There are two silent letters in the Russian alphabet:
- твёрдый знак – the hard sign
- мягкий знак – the soft sign
The soft sign is needed to soften the consonant before. For example,
- Нью-Йорк (New York)
- Филь (Film)
But why do we need the hard sign?
Actually we don’t use it that much.
Before the revolution in Russia in 1917 – 1918 the hard sign (ъ) was always written at the end of words if they ended in consonants (like “банкъ” or “баръ”). The new government had decided that it had been a waste of paper because it took about 4 % of the text. And as all the consonants are already hard, there were no need to emphasize it with this symbol. But it doesn’t mean that Russians don’t use the hard sign at all. It is used for separation consonants and iotated vowels to keep consonants hard. The iotated vowels always affect the consonant before making it sound softer. So the hard sign is used to keep the consonant before it hard (it doesn’t happen very often).
For example, объект [ob-yekt] or инъекция [in-yektsia].
But even nowadays some companies want to make their name to sound more ancient (like they’ve been existing at market for a long period of time) and they spell their name in this old style with the hard sign at the end.
Look at these pre-revolution posters and find examples of using the hard sign at the end of words.
Translation to the modern Russian.
1. Театр миниатюр (theatre of miniatures)
2. Жуков (typical male last name), С. Петербург (Saint Petersburg)
3. Шоколад (chocolate)
4. Бар (bar)