Tag Archives: Sochi

Russian Pronunciation tips for the Sochi Olympics, and the language of undiplomacy


Here’s a guest post from my Big Show colleague David Leveille…

We’ll be hearing a lot from Russia over the next two weeks with the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

We’ll also be hearing a lot of Russian words and names, some of which are not easy to pronounce. That includes the name of the Olympic host city itself.

We asked Martha Figueroa-Clark for some help. She thinks about this stuff all the time, as part of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

So, how exactly do you say Sochi?

“Sochi, the venue for the Winter Olympics, is usually anglicised as SOTCH-i (-o as in not, -tch as in catch, -i as the ‘y’ in happy) by English and Russian speakers alike — and this is the pronunciation we recommend to broadcasters. However, the Russian pronunciation of -o in Sochi is somewhere in between the English “law” vowel and the English ‘lot’ vowel (so somewhere between SAW-chi and SOTCH-i),” she said.

“When forming recommendations, our approach is to reflect the native pronunciation as closely as possible while bearing in mind practical considerations. Our pronunciation advice is anglicised for ease of pronunciation by English-speaking broadcasters and to ensure that names can be discerned by BBC audiences,” she added.

Some other Olympic venues in Sochi have interesting and challenging names for English speakers, so here are a few more pronunciations from the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

One of the skiing venues is Krasnaya Polyana, pronounced KRASS-nuh-yuh puh-LYAA-nuh (-uh as “a” in sofa, -ly as in million). Historically, the word krasnaya (feminine form) or krasny (masculine form) meant “beautiful.” Nowadays, it means “red.” Polyana means glade or clearing.

Turning to the Bolshoi Ice Dome, the word Bolshoi (big) is often anglicised as BOL-shoy (-ol as in olive, -oy as in boy), as in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre. In Russian, it’s closer to buhl-SHOY (note final syllable stress), although there is a palatalised ‘l’ in Russian that has no equivalent in English. It’s similar to what you would hear when the word “lucrative” is pronounced as LYOO-kruh-tiv (-ly as in million) — as opposed to LOO-kruh-tiv (-oo as in boot).

In ice hockey’s Shayba arena, “shayba” is pronounced SHIGH-buh (-igh as in high, -uh as “a” in sofa) and means puck.

Another venue, Rosa Khutor, is pronounced ROZ-uh KHOO-tuhr (-o as in not, -uh as “a” in sofa, -kh as in Scottish loch, -oo as in boot, -uhr as “or” in doctor). Khutor means hamlet or farmstead.

And just in case you haven’t yet figured out how to pronounce President Vladimir Putin’s name, here’s a reminder. “In other Slavic languages, the name ‘Vladimir’ can be stressed on the first or last syllable, but in Russian, the stress falls on the penultimate syllable. ‘Putin’ is sometimes anglicised as PYOO-tin, perhaps by unconscious association with other English words like ‘putative’ or ‘punitive.’ The correct pronunciation, anglicised, is vluh-DEE-meer POO-tin (-ee as in street, -eer as in deer, -oo as in boot).”

If you take in all these suggestions, and manage to pronounce Sochi as well as the names of its many venues correctly and precisely, a Russian speaker might respond with “otlichno!” That’s Russian, for excellent. It’s pronounced “ah tlee chnah.”

And since we’re on the subject of Russian language and customs, I recommend trying Russian borscht. It’s also “otlichno.”

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    At Sochi, never mind the languages…just follow the pictograms

    Here’s a guest post my Big Show pal Nina Porzucki.

    The next time you go to the bathroom, take a closer look at the sign.

    You know what I’m talking about? The stick figure in the triangle dress. Her head is just a circle detached from her body.

    You don’t need to read a single word to understand, this is the women’s restroom. So what does the women’s restroom have to do with the Olympics?

    Well, during the Olympics people descend on one place from all around the world. And with some many people and so many languages the challenge is to figure out a way to communicate in a global way.

    The answer: pictograms

    Olympic pictograms are those stick figure pictures that depict each Olympic sport. Today they’re everywhere: at Olympic venues, on tickets and event schedules, on TV.

    The first official Olympic pictograms appeared at the 1948 London summer games. They were simple drawings representing certain events, a bike for cycling, a basket for basketball, a pair of boxing gloves. But that was before one German designer Otl Aicher revolutionized the design.

    “I think he’s the grandfather of the Olympic pictogram,” said Brockett Horne, who directs the Graphic Design program at the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore.

    Aicher was commissioned to design the pictograms for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. This was no small task.

    Otl Aicher's pictograms designed for the 1972 Munich Summer Olympic Games. (www.creativerepository.com)

    Otl Aicher’s pictograms designed for the 1972 Munich Summer Olympic Games.
    (www.creativerepository.com)

    This was the first games in Germany since Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics. The visual legacy from those games was the swastika. It was all over the athletic stadium where Jesse Owens ran.

    The German Olympic Committee was eager to erase that image; as was Aicher. He grew up in Nazi Germany. Refused to join the Hitler Youth and ended up deserted the army after he was drafted. This chance to re-design the German image for the world was huge.

    “He was really interested in coming up with something that focused on the athletic events without any agenda, it shouldn’t have any hint or tinge of propaganda,” said Horne.

    What could be more neutral than simple stick figures? Aicher created a grid of 21-stick figure athletes, biking, swimming, running. They were so elegant, so easy to read, that their influence began to be seen all over the place.

    “No smoking, no diving, male and female restroom signs, the symbols that we see in use by Department of Transportation, these were all part of a larger international approach to creating a visual language that could help people communicate without words,” said Horne.

    Aicher’s figures are so simple and so legible that you almost don’t even notice them. Not noticing is exactly the point says typographer Fabio Haag.

    “We joke that that’s why every type designer drinks a lot, basically we spend all this time refining letters that people won’t even notice,” said Haag.

    Haag designed the font for the upcoming 2016 Summer Games in Rio. His font inspired the designers of the Brazilian pictograms.

    Pictograms for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil

    Pictograms for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil

    “When designing the pictograms they would actually print out the letters cut them with scissors and start to play around to see if there was an athlete’s movements in those letters,” said Haag, “So the dot of an ‘i’ became the head and the shape of the ‘j’ became an arm.”

    Although the Summer Olympics in Brazil are still two years out but the branding, the font, the pictograms, were created years in advance all designed to evoke a Brazilian flare.

    Despite what Haag says about design going unnoticed, if do you pay attention, you will discover innovative changes from one Olympics to the next. Not only are pictograms global tools for communication, they’re local, dare I write, glocal.

    The pictograms from the 2004 Athens Games resembles the figures found on ancient Greek vases and the figures from the 2008 Beijing Games are based on a 2,000-year-old script written on bronze carvings. The 22 pictograms designed for Sochi are filled in with a “patchwork quilt” that looks like the colorful designs painted on a nesting doll.

    Still, everything harkens back to Aicher’s 1972 figures. His legacy lives on for every graphic design student and for anyone who ever visits a public restroom.

    Pictograms from the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City designed by Lance Wyman. (Virtual Olympic Games Museum)

    Pictograms from the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City designed by Lance Wyman. (Virtual Olympic Games Museum)

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