Russian Phonology
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Russian Phonology

This article discusses the phonological system of standard Russian based on the Moscow dialect (unless otherwise noted). For an overview of dialects in the Russian language, see Russian dialects. Most descriptions of Russian describe it as having five vowel phonemes, though there is some dispute over whether a sixth vowel, [?], is separate from /i/. Russian has 34 consonants, which can be divided into two types:

Russian also distinguishes hard consonants from soft (palatalized) consonants and from consonants followed by /j/, making four sets in total: /C C? Cj C?j/, although /Cj/ in native words appears only at morpheme boundaries. Russian also preserves palatalized consonants that are followed by another consonant more often than other Slavic languages do. Like Polish, it has both hard postalveolars (/? ?/) and soft ones (/t? ?:/).

Russian has vowel reduction in unstressed syllables. This feature also occurs in a minority of other Slavic languages like Belarusian and Bulgarian, and is also found in English, but not in most other Slavic languages, such as Czech, Polish and most varieties of Serbo-Croatian.


Vowel phonemes
Front Central Back
Close i (?) u
Mid e o
Open a
Russian vowel chart by Jones & Trofimov (1923:55).
Russian stressed vowel chart according to their formants and surrounding consonants, from Timberlake (2004:31, 38). C is hard (non-palatalized) consonant, Ç is soft (palatalized) consonant. This chart uses frequencies to represent the basic vowel triangle of the Russian language.

Russian has five to six vowels in stressed syllables, /i, u, e, o, a/ and in some analyses /?/, but in most cases these vowels have merged to only two to four vowels when unstressed: /i, u, a/ (or /?, u, a/) after hard consonants and /i, u/ after soft ones.

A long-standing dispute among linguists is whether Russian has five vowel phonemes or six; that is, scholars disagree as to whether [?] constitutes an allophone of /i/ or if there is an independent phoneme /?/. The five-vowel analysis, taken up by the Moscow school, rests on the complementary distribution of [?] and [i], with the former occurring after hard (non-palatalized) consonants and [i] elsewhere. The allophony of the stressed variant of the open /a/ is largely the same, yet no scholar considers and to be separate phonemes[] (which they are in e.g. Slovak).

The six-vowel view, held by the Saint-Petersburg (Leningrad) phonology school, points to several phenomena to make its case:

  • Native Russian speakers' ability to articulate [?] in isolation: for example, in the names of the letters ⟨?⟩ and ⟨?⟩.[1]
  • Rare instances of word-initial [?], including the minimal pair 'to produce the sound ?' and 'to produce the sound ?'),[2] as well as borrowed names and toponyms, like , the name of a river and several villages in the Komi Republic.
  • Morphological alternations like ('ready' predicate, m.) and ('to get ready' trans.) between palatalized and non-palatalized consonants.[3]

The most popular view among linguists (and the one taken up in this article) is that of the Moscow school,[2] though Russian pedagogy has typically taught that there are six vowels (the term phoneme is not used).[4]

Reconstructions of Proto-Slavic show that *i and *y (which correspond to [i] and [?]) were separate phonemes. On the other hand, numerous alternations between the two sounds in Russian indicate clearly that at one point the two sounds were reanalyzed as allophones of each other.[]


A quick index of vowel pronunciation
Phoneme Letter
Position Stressed Reduced
/i/ ? (C?)V(C)
?, ? (C)V
/u/ ? (C)V
? C?V
/e/ ? VC
? C?V
?, ?+ CVC
/o/ ? (C)V ,
?* C?V
/a/ ? (C)V ,
? C?V
* Reduced ⟨?⟩ is written as ⟨?⟩.
+ ⟨?⟩ is mostly used in loanwords (except if word-initial)
or after ?, ?, ?.

Russian vowels are subject to considerable allophony, subject to both stress and the palatalization of neighboring consonants. In most unstressed positions, in fact, only three phonemes are distinguished after hard consonants, and only two after soft consonants. Unstressed /o/ and /a/ have merged to /a/ (a phenomenon known as Russian: ?, tr. ákan'je); unstressed /i/ and /e/ have merged to /i/ (Russian: ?, tr. íkan'je); and all four unstressed vowels have merged after soft consonants, except in the absolute final position in a word. None of these mergers are represented in writing.

Front vowels

When a preceding consonant is hard, /i/ is retracted to . Formant studies in Padgett (2001) demonstrate that is better characterized as slightly diphthongized from the velarization of the preceding consonant,[5] implying that a phonological pattern of using velarization to enhance perceptual distinctiveness between hard and soft consonants is strongest before /i/. When unstressed, /i/ becomes near-close; that is, following a hard consonant and in most other environments.[6] Between soft consonants, stressed /i/ is raised,[7] as in ? ('to drink'). When preceded and followed by coronal or dorsal consonants, is fronted to [].[8] After a cluster of a labial and /?/, is retracted, as in ('to float'); it is also slightly diphthongized to [?].[8]

In native words, /e/ only follows unpaired (i.e. the retroflexes and /ts/) and soft consonants. After soft consonants (but not before), it is a mid vowel (hereafter represented without the diacritic for simplicity), while a following soft consonant raises it to close-mid . Another allophone, an open-mid , occurs word-initially and between hard consonants.[9] Preceding hard consonants retract /e/ to [] and [e?][10] so that ? ('gesture') and ? ('target') are pronounced and respectively.

