Ukrainian Phonology
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Ukrainian Phonology

This article deals with the phonology of the standard Ukrainian language.


Ukrainian vowel chart, from Pompino-Marschall, Steriopolo & ?ygis (2016:353)

Ukrainian has six vowel phonemes: /i, u, ?, ?, ?, ?/.

/?/ may be classified as a retracted high-mid front vowel,[1] transcribed in narrow IPA as [e?], [ë], [] or [].

Front Central Back
Close i ? u
Mid ? ?
Open ?

Ukrainian has no phonemic distinction between long and short vowels; however, unstressed vowels are somewhat reduced in time and, as a result, in quality.[2]

  • In unstressed position /?/ has an allophone .[3]
  • Unstressed /?/ has an allophone that slightly approaches /u/ if it is followed by a syllable with /u/ or /i/.[3]
  • Unstressed /u/ has an allophone .[3]
  • Unstressed /?/ and /?/ approach that may or may not be a common allophone for the two phonemes.[3]
  • /i/ has no notable variation in unstressed position.[3]


In the table above, if there are two consonants in a row, the one to the right is voiced, and the one to the left is voiceless.

Phonetic details:

  • There is no complete agreement about the phonetic nature of /?/. According to some linguists, it is pharyngeal [4] ( [or sometimes in weak positions] when devoiced).[4] According to others, it is glottal .[5][6][7]
  • Word-finally, /m/, /l/, /r/ are voiceless , , after voiceless consonants.[8] In case of /r/, it only happens after /t/.[9]
  • /w/ is most commonly bilabial before vowels but can alternate with labiodental (most commonly before /i/),[10] and can be a true labiovelar before /?/ or /u/.[3] It is also vocalized to [u?] before a consonant at the beginning of a word, after a vowel before a consonant or after a vowel at the end of a word.[10][11] If /w/ occurs before a voiceless consonant and not after a vowel, the voiceless articulation is also possible.[3]
  • /r/ often becomes a single tap in the spoken language.
  • /t, d, d?, n, n?, s, s?, z, z?, t?s, t?s?, d?z, d?z?/ are dental [t?, d?, d, n?, n, s?, s, z?, z, ts?, ts, dz?, dz],[12] while /t?, l, l?, r, r?/ are alveolar [t?, l, l?, r, r?].[13]
  • The group of palatalized consonants consists of 10 phonemes: /j, d?, z?, l?, n?, r?, s?, t?, t?s?, d?z?/. All except /j/ have a soft and a hard variant. There is no agreement about the nature of the palatalization of /r?/; sometimes, it is considered as a semi-palatalized[clarification needed] consonant.[14] Labial consonants /p, b, m, f/ have just semi-palatalized versions, and /w/ has only the hard variant.[15] The palatalization of the consonants /?, ?, ?, k, x, t, ?, d/ is weak; they are usually treated rather as the allophones of the respective hard consonants, not as separate phonemes.[16]
  • Unlike Russian and several other Slavic languages, Ukrainian does not have final devoicing for most obstruents, as can be seen, for example, in "cart", which is pronounced , not *['?is].[3]
  • The fricative articulations [v, ?] are voiced allophones of /f, x/ respectively if they are voiced before other voiced consonants. (See #Consonant assimilation.) /x, ?/ do not form a perfect voiceless-voiced phoneme pair, but their allophones may overlap if /?/ is devoiced to [x] (rather than [h]). In the standard language, /f, w/ do not form a voiceless-voiced phoneme pair at all, as [v] does not phonemically overlap with /w/, and [?] (voiceless allophone of /w/) does not phonemically overlap with /f/.[3]

When two or more consonants occur word-finally, a vowel is epenthesized under the following conditions:[17] Given a consonantal grouping C1(?)C2(?), C being any consonant. The vowel is inserted between the two consonants and after the ?. A vowel is not inserted unless C2 is either /k/, /w/, /l/, /m/, /r/, or /t?s/. Then:

  1. If C1 is /w/, /?/, /k/, or /x/, the epenthisized vowel is always [o]
    1. No vowel is epenthesized if the /w/ is derived from a Common Slavic vocalic *l, for example, /w?wk/ (see below)
  2. If C2 is /l/, /m/, /r/, or /t?s/, then the vowel is /?/.
  3. The combinations, /-stw/ /-sk/ are not broken up.
  4. If the C1 is /j/ (?), the above rules may apply. However, both forms (with and without the fill vowel) often exist.

Alternation of vowels and semivowels

Ukrainian also has a non-syllabic [u?], as an allophone of /w/. The semivowels /j/ and /w/ alternate with the vowels /i/ and /u/ respectively. The semivowels are used in syllable codas: after a vowel and before a consonant, either within a word or between words:[]

? /'win i'd?/ ('he's coming')
? /w?'n? 'jd?/ ('she's coming')
? /'win i w?'n?/ ('he and she')
? /w?'n? j 'win/ ('she and he');
? ? /ut?'m?ws 'w/ ('already gotten tired')
? ? /u' wt?'m?ws/ ('already gotten tired')
?. /'win ut?m?ws/ ('He's gotten tired.')
? . /'win u 'x?ti/ ('He's inside the house.')
? . /w?'n? w 'x?ti/ ('She's inside the house.')
? /pidu'tt?/ ('to learn/teach (a little more)')
?? /'w?wtt?/ ('to have learnt')

That feature distinguishes Ukrainian phonology remarkably from Russian and Polish, two related languages with many cognates.

