Petersburg or Saint Petersburg

winenous

Senior Member
English - British
I understand no Russian, but am reading Anna Karenina in translation and was surprised to see that the city is there consistently called Petersburg rather than Saint Petersburg. I looked at the Russian original and it seems to me that Tolstoy did the same - Петербург, and not Санкт-Петербург.

Was this the usual way of referring to the city in 19th century Russia, or is there a linguistic nuance in omitting the Saint? I cannot find anything about this in any English account of the various names of that city.

Many thanks for any help.
 
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  • Vovan

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Was this the usual way of referring to the city in 19th century Russia <...> ?
    Yes, but unofficially only.
    Установившаяся после смерти Петра I чисто немецкая форма написания «Санкт-Петербург» употреблялась до 1914 года. В неофициальном употреблении город называли Петербургом, а в просторечии — Питером. (Source.)
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Was this the usual way of referring to the city in 19th century Russia, or is there a linguistic nuance in omitting the Saint?
    It's just too long, let alone it's hard to pronounce properly ("Санкт-" typically undergoes various articulatory simplifications anyway).
     

    winenous

    Senior Member
    English - British
    It's just too long, let alone it's hard to pronounce properly ("Санкт-" typically undergoes various articulatory simplifications anyway).
    I guess those reasons for leaving out Санкт remain, so is it still unofficially referred to simply as Петербург?
     

    Enquiring Mind

    Senior Member
    English - the Queen's
    The 'too-long' argument certainly applies, in much the same way as people in the UK might say they're going to Brum (instead of Birmingham) or Bognor (instead of Bognor Regis)
    Colloquially, Saint Petersburg is often referred to as Питер/Piter (note the change of vowel - it came from the Dutch Pieter), as explained in this article by Galina Kravchenko 'Почему все называют Петербург Питером' ('Why everyone calls Petersburg Piter' - online812.ru):
    ... Город, где живут и куда едут, так не зовется. Не называется он ни Санкт-Петербургом, ни Петербургом. Называется он элементарно и просто: Питер. И никакого блеска, никакого величия. Просто Питер. The city where the people live and go to is not called that. It's not called Saint Petersburg or Petersburg. It's Piter - short and sweet. No flash, no pomp. Simply Piter.
     
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    winenous

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Saint Petersburg is often referred to as Питер/Piter
    Indeed. While Googling to find an anwser to my question, that often came up. But I didn't find any mention of Санкт being omitted - just some incidental references to it, as in your quotation. I guess the reason is that it so natural and easily understandable? Indeed, I was well into Anna Karenina before I even noticed.

    I was trying to think of "Saint" examples in English, but I couldn't, perhaps because Saint is so easy to say, and usually comes out as "snt". Bognor is slightly different, because that is the place's original name, but you are quite right that town names are abbreviated sometimes.
     

    Panceltic

    Senior Member
    Slovenščina
    Indeed. While Googling to find an anwser to my question, that often came up. But I didn't find any mention of Санкт being omitted - just some incidental references to it, as in your quotation. I guess the reason is that it so natural and easily understandable? Indeed, I was well into Anna Karenina before I even noticed.

    I was trying to think of "Saint" examples in English, but I couldn't, perhaps because Saint is so easy to say, and usually comes out as "snt". Bognor is slightly different, because that is the place's original name, but you are quite right that town names are abbreviated sometimes.

    I think a good analogy is Royal Leamington Spa which is usually called just ‘Leam’.
     

    winenous

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Thank you for your help so far. I have a simple follow-up question: Is the city still often unofficially referred to as Петербург?
     

    Vovan

    Senior Member
    Russian
    I think a good analogy is Royal Leamington Spa which is usually called just ‘Leam’.
    "Britain vs. Great Britain" may be a closer analogy to "Петербург vs. Санкт-Петербург".
    Yours is to "Питер vs. Санкт-Петербург". :)
     

    nizzebro

    Senior Member
    Russian
    I'd say that it is Петербург in case it is a known subject, that is true for local media and even official speech. If this city is mentioned as one among others, it is Cанкт-Петербург as the rule.
    If someone in Siberia says to their friends that he or she is planning on going there, they might say "Санкт-Петербург" if they had never been there. If that is a usual deal for them, they would say "Петербург" or "Питер". Locals widely use "Питер" in casual speech.
    The associated adjective is mostly 'петербургский', except official names of facilities ('Санкт-Петербургский государственный университет' or the noun in the genitive case - 'Администрация Санкт-Петербурга').
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Just wondering: is the average Russian aware that Санкт means святой ?
    Well, it's hard to tell for sure what the average Russian might think, but I suppose that a minimally educated Russian (the one who didn't skip his school classes too much and used to read some books) realizes that all those Sankt-/Saint-/San-/Santa- etc. mean basically the same thing. :)
     

    nizzebro

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Worth noting, that prefix is not used in city names other than St. Pete, let alone in this particular form which, I believe, is not identified with saints at all - rather with something like European style along with greatness and uniqueness, which were actually the founder's intention.
     
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    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    which, I believe, is not identified with saints at all - rather with something like European style along with greatness and uniqueness, which were actually the founder's intention.
    Officially, cities of the Russian Empire were being named after particular saints only. Coincidentally, these saints were also the reigning sovereigns' heavenly patrons. :) That's the reasoning not only behind St.Petersburg, but also behind Yekaterinburg, Yekaterinodar (now Krasnodar) etc.
    Worth noting, that prefix is not used in city names other than St. Pete
    It is used in the names of some obscure towns and villages in the German-speaking area, but it isn't the point. Everyone knows that the English have calqued Sankt- as Saint-, and the phonetic similarity to the various formants mentioned above is just too apparent even without that.
     
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    nizzebro

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Officially, cities of the Russian Empire were being named after particular saints only. Coincidentally, these saints were also the reigning sovereigns' heavenly patrons. :) That's the reasoning not only behind St.Petersburg, but also behind Yekaterinburg, Yekaterinodar (now Kradnodar) etc.
    No objection; my point was the prefix only (considering its connotations for an ordinary person) - as I got the feeling that our foreign friends might wonder why it is dropped so easily.
     

    Lorenc

    Senior Member
    Italian
    No objection; my point was the prefix only (considering its connotations for an ordinary person) - as I got the feeling that our foreign friends might wonder why it is dropped so easily.

    Thanks. From my Italian perspective "Saint Petersburg" is a tiny bit strange in itself: in Italy there are many towns beginning with "San" or "Sant" (San Gimigniano, Sant'Angelo Lodigiano,...) but after "San" one expects the name of the saint, not the name of a city (which cannot be saint). And the "San" part is never dropped.
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    but after "San" one expects the name of the saint, not the name of a city
    That's merely the matter of relative order of dependencies in the morphological structure. :) In German (and in "St.Petersburg" Russian just calques the German structures) it's obviously [[Sankt-N]sburg], not [Sankt-[Nsburg]].
     
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