In words borrowed from other languages, /e/ rarely follows soft consonants; this foreign pronunciation often persists in Russian for many years until the word is more fully adopted into Russian.[11] For instance, (from French chauffeur) was pronounced in the early twentieth century,[12] but is now pronounced . On the other hand, the pronunciations of words such as ('hotel') retain the hard consonants despite a long presence in the language.

Back vowels

Between soft consonants, /a/ becomes ,[13] as in ? ('five'). When not following a soft consonant, /a/ is retracted to before /l/ as in ('stick').[13]

For most speakers, /o/ is a mid vowel , but it can be a more open for some speakers.[14] Following a soft consonant, /o/ is centralized and raised to as in ? ('aunt').[15][16]

As with the other back vowels, /u/ is centralized to between soft consonants, as in ? ('narrowly'). When unstressed, /u/ becomes near-close; central between soft consonants, centralized back in other positions.[17]

Unstressed vowels

Russian unstressed vowels have lower intensity and lower energy. They are typically shorter than stressed vowels, and /a e o i/ in most unstressed positions tend to undergo mergers for most dialects:[18]

  • /o/ has merged with /a/: for instance, 'bulwarks' and 'oxen' are both pronounced /va'?i/, phonetically .
  • /e/ has merged with /i/: for instance, (lisá) 'fox' and 'forests' are both pronounced /l?i'sa/, phonetically .[example needed]
  • /a/ and /o/[19] have merged with /i/ after soft consonants: for instance, (mésjats) 'month' is pronounced /'m?es?its/, phonetically .

The merger of unstressed /e/ and /i/ in particular is less universal in the pretonic (pre-accented) position than that of unstressed /o/ and /a/. For example, speakers of some rural dialects as well as the "Old Petersburgian" pronunciation may have the latter but not the former merger, distinguishing between [l'sa] and [l'sa], but not between and (both [v?']). The distinction in some loanwords between unstressed /e/ and /i/, or /o/ and /a/ is codified in some pronunciation dictionaries (Avanesov (1985:663), Zarva (1993:15)), for example, ['fort?] and ['v?eto].

Unstressed /e/ is sometimes preserved word-finally, for example in second-person plural or formal verb forms with the ending -, such as ("you do") /'d?e?ajit?e/ (phonetically ['d?e(j)?t?e]).[]

As a result, in most unstressed positions, only three vowel phonemes are distinguished after hard consonants (/u/, /a ~ o/, and /e ~ i/), and only two after soft consonants (/u/ and /a ~ o ~ e ~ i/). For the most part, Russian orthography (as opposed to that of closely related Belarusian) does not reflect vowel reduction. This can be seen in Russian (nébo) as opposed to Belarusian (néba) "sky", both of which can be phonemically analyzed as /'n?eba/.

Vowel mergers

In terms of actual pronunciation, there are at least two different levels of vowel reduction: vowels are less reduced when a syllable immediately precedes the stressed one, and more reduced in other positions.[20] This is particularly visible in the realization of unstressed /o/ and /a/, where a less-reduced allophone appears alongside a more-reduced allophone .

The pronunciation of unstressed /o ~ a/ is as follows:

  1. (sometimes transcribed as ; the latter is phonetically correct for the standard Moscow pronunciation, whereas the former is phonetically correct for the standard Saint Petersburg pronunciation;[21] this article uses only the symbol ) appears in the following positions:
    • In the syllable immediately before the stress, when a hard consonant precedes:[22] ('ferry'), ('grass').
    • In absolute word-initial position.[23]
    • In hiatus, when the vowel occurs twice without a consonant between; this is written ⟨aa⟩, ⟨ao⟩, ⟨oa⟩, or ⟨oo⟩:[23] ('to use common sense, to reason').
  2. appears elsewhere, when a hard consonant precedes: ? ('cloud').
  3. When a soft consonant or /j/ precedes, both /o/ and /a/ merge with /i/ and are pronounced as . Example: 'tongue'). /o/ is written as ⟨e⟩ in these positions.
    • This merger also tends to occur after formerly soft consonants now pronounced hard (/?/, /?/, /ts/),[24] where the pronunciation [25] occurs. This always occurs when the spelling uses the soft vowel variants, e.g. ('wife'), with underlying /o/.[] However, it also occurs in a few word roots where the spelling writes a hard /a/.[26][27] Examples:
      • - 'regret': e.g. ? ('to regret'), ? ? ('unfortunately').
      • ? 'horse', e.g. , (pl. gen. and acc.).
      • -- in numbers: e.g. ('twenty [gen., dat., prep.]'), ? ('thirty [instr.]').
      • ? ('rye [adj. m. nom.]').
      • ? ('jasmine').
  4. These processes occur even across word boundaries as in [p?d?'m?rm] ('under the sea').

