8/6/2019 How to Pronounce Russian
Russian pronunciation guide
Here all aspects of Russian pronunciation will be considered. Right on this page youwill find only basic pronunciation rules which might be enough for you to pronounceRussian words more or less correct. But if you want do dig deeper into Russian
phonetics follow the link at the bottom of the page which will bring you to thecomprehensive guide of Russian phonetics.
Now let's discuss each letter of the Russian alphabet in their alphabetic order andsee in what ways it can be pronounced. As already mentioned in Basic facts aboutRussian language Russian language is almostphonetic that is there is one-to-onecorrespondence between the letters of the alphabet and the sounds. But this almostmeans that there are some exceptions. The most important of them are discussedhere, for others go to the comprehensive guide of Russian phonetics.
Well, first to be mentioned, there is no division into long and short vowels in
Russian, that means that it is no matter how you pronounce a vowel: long or short,it won't change the word's meaning. The second is that almost all consonants inRussian appear in two forms: palatalized (soft) and non-palatalized (hard) ones. Theterm palatalized means that while pronouncing the sound the middle part of yourtongue is lifted toward the hard palate and makes what is being uttered sound in ahigher pitch what is perceived by us as softness. You can determine where yourhard palate is by pronouncing the sound [j] like in "yes": it is where your tonguetouches the upper jaw. Try to compare sounds [n] and [n'] ( ' denotes palatalization)in words "not" and "new": in the first one you pronounce [n] because the next [o]vowel is on open vowel and does not require your tongue to lift while pronouncing[n]; on the contrary, in the second word you pronounce [n'] because your tongue
automatically adjusts to the pronunciation of the next [j] consonant and lifts towardthe hard palate. You see that soft and hard consonants appear in both Russian andEnglish but the difference is the following: in English for example you can'tpronounce [n'] before [o] like in "not", you can pronounce it only in certain positionsbefore the sounds with the similar articulation (e.g. [j] or [i:]), but in Russian thesound [n'] can appear before every sound no matter how it is articulated, forexample there are two absolutely different in meaning words in Russian differingonly in palatalization or non-palatalization of [n] consonant: "" [nos] (nose) and"" [n'os] (past masculine form of "" (to carry), carried). Another exampleis "" [mat] (mate) and "" [mat'] (mother). Now you see that palatalizationbears word differentiating function in Russian so you must manage to pronounce
every Russian consonant in both hard (which is easy) and soft (more difficult) formsto be understood properly. As mentioned above you should always pronounce softconsonants by lifting the middle part of your tongue toward the hard palate. Theproblem is how to mark the softness of consonants in writing. This problem is solveddifferently in different languages: in Polish letter "i" is placed right after theconsonant letter to denote its palatalization, Serbo-Croatian has special letters foreach palatalized consonant since there are only four of them in it; if it were thesame way in Russian we would have to use 15 additional letters in the alphabetwhich would be an unbearable burden on the language, so Russian uses twovariants of vowel letters instead: it uses "" after a consonant letter to mark both itshttp://www.geocities.com/CollegePark/Bookstore/3230/basics.htmlhttp://www.geocities.com/CollegePark/Bookstore/3230/basics.htmlhttp://www.geocities.com/CollegePark/Bookstore/3230/basics.htmlhttp://www.geocities.com/CollegePark/Bookstore/3230/basics.html
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softness and vowel [a] after it (compare (mother) and (to crumple)), "" -to mark the softness of preceding consonant and vowel [o] after it (compare (bullock, ox) and ((he) was leading)), "" - softness of the consonant + vowel[u] after it, "" - softness of the consonant + vowel denoted by letter "" after it.Besides, letter "" always denotes the softness of preceding consonant plus vowel[i] after it as well (e.g. (one)) but the same vowel [i] can also be expressed bythe letter "" apart from the consonant (e.g. (to look for)), so "" has no
counterpart while "", "", "", "" do have it. If there is no vowel following the softconsonant softness is marked by the letter "" (soft sign), e.g. (mother), (ring).
Now let's go to the alphabet. In the following list Russian letters are on the left, theirrough pronunciation on the right. However you can always listen to proper Russianpronunciation by clicking on the words given as examples.
