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Suppose I want to write a book, where one of the characters is a simpleton without a proper education. This character needs to say "чё?" ("чо?") instead of "что?", e.g.:

— Твоя сестра умеет готовить минестроне?
— Чё \ Чо за минестроне такое?

How should I spell it: "чё" or "чо"? And what are the rules that regulate the spelling in this case?

EDIT: I do not want to portray any specific accent, I am simply asking, what vowel should I use if I want to follow the rules of the Russian orthography.

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    Unless the character comes specifically from Russia's northern parts, one may consider шо a valid alternative. – dasblinkenlight Oct 17 '12 at 15:35
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According to gramota.ru (quoting «Русский орфографический словарь Российской академии наук». Отв. ред. В. В. Лопатин. © Электронная версия, «ГРАМОТА.РУ», 2001–2007.) - «чё» when used «вместо чего, при передаче прост. произношения».

On the other hand "simpleton" would be «проста-чо-к». Why is that now?

While I'm at it, «чё» is not restricted to the speech of uneducated simpletons. In fact anyone pronouncing «Ты что, сдурел?» as it is written is committing a stylistic blasphemy and contaminating proper spoken language with unwarranted literaturisms.

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    +1 for "stylistic blasphemy" and "contaminating proper spoken language with unwarranted literaturisms" – Aleks G Oct 17 '12 at 13:52
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    Actually, -1 for "literaturisms". – Olga Oct 17 '12 at 14:07
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    as long as "unwarranted" isn't being objected to I'm prepared to be frowned upon by more prescriptive-minded co-users for liberal use of generative morphology. – artm Oct 17 '12 at 14:13
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This word is an attempt to write down a relaxed pronunciation of the neutral form что, and, as such, no strict rules can be applied, there is no "correct" spelling.

The corpus seems to mention чё more often than чо and шо (531 / 135 / 153 entries in lowercase).

If you want to use this spelling as a part of eye dialect, just make sure you reflect the character's assumed pronunciation correctly.

Most Russians pronounce soft ч, that's why чё is prevalent, however, чо is used in some Eastern dialects (and is coherently used by, say, Shukshin) and шо is used in Southern dialects.

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    Actually чё(чо) is the result of the omission of the -ег- syllable in чего. So it's a relaxed pronunciation of чего, rather than что. Same as with сегодня -> сёдня – smsrecv Jul 14 '13 at 20:45
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It happened so that I have found the answer to my own question.

The correct variant is "чё", as others have already said, and here comes the rule.

In 1956 new spelling and punctuation rules were accepted by the USSR Office of Higher Education, Academy of Sciences, etc. The rules dictate that one of the cases when we write "ё", although we pronounce "о" after "ж", "ч", "ш", "щ" under stress is when the vowel in the stem alternates with "е", as in "чёрт (чертей)", "чёрный (чернота)", etc.

It seems that "чё (чего)" is regulated by the same rule.

Source: http://www.rusyaz.ru/pr/og01.html

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  • this rule does not describe linguistic reality and hence may be ignored without much harm – artm Oct 17 '12 at 23:16
  • чего and что have different roots. "чё" can be used either as a replacement for "что" or "чего". – Anixx Oct 18 '12 at 5:14
  • @Anixx it seems that "что" and "чего" used to be the same root before the reduced vowels disappeared. Another words with disappeared reduced vowels are given as examples in this rule ("шёл-шедший-шла"). Therefore I think that "чё"-"чего"-"что" also fits here. – Olga Oct 18 '12 at 8:41
  • @АртёмБагинский If you look for documents that were created starting from 1957 (first year after the reform), you can see that there are 145 "чорт"-ов against 14696 "черт"-ов. It was a prescriptive rule, not a descriptive one. It was an obligation to write "е" instead of "о", and it was and is taught in schools, so the linguistic reality changed quite fast. – Olga Oct 18 '12 at 8:45
  • @Olga this is unevident to me. The only thing I can guess is that the both derived from a PIE interrogative starting with qu* because PIE qu* gives ч in Slavic. But PIE already had a lot such pronouns (and with different vowels in third position), the most close in meaning being "quid". Such pronounces could undergo multiple merging with other particles and prepositions on the way to modern Russian. – Anixx Oct 18 '12 at 13:17
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Обе формы являются сленговыми, разговорными. И обе они абсолютно равноправны. Грамматически чуть более правильной выглядит "чё", однако в силу вышеописанного, это несущественно.

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This very question existence is due to phonetical differences. In Russian there is no such phoneme like œ in French. The lack of phoneme in language, among other things, means that you can not provide a pair words in that language that will differ by that very phoneme.

Nevertheless in some positions some of native speakers pronounce чё (t͡ɕœ) and some of speakers pronounce it clearly like чо (t͡ɕo).

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  • You are not answering the question. The question was: what is the rule that regulates the spelling in this case. It is an off-topic answer so far. – Olga Nov 7 '12 at 13:34
  • @Olga, for slang and colloquial forms often the most "phonetical" form is chosen. Imagine, for example, if one will ask: "Which rule determines whether we should write wassup or wazzup or wussup?". The part of the question (I'm not claiming I've answered it fully) that actually in such cases you should keep in mind phonetic issues. – shabunc Nov 7 '12 at 13:37
  • No, I didn't mean to portray any phonetic differences. I was only looking for the rule. I'll edit the question to make it clearer. – Olga Nov 7 '12 at 13:48
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    Olga, rules are created by people and most likely are created on de-facto statistical analysis of current usage. When some form is not written (and the only acceptable literate written form is что), rules of phonetics are pretty valid candidates to be jurymen. – shabunc Nov 7 '12 at 13:55

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