The pronunciation of unstressed /e ~ i/ is after soft consonants and /j/, and word-initially ( ('stage')), but after hard consonants (? ('to breathe')).

There are a number of exceptions to the above vowel-reduction rules:

  • Vowels may not merge in foreign borrowings,[28][29][30] particularly with unusual or recently borrowed words such as , 'radio'. In such words, unstressed /a/ may be pronounced as , regardless of context; unstressed /e/ does not merge with /i/ in initial position or after vowels, so word pairs like and ?, or and , differ in pronunciation.[]
  • Across certain word-final inflections, the reductions do not completely apply. For example, after soft or unpaired consonants, unstressed /a/, /e/ and /i/ of a final syllable may be distinguished from each other.[31][32] For example, ? ('residents') contrasts with both (?) ? ('[about] a resident') and ? ('(of) a resident'). Also, ['xodt] ('he goes') and ['xodt] ('they go').
  • If the first vowel of ⟨oa⟩, or ⟨oo⟩ belongs to the conjunctions ('but') or ('then'), it is not reduced, even when unstressed.[33]
Other changes

Unstressed /u/ is generally pronounced as a lax (or near-close) , e.g. ('man'). Between soft consonants, it becomes centralized to , as in ('to huddle').

Note a spelling irregularity in /s/ of the reflexive suffix -: with a preceding -?- in third-person present and a -- in infinitive, it is pronounced as [ts?], i.e. hard instead of with its soft counterpart, since [ts], normally spelled with ⟨?⟩, is traditionally always hard. In other forms both pronunciations [s?] and [s] alternate for a speaker with some usual form-dependent preferences: in the outdated dialects, reflexive imperative verbs (such as , lit. "be afraid yourself") may be pronounced with [s?] instead of modern (and phonetically consistent) [s].[34]

In weakly stressed positions, vowels may become voiceless between two voiceless consonants: ('exhibition'), ? ('because'). This may also happen in cases where only the following consonant is voiceless: ('skull').

Phonemic analysis

Because of mergers of different phonemes in unstressed position, the assignment of a particular phone to a phoneme requires phonological analysis. There have been different approaches to this problem:[35]

  • The Saint Petersburg phonology school assigns allophones to particular phonemes. For example, any is considered as a realization of /a/.
  • The Moscow phonology school uses an analysis with morphophonemes (?, singular ?). It treats a given unstressed allophone as belonging to a particular morphophoneme depending on morphological alternations, or on etymology (which is often reflected in the spelling). For example, is analyzed as either |a| or |o|. To make a determination, one must seek out instances where an unstressed morpheme containing in one word is stressed in another word. Thus, because the word [v?'] ('shafts') shows an alternation with [va?] ('shaft'), this instance of [?] belongs to the morphophoneme |a|. Meanwhile, [v?'] ('oxen') alternates with [vo?] ('ox'), showing that this instance of belongs to the morphophoneme |o|. If there are no alternations between stressed and unstressed syllables for a particular morpheme, then the assignment is based on etymology.
  • Some linguists[36] prefer to avoid making the decision. Their terminology includes strong vowel phonemes (the five) for stressed vowels plus several weak phonemes for unstressed vowels: thus, represents the weak phoneme /?/, which contrasts with other weak phonemes, but not with strong ones.


Russian diphthongs all end in a non-syllabic [i?], an allophone of /j/ and the only semivowel in Russian. In all contexts other than after a vowel, /j/ is considered an approximant consonant. Phonological descriptions of /j/ may also classify it as a consonant even in the coda. In such descriptions, Russian has no diphthongs.

The first part of diphthongs are subject to the same allophony as their constituent vowels. Examples of words with diphthongs: ('egg'), ('her' dat.), ('effective'). /ij/, written ⟨-⟩ or ⟨-⟩, is a common inflexional affix of adjectives, participles, and nouns, where it is often unstressed; at normal conversational speed, such unstressed endings may be monophthongized to .[37]


?⟩ denotes palatalization, meaning the center of the tongue is raised during and after the articulation of the consonant. Phonemes that have at different times been disputed are enclosed in parentheses.