Sound samples coming soon... - like "a" in "part" but shorter, e.g. (winter), (to give), (yes). - like "b" in "bone", e.g. (banana) (hard), (birch) (soft)
- like "v" in "vast", e.g. (gate) (hard), (carpet) (soft) - like "g" in "get", e.g. (town), (cucumber) (both hard),
(genius) (soft) - like "d" in "day", e.g. (water) (hard), (to do) (soft) - at the beginning of the word, after all vowels and letters "" and "" like [je]
in "yes", e.g. (fir), (diet), in other positions it marks the softness of thepreceding consonant (except "","" and "", e.g. (woman), (six), (prices), and other consonants in some foreign words, e.g. (phonetics)) and is pronounced almost like Russian "", i.e. like "e" in "let", e.g. (to sing), (newspaper)
- at the beginning of the word, after all vowels and letters "" and "" like [jo]in "yawn" but shorter, e.g. (hedgehog), ((he) gives), ((he) beats), inother positions it marks the softness of the preceding consonant (except "" and"", e.g. (silk), (yellow)) and is pronounced like stressed Russian"", i.e. like English "o" in "corn" but shorter, e.g. (honey), (carpet).Note that "" is always stressed in Russian.
- like "g" in "rouge", e.g. (yellow), (to live) (both hard); "" isvery seldom pronounced in soft form so in the previous examples letters "" and"" did not soften it.
- like "z" in "zest", e.g. (to call) (hard), (green) (soft) - like "ee" in "teen" but shorter, e.g. (winter), (to drink). Note that
the consonant preceding "" is always soft except for letters "", "" and ""which are always hard in Russian (in these cases letter "" is pronouncedidentical to ""), e.g. (life), (wide, masculine), (circus).
- when beginning a syllable (very seldom) like "y" in "yes" or like "j" inGerman "ja", e.g. (iodine), (coyote), when terminating a syllable - like"y" in "may" ("" is pronounced like a semivowel in this case so it is called "" ( short)), e.g. (my), (T-shirt). Note that "" can have onlysoft form since it is a palatal sound, i.e. it is pronounced with the tongue touchingthe hard palate, so it is already palatalized and can't be pronounced withoutpalatalization.
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- like "k" in "kick" but not aspirated, e.g. (cow), (juice) (both hard), (paintbrush) (soft)
- like "l" in "look", e.g. (pigeon) (hard), (forest) (soft) - like "m" in "moon", e.g. (to wash) (hard), (place) (soft) - like "n" in "not", e.g. (she) (hard), (they) (soft) - like "o" in "port" but shorter, e.g. (milk), (house) - like "p" in "pay" but not aspirated, e.g. (dad) (hard), (beer) (soft)
- no exact counterpart in English but it is like rolled "r" in "rock" in Scottishpronunciation, e.g. (to work) (hard), (river) (soft)
- like "s" in "say", e.g. (advice) (hard), (family) (soft) - like "t" in "time", e.g. (that, masculine) (hard), (shadow) (soft) - like "oo" in "moon" but shorter, e.g. (chair), (moon) - like "f" in "fast", e.g. (torch) (hard), (coffee) (soft) - no exact counterpart in English since English "h" is pronounced as a
pharyngeal sound and Russian "" is articulated by the back part of the tonguetouching the soft palate, it is rather like German "ch" in "Buch", e.g. (bad)(hard), (cunning, crafty) (soft)
- like "ts" in "cats" (but pronounced as one sound) or like "Z" in German
"Zeit", e.g. (father), (Gipsy) (both hard). Note that this consonantnever appears in soft form in Russian unlike Ukrainian and Belorussian.
- like "ch" in "check", e.g. (tea), (black) (both soft). Note that thisconsonant never appears in hard form unlike Belorussian
- like "sh" in "shock" but not so soft, e.g. (soul), (noise) (bothhard). Note letter "" never denotes soft consonant since there is another letter"" for this purpose
- this letter denotes long and soft "" like "sh" in "she" but a bit softer andlonger, e.g. (pike), (raincoat). Of course this letter can't appear inhard form like "" can't appear in soft form
- this letter is not pronounced in Russian, it is usually a partitive sign betweenthe prefix and the root, it can only appear between a consonant and letters "","", "", "" which are then pronounced as at the beginning of the word or after avowel, i.e. with consonant [j] preceding a vowel: [je], [jo], [ju], [ja] (in stressedposition). Example: (to drive up), (advertisement)
- no exact and even similar counterpart in English, this sound is very hard todescribe, you should pronounce [i:] as in "mean" then lower the middle part ofyour tongue a bit and bring your lips to neutral position, then you will hearsomewhat similar to Russian sound. But better listen to the examples: (soap), (to breathe), (forget), (rat)
- this letter like is not pronounced in Russian, like "" it is a partitive signbetween the parts of the word, also like "" it can appear between a consonantand letters "", "", "", "" which are then pronounced with a consonant [j]preceding them, e.g. (drunken), ((he) beats). But "" can alsoappear at the end of the word, e.g. (moth), (horse). In both cases theconsonant preceding "" is pronounced soft (except for "", "" which neverappear soft)
- like "e" in "set", e.g. (this, masculine), (mayor) (quite rare inRussian)
- at the beginning of the word, after all vowels and letters "" and "" like [ju]in "mute" but shorter, e.g. (south), ((they) sing), ((they) sew), in
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other positions it marks the softness of the preceding consonant and ispronounced like Russian "", e.g. (beak), (to smell).
