A is for… loanwords!

Feb 15, 2011 by

While researching the phonological and morphological properties of Turkic loanwords in Russian, I ran into an interesting factoid that I’d like to share.

As it turns out, words that begin with a in Russian are almost all loanwords. For example, abazhur ‘lamp-shade’ is from French, almaz ‘rough diamond’ is from Turkic and the word astra (type of flower) was borrowed from German but ultimately derives from the Greek word meaning ‘star’. The few native Russian words starting with a include grammatical words such as the conjunction a ‘and, but’ and exclamations like ax ‘oh!’ and aj ‘ouch!’; there are also some verbs that are formed from these exclamations like axat’ ‘to say oh!’.

The same is true of such popular Russian (given) names as Alexander, Aleksey, Andrei, Anton, Anatoliy, Arkadiy — they are all loanwords too.

And while we are on the subject of loanword clues, another such clue in Russian is the letter and sound f: again, with the rare exceptions of exclamations and onomatopoeic words, words with f in Russian are loanwords. Examples include kafe, grafika, forma, fil’m and sofa — you can guess what they mean.

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