Consonant phonemes
Labial Dental,
Palatal Velar
hard soft hard soft hard soft hard soft
Nasal m m? n n?
Stop voiceless p p? t t? k (k?)
voiced b b? d d? ? ()
Affricate ts (ts?) t?
Fricative voiceless f f? s s? ? ?: x (x?)
voiced v v? z z? ? (?:) (?)
Approximant ? l? j
Trill r? r
  • Most consonant phonemes come in hard-soft pairs, except for always-hard /ts, ?, ?/ and always-soft /t?, ?:, j/ and formerly /?:/. There is a marked tendency of Russian hard consonants to be velarized, though this is a subject of some academic dispute.[38][39] Velarization is clearest before the front vowels /e/ and /i/.[40][41]
    • /?/ and /?/ are always hard in native words (even if spelling contains a "softening" letter after them, as in ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ? etc.), and for most speakers also in foreign proper names, mostly of French or Lithuanian origin (e.g. ['l?dk], ['?on ?'fr?ik], ? ? ['?ul? 'v?rn], ? ['erx?rt '?ur?r], , ?)[42] and tend to be always at least slightly labialized, including when followed by unrounded vowels.[43] Long phonemes /?:/ and /?:/ do not pattern in the same ways that other hard-soft pairs do.[]
    • /ts/ is generally listed among the always-hard consonants; however, certain foreign proper names, including those of Ukrainian, Polish, Lithuanian, or German origin (e.g. , , ?, ), as well as loanwords (e.g., , from Chinese) contain a soft [ts?].[44] The phonemicity of a soft /ts?/ is supported by neologisms that come from native word-building processes (e.g. , ?).[] However, according to Yanushevskaya & Bun?i? (2015), /ts/ really is always hard, and realizing it as palatalized [ts?] is considered "emphatically non-standard", and occurs only in some regional accents.[43]
    • /t?/ and /j/ are always soft.
    • /?:/ is also always soft.[43] A formerly common pronunciation of /?/+/t?/[45] indicates the sound may be two underlying phonemes: /?/ and /t?/, thus /?:/ can be considered as a marginal phoneme. In today's most widespread pronunciation, [?t?] appears (instead of [?:]) for orthographical --/-- where ?- starts the root of a word, and -?/-? belongs to a preposition or a "clearly distinguishable" prefix (e.g. , 'without a clock'; , 'to rule'); in all other cases /?:/ is used ( , , [pr'p?i?:?k], , , [:?'pat?], ? [r:?'p?it?] etc.)
    • The marginally phonemic[46] sound [?:] is largely obsolete except in the more conservative standard accent of Moscow and only for a handful of words. Insofar as this soft pronunciation is lost, the corresponding hard replaces it.[47] This sound may derive from an underlying /z?/ or /s?/: [z?()?'?:æt?], modern . For most speakers, it can most commonly be formed by assimilative voicing of [?:] (including across words): ? [v:'dok]. For more information, see alveolo-palatal consonant and retroflex consonant.
  • /?/ and /?/ are somewhat concave apical postalveolar.[48] They may be described as retroflex, e.g. by Hamann (2004), but this is to indicate that they are not laminal nor palatalized; not to say that they are subapical.[49]
  • Hard /t, d, n/ are laminal denti-alveolar [t?, d?, n?]; unlike in many other languages, /n/ does not become velar before velar consonants.[50]
  • Hard /?/ has been variously described as pharyngealized apical alveolar [51] and velarized laminal denti-alveolar .[39][52][53]
  • Hard /r/ is postalveolar, typically a trill [r?].[54]
  • Soft /r?/ is an apical dental trill [r], usually with only a single contact.[54]
  • Soft /t?, d?, n?/ are laminal alveolar [ts?, dz?, n]. In the case of the first two, the tongue is raised just enough to produce slight frication as indicated in the transcription.[55]
  • Soft /l?/ is either laminal alveolar [l] or laminal denti-alveolar [l].[51][56]
  • /ts, s, s?, z, z?/ are dental [t?s?, s?, s, z?, z],[57] i.e. dentalized laminal alveolar. They are pronounced with the blade of the tongue very close to the upper front teeth, with the tip of the tongue resting behind the lower front teeth.
  • The voiced /v, v?/ are often realized with weak friction [v?, v] or even as approximants [?, ], particularly in spontaneous speech.[43]
  • A marginal phoneme /?/ occurs instead of /?/ in certain interjections: ?, ?, ?, , ?--, ?--, . (Thus, there exists a minimal pair of homographs: ? 'aha!' vs ? 'agha'). The same sound [?] can be found in ? (spelled ⟨⟩, though in , ⟨⟩ is [x]), optionally in and in a few other loanwords. Also optionally (and less frequently than a century ago) [?] can be used instead of [?] in certain religious words (a phenomenon influenced by Church Slavonic pronunciation): ['bo], ['bo]... (declension forms of ['box] 'God'), ['sp?t?] 'Lord' (especially in the exclamation ! ['?osp?d] 'Oh Lord!'), ? [b'j] 'good'.
  • Some linguists (like I. G. Dobrodomov and his school) postulate the existence of a phonemic glottal stop /?/. This marginal phoneme can be found, for example, in the word -? . Claimed minimal pairs for this phoneme include 'narrowed' (a participle from ? 'to narrow', with prefix ?- and root --, cf. 'narrow') vs 'betrothed' (originally a participle from ? 'to judge', now an adjective; the root is 'court') and ? 'with Ann' vs '(by) Alex'.[58][59]

There is some dispute over the phonemicity of soft velar consonants. Typically, the soft-hard distinction is allophonic for velar consonants: they become soft before front vowels, as in ('short'), unless there is a word boundary, in which case they are hard (e.g. ? [k'van?] 'to Ivan').[60] Hard variants occur everywhere else. Exceptions are represented mostly by:

  • Loanwords:
    • Soft: ?, , , ?, ?, , , ;
    • Hard: -, , , (), ?.
  • Proper nouns of foreign origin:
    • Soft: , ?, ?, ?, , ?, , , , , ?, ;
    • Hard: ?, , , ?-, , ?.