- at the beginning of the word, after all vowels and letters "" and "" like [ja]in "yard" but shorter, e.g. (box), (beacon), (drunken), in otherpositions it marks the softness of the preceding consonant and is pronounced likeRussian "", e.g. (to understand), (five).
Additional features of Russian pronunciation
There are two additional features of Russian pronunciation which even a beginnershould know of: vowels in non-stressed positions are reduced more or less depending on a
particlular vowel: vowels [u],  and [i] are not reduced very much (compare (hand,arm) - (hands, arms), (to breathe) - ((he)breathes), (winter) - (wintry)); vowel [a] is reduced pretty much: inthe syllable right before the stressed one it is pronounced like "u" in "cut" (1stlevel reduction), e.g. (lock), in all other syllables except the stressed oneand the one right before stressed it is pronounced yet weaker (2nd levelreduction), e.g. (caravan) (here we have two unstressed syllables);
vowel [o] which is denoted by letter "" is reduced very much in non-stressedsyllables: in the syllable right before stressed it gets identical with the vowel [a] inits 1st level reduction, elsewhere with the vowel [a] in its 2nd level reduction, e.g. (milk), (expensive, dear), so you see: whenever you meet letter"" in non-stressed position you should pronounce it as if letter "" were in itsplace (this process is called (akanie) and is dated back to the 13thcentury, it influenced mostly territories to the west and south of Moscow, on thecontrary to the north-east of Moscow we can still hear a lot of people pronouncing[o] non-reduced in non-stressed syllables, it is called (okanie)); vowel [e](denoted by "") and vowel [a] before soft consonants (denoted by "") are innon-stressed syllables reduced to a vowel very similar to [i], e.g. (tree), (wooden), (nine), (ninety) (this process is called (ikanie))
noise consonants (in Russian they are denoted by the following letters:"", "", "", "", "", "", "", "", "", "", "", "", "", "", "", "") areassimilated in the presence of voice when coming in clusters, i.e. if there is a clusterof these consonants, consisting of at least two consonants, then all of them arepronounced voiced or unvoiced solely depending on the last consonant of thecluster being voiced or unvoiced respectively. This process is called regressiveassimilatin since the last consonant of the cluster influences all the previous ones;in English we can meet progressive assimilation, for example when forming theplural of a noun you choose endings [s], [z] or [iz] depending on the quality of thepreceding consonant (compare "books", "tables", "matches"), or in forming the PastSimple form of regular verbs you choose [t] or [d] ending for the same reason(compare "looked" and "saved") so that the first consonant of the cluster influencesthe following one. Examples of regressive assimilation: [fkomnati] (in theroom) ("" is pronounced as unvoiced [f] in this consonant cluster since the lastconsonant of the cluster is unvoiced [k]), [addat'] (to give back, perfectiveaspect) ("" is pronounced as voiced [d] since the last consonant of the cluster isvoiced [d]), [lotka] (boat), [zgar] (from the mountain). Exception:voiced consonant [v] (denoted by "") does not influence the previous consonants of
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the cluster though it gets influenced by the following noise consonants, compare [svojstva] (feature, property) ([v] does not influence the previousconsonants neither in the first ("") nor in the second ("") cluster) and [f/sh/] (lice) ("" does get influenced by the following ""). Another feature is thatall noise consonants are devoiced at the end of the word (of course if there is noword immediately following it and beginning with the voiced noise consonant, youcould see it in one of the previous examples: ), e.g. [got] (year) ("" gets
devoiced), [vrak] (enemy) ("" gets devoiced), [maros] (frost) ("" getsdevoiced)