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Таяніе снѣга въ сѣверной части Ладожскаго бассейна...

This sentence is taken from a book published in 1908. I understand that the spelling reform of 1917 simplified things by reducing the number of letters and signs used to write the language, but what's the idea behind replacing аго by oго to mark the ending for the genitive singular in masculine and neutral adjectives?

After all the vowel is reduced to /ə/ in spoken Russian irrespective of its being spelt а or o and the sequence of sounds gives /əvə/ whether you write аго or oго.

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    The goal of the 1918 reform was the simplification of the orthography. So, the idea behind this particular change was to remove the need to learn and remember when one should write -аго and when -ого. -аго was used only for the adjectives ending (in nominative) in -ый, -ій, other adjectives required -ого. – tum_ Dec 20 '19 at 21:51
  • @tum_ actually one of the goals was exactly simplification of the orthography. – shabunc Dec 20 '19 at 22:51
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The 1918 orthography reform was not something that came into existence out of a sudden after bolsheviks came to power. In fact, this question was a quite hot topic from the beginning of 20th century, Russian academics had quite heated discussions on what has to be changed in Russian spelling. The 1918 year reform was based exactly on the results of such disputes.

In particular, in 1912 Russian linguists had a meeting where they, among other things, recommended this exactly change. The decisions made on that meeting were published in a brochure "Постановления Орфографической подкомиссии". Luckily, they also cared to elaborate why those decisions were made.

Here's the part (transliterated to modern orthography by me) that explains clearly their motives:

В склонении имён прилагательных, местоимений прилагательных и причастий мужского и среднего рода родительный падеж единственного числа в современном правописании имеет два окончания -ого и -аго (-яго). Причём первое окончание употребляется при ударении на первом о (сильного, второго, какого), второе при отсутствии ударения на предпоследней гласной (добраго, перваго, котораго, синяго, волчьяго), хотя ещё не так давно в прилагательных именах писали -аго также и при ударении на звуке о в предпоследнем слоге (слепаго). Написания -аго, -яго появились у нас под влиянием церковно-славянской письменности.

Имея ввиду: 1) показания современных окающих говоров, сохраняющих -о, а не -а, например в "доброго", "первого", и 2) то обстоятельство, что различение в письме ударной и неударяемой гласной в родительном падеже не находят соответствия в написании других падежей тех же слов ("слепому" и "доброму", "о слепом" и "о добром") - подкомиссия предложила в твёрдом склонении писать -ого,..., в мягком -его.

In short, they've decided to do it, as they explain it, because:

  • actually up to that point in time the -o spelling was not non-existent.
  • in other cases it was already written with -o, so they've decided to make the spelling consistent.

I will add to this following reasons (some of which one can deduce from the same document):

  • historically Russian linguists tend to prefer etymological spelling to the phonological one in many cases - for instance, in Belarusian it's quite the opposite, that's why we have "грамота" in Russian and "грамата" in Belarusian.
  • even if we consider phonetic consistency spelling like "усопшаго" won't make much sense.

I'm attaching also the scan with actual quote for ones who's interested.

enter image description here

As a side note: One of the most active proponents of this reform, philosopher Ilyin used following counter-argument against the new (adopted up to that point) spelling:

Мы различаемъ "самъ" (собственнолично) и "самый" (точно указанный, тождественный). Родительный падежъ отъ "самъ" - "самого", винительный падежъ -- "самого". А отъ "самый" -- "самаго". "Я видѣлъ его самого, но показалось мнѣ, что я вижу не того же самаго"... (письмо изъ современной Югославiи). Въ кривописанiи это драгоцѣнное различiе гибнетъ...

While this distinction was indeed lost luckily nothing dramatic happened ;)

| improve this answer | |
  • "при ударении на первом о (слепого..." (Just being a little picky). – Alexander Dec 26 '19 at 18:27
  • сильного had a stress on o????!!! – Anixx Dec 28 '19 at 12:51
  • did you mean "opponents" rather than "proponents"? – Anixx Dec 28 '19 at 12:54
  • "While this distinction was indeed lost luckily nothing dramatic happened ;)" - especially given the distinction can be indicated by stress. – Anixx Dec 28 '19 at 12:55

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