The rare native examples are fairly new, as most them were coined in the last century:

  • Soft: forms of the verb 'weave' (, ? etc., and derivatives like ); ?/, ?/; and adverbial participles of the type , ?, , , ?, ?, (it is disputed whether these are part of the standard language or just informal colloquialisms)[];
  • Hard: the name of letter ⟨?⟩, acronyms and derived words (?, ), a few interjections (, , ), some onomatopoeic words (), and colloquial forms of certain patronyms: , , ? (where - is a contraction of standard language's patronymical suffix -? rather than a continuation of ancient -).

In the mid-twentieth century, a small number of reductionist approaches made by structuralists[61] put forth that palatalized consonants occur as the result of a phonological processes involving /j/ (or palatalization as a phoneme in itself), so that there were no underlying palatalized consonants.[62] Despite such proposals, linguists have long agreed that the underlying structure of Russian is closer to that of its acoustic properties, namely that soft consonants are separate phonemes in their own right.[63]

Phonological processes

Final devoicing

Voiced consonants (/b/, /b?/, /d/, /d?/ /?/, /v/, /v?/, /z/, /z?/, /?/, and /?:/) are devoiced word-finally unless the next word begins with a voiced obstruent.[64]? also represents voiceless [x] word-finally in some words, such as ['box]. This is related to the use of the marginal (or dialectal) phoneme /?/ in some religious words .


Russian features general regressive assimilation of voicing and palatalization.[65] In longer clusters, this means that multiple consonants may be soft despite their underlyingly (and orthographically) being hard.[66] The process of voicing assimilation applies across word-boundaries when there is no pause between words.[67] Within a morpheme, voicing is not distinctive before obstruents (except for /v/, and /v?/ when followed by a vowel or sonorant). The voicing or devoicing is determined by that of the final obstruent in the sequence:[68]? ('request'), ('vodka'). In foreign borrowings, this isn't always the case for /f(?)/, as in ('Adolf Hitler') and ? ('the count is ill'). /v/ and /v?/ are unusual in that they seem transparent to voicing assimilation; in the syllable onset, both voiced and voiceless consonants may appear before /v(?)/:

  • ) ('the creature')
  • ('two')
  • ('of light')
  • ('star')

When /v(?)/ precedes and follows obstruents, the voicing of the cluster is governed by that of the final segment (per the rule above) so that voiceless obstruents that precede /v(?)/ are voiced if /v(?)/ is followed by a voiced obstruent (e.g. ? [?vd?'v?e] 'to the widow') while a voiceless obstruent will devoice all segments (e.g. [bs 'fpusk?] 'without an admission').[69]

/t?/, /ts/, and /x/ have voiced allophones (, and ) before voiced obstruents,[64][70] as in ? [71] ('a daughter would') and ('bridge-head').

Other than /m?/ and /n?/, nasals and liquids devoice between voiceless consonants or a voiceless consonant and a pause: ) ('buttress').[72]


Before /j/, paired consonants (that is, those that come in a hard-soft pair) are normally soft as in 'I drink' and 'I hit'. However, the last consonant of prefixes and parts of compound words generally remains hard in the standard language: 'departure', 'Min[istry of] Just[ice]'; when the prefix ends in /s/ or /z/ there may be an optional softening: ('to travel').

Paired consonants preceding /e/ are also soft; although there are exceptions from loanwords, alternations across morpheme boundaries are the norm.[73] The following examples[74] show some of the morphological alternations between a hard consonant and its soft counterpart:

hard soft

Velar consonants are soft when preceding /i/, and never occur before [?] within a word.[75]

Before hard dental consonants, /r/, labial and dental consonants are hard: ? ('eagle' gen. sg).

Assimilative palatalization

Paired consonants preceding another consonant often inherit softness from it. This phenomenon in literary language has complicated and evolving rules with many exceptions, depending on what these consonants are, in what morphemic position they meet and to what style of speech the word belongs. In old Moscow pronunciation, softening was more widespread and regular; nowadays some cases that were once normative have become low colloquial or archaic. In fact, consonants can be softened to very different extent, become semi-hard or semi-soft.

The more similar the consonants are, the more they tend to soften each other. Also, some consonants tend to be softened less, such as labials and /r/.

Softening is stronger inside the word root and between root and suffix; it is weaker between prefix and root and weak or absent between a preposition and the word following.[76]

  • Before soft dental consonants, /l?/ and often soft labial consonants, dental consonants (other than /ts/) are soft.
  • /x/ is assimilated to the palatalization of the following velar consonant: ) ('lungs' gen. pl.).
  • Palatalization assimilation of labial consonants before labial consonants is in free variation with nonassimilation, such that ? ('to bomb') is either [b?m'b?it?] or [b?m?'b?it?] depending on the individual speaker.
  • When hard /n/ precedes its soft equivalent, it is also soft and likely to form a single long sound (see gemination). This is slightly less common across affix boundaries.

