabet. Notice that the author of the Kira Knightley article didn't make that mistake. Please maintain your excellent and sensible tradition, and, eight hundred years from now, when we English speakers finally have a sensible spelling reform, you can taunt us with an alphabetic “I told you so!”


Comment from: Don [Member]

BTW, if you want to test which American accent you have, there is a neat little online test for it here.

06/08/11 @ 01:45
Comment from: Edgar [Visitor]

Thanks, Shady, for your comments. Indeed, in US all tv and media people have to acquire a mid-west, standard pronunciation. Years ago (over 50 now) I was told by a professor of Linguistics at Georgetown Univ. that this was because the mid-west american
accent was the one most easily understood by Americans of all regions.

06/07/11 @ 17:53
Comment from: Shady_arc [Visitor]

And, no, there aren’t AS MANY regional variations is US as in Russia. For the simple reason you have so many and we have so few, at least in large cities.

My mother was from a rural area, and still spoke the very generic Russian (or maybe her speech changed as she spent more and more years in our town away from her village). When her brother visited us a few times, I couldn’t see any real difference. Yet there are lots and lots of people in Moscow who don’t speak with “Moscow accent” the actors speak. Even some people in faraway regions do it much better, though at www.forvo.com I can clearly see the tendency among some people from there to speak vowels in a more relaxed and prolonged manner.

The reasons are, probably, as follows:
- contemporary literary Russian language was originally the language of a rather small area.
- Moscow/St.Petersburg accent is the one used on radio and TV, the one used in actor’s training. This is the accent movies are generally dubbed in (unless you need something very specific, like “he is this old Chinese salesman with a funny accent"). Other pronunciations are mostly used for laughs or if the character is.. maybe from Caucasia, Ukraine, or has a distinct Asian look. You see, there are very few variations the people instantly recognize, such as Armenian, Ukranian, Georgian, generic “jewish” or Kazakh.
- the population got thrown around the country a lot in Soviet times.
- many people try to get closer to Moscow, St. Petersburg and other large cities. As a result, these cities themselves have a non-uniform pronunciation. One my Kazakh friend wasn’t born here but she spoke Russian with a flawless Moscow accent, to the point you can SEE she is probably not from Russia, but you cannot HEAR it on the phone or in audio interview.

As for the actors, it is an interesting story… I heard they are actually trained to speak like that. If only you pay attention, you will notice this training in the older Russian movies and cartoons (for example, they pronounce маленький as “маленькай” and “дождь” as if it were “дощ", though this was already obsolete even then). It was farther from actual speech back then (because late 19th-early 20th century pronunciation was used as a model). Nowadays the pronunciation is almost the same as the real one :) Well, at least in dubbing and movies. I heard, it is still a bit more traditional in theatres.

06/03/11 @ 15:51
Comment from: Shady_arc [Visitor]

@Edgar: I spoke mostly of “General American” pronunciation. I know that many variations exist, yet as I have never been in any English-speaking country, ever, I don’t pay close attention to the differences even when I hear them in films or games. Where actors often fake their accents anyway ^_^.

06/03/11 @ 15:06
Comment from: Edgar [Visitor]

” That is, it becomes “О” even when in American pronunciation it is closer to Russian “А".Not quite true, Shady. Your statement about “O” and American “A"s applies mostly to mid-west and pacific coast English. Those of us who live in the Northeast, particularly in the Boston area are noted for our British “O"s. There are probably as many regional variations of speech in the US as there are in Russia.

06/03/11 @ 14:18
Comment from: Shady_arc [Visitor]

In fact, the transcriptions that are used are a mixture of a phonetical approach, some transliteration and some tradition. That’s why we have Вальтер Скотт and Джессика Уолтер, even though it’s the same “Walter” in English. Keira Knightley only recently gained popularity, while Joan Collins became a known actress in Russia slightly earlier, in early 90s (when “Dynasty” was running on TV).

Double consonants are a well-known feature of English, more precisely, how they don’t exist in that language :). Still, they are often copied from their spelling, even though Russian actually has double consonants. Mind the inconsistency of such pronunciations, though; “баннер” has only one “н” in pronunciation.

The vowels are a difficult matter, and the fact different dialects (namely, RP and GA) read them differently, doesn’t make it any easier. While with or’s , “er’s and ar’s Russian tries to be American and spell ор/ер/ар, when it comes to “O", we are usually more British :) in that Collins becomes “Колинз". That is, it becomes “О” even when in American pronunciation it is closer to Russian “А". “Joan” would probably be transcripted as “Джоун” nowadays. First, because Джон is already a well-known male name. Second, because the pronunciation is different.

So that’s not an actual mistake. The wikipedia authors just took the existing variant of transliteration, the one people are used to.

Don responds: That was some great commentary, Shady, thanks! Much better than my diatribe. The differences of pronunciation amongst British “Received Pronunciation”, standard American television pronunciation, Canadian pronunciation, and Australian pronunciation are profound, which really does put authors in a difficult position.

06/02/11 @ 08:08

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