Why is Евклид spelled with Е in Russian? All the other words and names with Greek origin starting with E that I can think of are spelled with Э in Russian.

Эратосфен, эвтаназия, эвристика


  • Is Евклид indeed an exception? Or maybe I've just missed a lot of similar words or names?

  • If it is an exception, is there a historical reason behind it?

  • Do Russians always pronounce Евклид, евклидов(-ый), etc. with the initial vowel iotated? (Many Armenians with excellent conduct of Russian tend to pronounce these words with non-iotated initial vowel, perhaps because the Armenian version of the name is Էվկլիդես /эвклидес/, which is closer to the Greek original)

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    It looks to me that the ones beginning with Εὐ are spelled with e, like Еврипид, Европа etc. – z7sg Ѫ Jun 23 '12 at 18:08
  • @z7sgѪ: Hmm, that means I haven't thought of a lot of words indeed :) However, at least эйфория seems to be a counterexample to your theory – Armen Tsirunyan Jun 23 '12 at 18:25
  • Some other examples where an initial Greek eu doesn't occur in Russian as ев are euthanasia = эвтаназия and euphemism = эвфемизм. – KCd Jun 24 '12 at 1:25
  • I saw a couple of textbooks with "Эвклид" in them. – Alexei Averchenko Nov 21 '12 at 15:41
  • I second Alexei with hrono.ru/biograf/bio_ye/evklid.php – Oleg Lobachev Jun 15 '18 at 21:37

Historical Cyrillic had no letter directly corresponding to the modern э. There were three letters instead: ѥ, е and є.

Russian recension or Church Slavonic did not use ѥ and had no phonetic distinction between е and є, they were only used to resolve homonymous singular and plural of some words: Iудєи изъ Iудеи (Jews from Judea), иду съ отцєм моимъ къ отцемъ егѡ (I go with my father to his fathers) etc. Є was also written in the beginning of words.

Russian does not contrast open and closed э. In words сэр and секс the same sound is written using different letters, in words тело and отель the different sounds are written using the same letter and there is no consensus on how to read the words like шинель and термин. There was no open э in the native Russian words at all, the sound was always yotized in the beginning of the words and after the vowels. There was a deictic particle э (similar to modern вон in вон тот) which survived in words это, эка, which in some dialects, including late Moscow, pronounced as a closed (not open) э, and that's all.

Since there was no sound to contrast, there was no letter to denote it, so Hebrew and Greek loanwords starting with ε were written using є: елей, Елеон, Европа, Ева, Есфирь, Ездра etc.

However, with development of Russian culture and science, more loanwords were introduced, and some of them, being borrowed from other languages than Byzantine Greek, required a non-yotized initial э and an open э after hard consonants (which was impossible in native Russian words). Russian speech did not accept open э after hard consonants until very recently (and does not accept it at all in some dialects even now), however, the initial non-yotized closed э was accepted right away, and a need for a letter to distinguish it from the yotized version arose. A letter for this sound, э in its modern form, was first introduced in XIV, but only made it officially to the alphabet in 1708.

So for the borrowings made in older times, like almost all biblical names and Greek names that were of interest to medieval Russian authors (Евклид, Еврипид, Евпатор), an initial е was used (for the lack of a better letter), which influenced rendition of the names by Russian readers and later became a tradition.

For the borrowings made later, when there was a letter to denote an initial non-yotized э, this letter was used.

In general, Russian language does not accept either closed or open versions for all non-yotized vowels in the beginning of the words, which results in incorrect renditions of the names borrowed from the languages which contrast open and closed vowels: Эттингер (Öttinger), Ибервег (Überweg), Юлёярви (Ylöjärvi) etc. The Russian transliterations either change the initial letter or make it yotized.

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  • Can you explain (with examples) what you mean by open and closed vowels? For instance is it и vs ы? Is it the same as described here: russian.stackexchange.com/questions/1993/… ? "Russian language does not accept either closed or open versions for all non-yotized vowels in the beginning of the words" - does not it accept и in the beginning? – Anixx Dec 9 '16 at 15:44
  • @Anixx yes, from the context it looks like "open" is like и in Russian, ä in Finnish or ü in German, while "closed" is like ы, а and у in Russian. As for the non-yotized vowels in the beginning of words, it's just that there's no way to (at least) write words starting from such softened but non-yotized vowels, except и: there're simply no letters for this. And that, I suppose, is due to lack of native words with such beginnings. – Ruslan Jun 15 '18 at 14:43

I saw many instances of both uses. One example of "Эвклид":


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  1. You missed other Greek mathematicians: Eudoxus = Евдокс and Eutocius = Евтокий.

  2. See 1.

  3. The name Евклид and its adjectival forms are pronounced exactly as they are written. In my experience I have seen the adjectival form more often as a short form adjective: евклидова область (Euclidean domain), евклидово пространство (Euclidean space).

Just for comparison, in English the mathematician names Euclid and Euler don't have the same pronunciation, as the "Eu" in the original Greek and German aren't pronounced the same way. Thus in Russian, Euler = Эйлер.

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    The Greek pronunciation is no more iotified in Евдокс than in Эратосфен, that is the odd thing here. Also, English is perhaps not a good comparison because it it doesn't have consistent phonetic spelling, whereas Russian is expected to have, and where in English we say oiler as in the German, Russians say something like ailer, as it is written in Russian. – z7sg Ѫ Jun 23 '12 at 19:49
  • In my answer to the 3rd question I wasn't saying anything one way or the other about iotification since, to be honest, I had no idea what that term meant until I just looked it up after reading the comment. The Ев in Евклид is pronounced the same way as it is in other words, like Европа. That's what I intended when I said Евклид is pronounced exactly as it is written (consistent with your comment on the broad consistency of spelling in Russian). – KCd Jun 24 '12 at 1:16
  • I recently noticed in Vladimir Arnold's book Цепные Дроби, in a footnote on page 6, he write Эвдокс. – KCd Jul 5 '12 at 0:30
  • By the way, Euler [read somewhat akin to ojler] is a yet another victim of the strange tradition to transliterate German -eu- not as Russian -ой-, but as Russian -эй-. – Oleg Lobachev Jun 15 '18 at 21:36

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