In addition to this, dental fricatives conform to the place of articulation (not just the palatalization) of following postalveolars: ? ) ('with a part'). In careful speech, this does not occur across word boundaries.

Russian has the rare feature of nasals not typically being assimilated in place of articulation. Both /n/ and /n?/ appear before retroflex consonants: ) ('money' (scornful)) and ) ('sanctimonious one' instr.). In the same context, other coronal consonants are always hard.

Consonant clusters

As a Slavic language, Russian has fewer phonotactic restrictions on consonants than many other languages,[77] allowing for clusters that would be difficult for English speakers; this is especially so at the beginning of a syllable, where Russian speakers make no sonority distinctions between fricatives and stops.[78] These reduced restrictions begin at the morphological level; outside of two morphemes that contain clusters of four consonants: -/- 'meet' (['fstr?et?/'fstr?et?]), and -/- 'stale' (['trstv]), native Russian morphemes have a maximum consonant cluster size of three:[79]

3-Segment clusters
Russian IPA/Audio Translation
CCL 'to hide'
CCC* 'tree trunk'
LCL 'camel'
LCC 'thick'

For speakers who pronounce [?t?] instead of [?:], words like ('common') also constitute clusters of this type.

2-Segment clusters
Russian IPA/Audio Translation
CC 'bone'
LC ? 'death'
CL 'blind'
LL ? 'throat'
CJ 'article'
LJ 'zealous'

If /j/ is considered a consonant in the coda position, then words like ('quince') contain semivowel+consonant clusters.

Affixation also creates consonant clusters. Some prefixes, the best known being -/- ([vz-]/[fs-]), produce long word-initial clusters when they attach to a morpheme beginning with consonant(s) (e.g. |fs|+ |pk?| -> ['fspk?] 'flash'). However, the four-consonant limitation persists in the syllable onset.[80][81]

Clusters of three or more consonants are frequently simplified, usually through syncope of one of them,[82] especially in casual pronunciation.[83] Various cases of relaxed pronunciation in Russian can be seen here.

All word-initial four-consonant clusters begin with [vz] or [fs], followed by a stop (or, in the case of [x], a fricative), and a liquid:

4-Segment clusters
Russian IPA/Audio Translation
() ? (? ) [vzbr'?o] '(he) took it (into his head)'
'to perch'
? 'to flinch'
? 'disheveled'
? 'to unseal'
? 'splash'
? 'to jump up'
? ['fstl?et?] 'to begin to smolder'
'to meet'
['fsxl?ip] 'whimper'
'to snort'

Because prepositions in Russian act like clitics,[84] the syntactic phrase composed of a preposition (most notably, the three that consist of just a single consonant: ?, ?, and ?) and a following word constitutes a phonological word that acts like a single grammatical word.[85] For example, the phrase ? ('with friends') is pronounced [zdr?'z?jæm]. In the syllable coda, suffixes that contain no vowels may increase the final consonant cluster of a syllable (e.g. 'city of Noyabrsk' |no'jabr?|+ |sk| -> [n?'jæbr?sk]), theoretically up to seven consonants: *? ['monstrstf] ('of monsterships').[86] There is usually an audible release between these consecutive consonants at word boundaries, the major exception being clusters of homorganic consonants.[87]

Consonant cluster simplification in Russian includes degemination, syncope, dissimilation, and weak vowel insertion. For example, /s?:/ is pronounced [?:], as in ? ('cleft'). There are also a few isolated patterns of apparent cluster reduction (as evidenced by the mismatch between pronunciation and orthography) arguably the result of historical simplifications.[88] For example, dental stops are dropped between a dental continuant and a dental nasal or lateral: ?? ['l?esn?j] 'flattering'.[89] Other examples include:

/vstv/ > [stv] 'feeling' [88]
/?nts/ > [nts] ? 'sun' [88]
/rdts/ > [rts] ? 'heart'
/rdt?/ > [rt?] ? 'heart' (diminutive) [sr't?i?k?] (not [srtt?i?k?])
/ndsk/ > [nsk] 'Scottish' [88]
/stsk/ > [sk] ? 'Marxist' [m?rk's?iskj] (not [m?rk's?istskj]) [88]

The simplifications of consonant clusters are done selectively; bookish-style words and proper nouns are typically pronounced with all consonants even if they fit the pattern. For example, the word ? is pronounced in a simplified manner ['?ank?] for the meaning of 'Dutch oven' (a popular type of oven in Russia) and in a full form ['?antk?] for 'Dutch woman' (a more exotic meaning).

In certain cases, this syncope produces homophones, e.g. ('bony') and ? ('rigid'), both are pronounced .

Another method of dealing with consonant clusters is inserting an epenthetic vowel (both in spelling and in pronunciation), ⟨?⟩, after most prepositions and prefixes that normally end in a consonant. This includes both historically motivated usage and cases of its modern extrapolations. There are no strict limits when the epenthetic ⟨?⟩ is obligatory, optional, or prohibited. One of the most typical cases of the epenthetic ⟨?⟩ is between a morpheme-final consonant and a cluster starting with the same or similar consonant (e.g. 'from Wednesday' |s|+ |sr'd?| -> [s?sr'd?], not *? ; ? 'I'll scrub' |ot|+ |'tru| -> [?t?'tru], not *).


Stress in Russian is phonemic. It may fall on any syllable, and words can contrast based just on stress (e.g. ? ['muk?] 'ordeal, pain, anguish' vs. [m?'ka] 'flour, meal, farina'). Stress shifts can even occur within an inflexional paradigm: ['dom?] ('house' gen. sg., or 'at home') vs [d?'ma] ('houses'). The place of the stress in a word is determined by the interplay between the morphemes it contains, as morphemes may be obligatorily stressed, obligatorily unstressed, or variably stressed.

Generally, only one syllable in a word is stressed; this rule, however, does not extend to most compound words, such as ? [mroz'st?jtv?j] ('frost-resistant'), which have multiple stresses, with the last of them being primary.[90]

Phonologically, stressed syllables are mostly realised not only by the lack of aforementioned vowel reduction, but also by a somewhat longer duration than unstressed syllables. More intense pronunciation is also a relevant cue, although this quality may merge with prosodical intensity. Pitch accent has only a minimal role in indicating stress, mostly due to its prosodical importance, which may prove a difficulty for Russians identifying stressed syllables in more pitched languages.[91]

Supplementary notes

There are numerous ways in which Russian spelling does not match pronunciation. The historical transformation of /?/ into /v/ in genitive case endings and the word for 'him' is not reflected in the modern Russian orthography: the pronoun [j?'vo] 'his/him', and the adjectival declension suffixes - and -. Orthographic ? represents /x/ in a handful of word roots-/?-/?- 'easy' and ?-/?- 'soft'. There are a handful of words in which consonants which have long since ceased to be pronounced even in careful pronunciation are still spelled, e.g., the 'l' in ['sonts?] ('sun').

/n/ and /n?/ are the only consonants that can be geminated within morpheme boundaries. Such gemination does not occur in loanwords.

Between any vowel and /i/ (excluding instances across affix boundaries but including unstressed vowels that have merged with /i/), /j/ may be dropped: ? ['a.?st] ('stork') and ['d?et] ('does').[92] (Halle (1959) cites and other instances of intervening prefix and preposition boundaries as exceptions to this tendency.)

/i/ velarizes hard consonants: ('you' sing.). /o/ and /u/ velarize and labialize hard consonants and labialize soft consonants: ('side'), ('(he) carried').[93]

Between a hard consonant and /o/, a slight [w] offglide occurs, most noticeably after labial, labio-dental and velar consonants (e.g. , 'was soaking' [m?wok]).[94] Similarly, a weak palatal offglide may occur between certain soft consonants and back vowels (e.g. 'thigh' ['l?jæ?k?]).[95]

See also


  1. ^ See, for example, Ozhegov (1953:10); Barkhudarov, Protchenko & Skvortsova (1987:9); Chew (2003:61). The traditional name of ⟨?⟩, [j?'r?] yery; since 1961 this name has been replaced from the Russian school practice (compare the 7th and 8th editions of the standard textbook of Russian for 5th and 6th grades: Barkhudarov & Kryuchkov (1960:4), and Barkhudarov & Kryuchkov (1961:20).
  2. ^ a b Chew 2003, p. 61.
  3. ^ Chew 2003, p. 62.
  4. ^ See, for example, Shcherba (1950:15); Matiychenko (1950:40-41); Zemsky, Svetlayev & Kriuchkov (1971:63); Kuznetsov & Ryzhakov (2007:6)
  5. ^ Thus, /?/ is pronounced something like [], with the first part sounding as an on-glide Padgett (2003b:321)
  6. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, pp. 37-38.
  7. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 31.
  8. ^ a b Jones & Ward 1969, p. 33.
  9. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, pp. 41-44.
  10. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 193.
  11. ^ Halle 1959, p. 63.
  12. ^ As in Igor Severyanin's poem, ? . . .
  13. ^ a b Jones & Ward 1969, p. 50.
  14. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 56.
  15. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 62.
  16. ^ Halle 1959, p. 166.
  17. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, pp. 67-69.
  18. ^ Crosswhite 2000, p. 112.
  19. ^ /o/ has merged with /i/ if words such as /t?i'p?o/ 'heat' are analyzed as having the same morphophonemes as related words such as /'t?op?ij/ 'warm', meaning that both of them have the stem |t?opl-|. Alternatively, they can be analyzed as having two different morphophonemes, |o| and |e|: |t?op?-| vs. |t?ep?-|. In that analysis, |o| does not occur in , so |o| does not merge with |i|. Historically, the |o| developed from |e|: see History of the Russian language § The yo vowel.
  20. ^ Avanesov 1975, p. 105-106.
  21. ^ Yanushevskaya & Bun?i? (2015:225)
  22. ^ Padgett & Tabain 2005, p. 16.
  23. ^ a b Jones & Ward 1969, p. 51.
  24. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 194.
  25. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 38.
  26. ^ Avanesov 1985, p. 663.
  27. ^ Zarva 1993, p. 13.
  28. ^ Avanesov 1985, p. 663-666.
  29. ^ Zarva 1993, p. 12-17.
  30. ^ Halle 1959.
  31. ^ Avanesov 1975, p. 121-125.
  32. ^ Avanesov 1985, p. 666.
  33. ^ Zarva 1983, p. 16.
  34. ^ Wade, Terence Leslie Brian (2010). A Comprehensive Russian Grammar (3rd ed.). John Wiley & Sons. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-4051-3639-6.
  35. ^ Avanesov 1975, p. 37-40.
  36. ^ e.g. Avanesov (1975)
  37. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 37.
  38. ^ Padgett 2001, p. 7.
  39. ^ a b Ashby (2011:133): "Note that though Russian has traditionally been described as having all consonants either palatalized or velarized, recent data suggests that the velarized gesture is only used with laterals giving a phonemic contrast between /l?/ and /?/ (...)."
  40. ^ Padgett 2003b, p. 319.
  41. ^ Because of the acoustic properties of [u] and [i] that make velarization more noticeable before front vowels and palatalization before back vowels Padgett (2003b) argues that the contrast before /i/ is between velarized and plain consonants rather than plain and palatalized.
  42. ^ See dictionaries of Ageenko & Zarva (1993) and Borunova, Vorontsova & Yes'kova (1983).
  43. ^ a b c d Yanushevskaya & Bun?i? (2015:223)
  44. ^ The dictionary Ageenko & Zarva (1993) explicitly says that the nonpalatalized pronunciation /ts/ is an error in such cases.
  45. ^ See Avanesov's pronunciation guide in Avanesov (1985:669)
  46. ^ Padgett 2003a, p. 42.
  47. ^ Yanushevskaya & Bun?i? (2015:224) "The /:/ consonant has no voiced counterpart in the system of phonemes. However, in conservative Moscow standard and only in a handful of lexical items the combination // may be pronounced with palatalisation, e.g. droi 'yeast' as ['d?r?o:?] instead of ['d?r?:?], although this realisation is now also somewhat obsolete."}}
  48. ^ Hamann 2004, p. 64.
  49. ^ Hamann 2004, p. 56, "Summing up the articulatory criteria for retroflex fricatives, they are all articulated behind the alveolar ridge, show a sub-lingual cavity, are articulated with the tongue tip (though this is not always discernible in the x-ray tracings), and with a retracted and flat tongue body."
  50. ^ Jones & Ward (1969:99 and 160)
  51. ^ a b Koneczna & Zawadowski (1956:?), cited in Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:187)
  52. ^ Jones & Ward (1969:167)
  53. ^ Mathiassen (1996:23)
  54. ^ a b Skalozub (1963:?); cited in Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:221)
  55. ^ Jones & Ward (1969:104-105 and 162)
  56. ^ Jones & Ward (1969:172). This source mentions only the laminal alveolar realization.
  57. ^ Zygis (2003:181)
  58. ^ Dobrodomov & Izmest'eva 2002.
  59. ^ Dobrodomov & Izmest'eva 2009.
  60. ^ Padgett 2003a, pp. 44, 47.
  61. ^ Stankiewicz 1962, p. 131.
  62. ^ see Lightner (1972) and Bidwell (1962) for two examples.
  63. ^ See Stankiewicz (1962) and Folejewski (1962) for a criticism of Bidwell's approach specifically and the reductionist approach generally.
  64. ^ a b Halle 1959, p. 22.
  65. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 156.
  66. ^ Lightner 1972, p. 377.
  67. ^ Lightner 1972, p. 73.
  68. ^ Halle 1959, p. 31.
  69. ^ Lightner 1972, p. 75.
  70. ^ Chew (2003:67 and 103)
  71. ^ Lightner 1972, p. 82.
  72. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 190.
  73. ^ Padgett 2003a, p. 43.
  74. ^ Lightner 1972, pp. 9-11, 12-13.
  75. ^ Padgett 2003a, p. 39.
  76. ^ , ?. ?. (1984). ? . ?.?. pp. 145-167.
  77. ^ Davidson & Roon 2008, p. 138.
  78. ^ Rubach 2000, p. 53.
  79. ^ Halle 1959, p. 57.
  80. ^ Ostapenko 2005, p. 143.
  81. ^ Proctor 2006, pp. 2, 126.
  82. ^ Cubberley 2002, p. 80.
  83. ^ Shapiro 1993, p. 11.
  84. ^ Rubach 2000, p. 51.
  85. ^ Bickel & Nichols 2007, p. 190.
  86. ^ Toporov 1971, p. 155.
  87. ^ Zsiga 2003, p. 403.
  88. ^ a b c d e Cubberley 2002, p. 82.
  89. ^ Halle 1959, p. 69.
  90. ^ Lightner 1972, p. 4.
  91. ^ Chrabaszcz et al. 2014, pp. 1470-1.
  92. ^ Lightner 1972, p. 130.
  93. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, pp. 79-80.
  94. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 79.
  95. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. ?.


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