Consonant assimilation

There is no word-final or assimilatory devoicing in Ukrainian. There is, however, assimilatory voicing: voiceless obstruents are voiced when preceding voiced obstruents. (But the reverse is not true, and sonorants do not trigger voicing.)[18]

  • [n] ('our')
  • [n 'did] ('our grandfather')
  • ? [b?'r?z?] ('birch')
  • [b?'rizk?] ('small birch')

The exceptions are , , , , , , and derivatives: /?/ may then be devoiced to or even merge with /x/.[3]

Unpalatalized dental consonants /n, t, d, t?s, d?z, s, z, r, l/ become palatalized if they are followed by other palatalized dental consonants /n?, t?, d?, t?s?, d?z?, s?, z?, r?, l?/. They are also typically palatalized before the vowel /i/. Historically, contrasting unpalatalized and palatalized articulations of consonants before /i/ were possible and more common, with the absence of palatalization usually reflecting that regular sound changes in the language made an /i/ vowel actually evolve from an older, non-palatalizing /?/ vowel. Ukrainian grammar still allows for /i/ to alternate with either /?/ or /?/ in the regular inflection of certain words. The absence of consonant palatalization before /i/ has become rare, however, but is still allowed.[3]

While the labial consonants /m, p, b, f, w/ cannot be phonemically palatalized, they can still precede one of the iotating vowels ? ? ? ?, when many speakers replace the would-be sequences *|m?, p?, b?, f?, w?| with the consonant clusters /mj, pj, bj, fj, wj/, a habit also common in nearby Polish.[3] The separation of labial consonant from /j/ is already hard-coded in many Ukrainian words (and written as such with an apostrophe), such as in ?'? /wj?t'sl?w/ "Vyacheslav", '? /i'mj?/ "name" and ?' /pj?t?/ "five".[]

Dental sibilant consonants /t?s, d?z, s, z/ become palatalized before any of the labial consonants /m, p, b, f, w/ followed by one of the iotating vowels ? ? ? ?, but the labial consonants themselves cannot retain phonemic palatalization. Thus, words like ? /s?w(j)?t/ "holiday" and ? /sw?t/ "matchmaker" retain their separate pronunciations (whether or not an actual /j/ is articulated).[3]

Sibilant consonants (including affricates) in clusters assimilate with the place of articulation and palatalization state of the last segment in a cluster. The most common case of such assimilation is the verbal ending - in which |?s| assimilates into /s?:?/.[3]

Dental plosives /t, t?, d, d?/ assimilate to affricate articulations before coronal affricates or fricatives /t?s, d?z, s, z, t?s?, d?z?, s?, z?, t, d, ?, ?/ and assume the latter consonant's place of articulation and palatalization. If the sequences |t.t?s, d.d?z, t.t?s?, d.d?z?, t.t, d.d| regressively assimilate to */t?s.t?s, d?z.d?z, t?s?.t?s?, d?z?.d?z?, t.t, d.d/, they gain geminate articulations /t?s:, d?z:, t?s?:, d?z?:, t:, d:/.[3]

Deviations of spoken language

There are some typical deviations which may appear in spoken language (often under the influence of Russian);[19] usually they are considered as phonetic errors by pedogogists.[20]

  • for
  • for and [?t] or even for [?t]
  • [r?] for /r/, [b?] for /b/, [v?] for /w/ (?, ??, ?'?)
  • [v] or [f] (the latter in syllable-final position) for [w ~ u? ~ ~ ? ~ ?] (?, ?, ?, ??),[10] in effect also turning /f, w/ into a true voiceless-voiced phoneme pair, which is not the case in the standard language
  • Final-obstruent devoicing

Historical phonology

Modern standard Ukrainian descends from Common Slavic and is characterized by a number of sound changes and morphological developments, many of which are shared with other East Slavic languages. These include:

  1. In a newly closed syllable, that is, a syllable that ends in a consonant, Common Slavic *o and *e mutated into /i/ if the following vowel was one of the yers (*? or *?).[]
  2. Pleophony: The Common Slavic combinations, *CoRC and *CeRC, where R is either *r or *l, become in Ukrainian:
    1. CorC gives CoroC (Common Slavic *borda gives Ukrainian boroda, ?)
    2. ColC gives ColoC (Common Slavic *bolto gives Ukrainian boloto, ?)
    3. CerC gives CereC (Common Slavic *berza gives Ukrainian bereza, ?)
    4. CelC gives ColoC (Common Slavic *melko gives Ukrainian moloko, ?)
  3. The Common Slavic nasal vowel *? is reflected as /j?/; a preceding labial consonant generally was not palatalized after this, and after a postalveolar it became /?/. Examples: Common Slavic *p?t? became Ukrainian /pj?t?/ (?'); Common Slavic *tel? became Ukrainian /t?'l/ (); and Common Slavic *kur became Ukrainian /kur't/ ().[]
  4. Common Slavic *? (Cyrillic ?), generally became Ukrainian /i/ except:[]
    1. word-initially, where it became /ji/: Common Slavic *(j)?sti became Ukrainian /'jist?/
    2. after the postalveolar sibilants where it became /?/: Common Slavic *leti became Ukrainian /l?'t?/ (?)
  5. Common Slavic *i and *y are both reflected in Ukrainian as /?/[]
  6. The Common Slavic combination -C?jV, where V is any vowel, became -C?:V, except:[]
    1. if C is labial or /r/ where it became -CjV
    2. if V is the Common Slavic *e, then the vowel in Ukrainian mutated to /?/, e.g., Common Slavic *?it?je became Ukrainian /'t?:?/ ()
    3. if V is Common Slavic *?, then the combination became /?j/, e.g., genitive plural in Common Slavic *myj? became Ukrainian /m?'j/ ()
    4. if one or more consonants precede C then there is no doubling of the consonants in Ukrainian
  7. Sometime around the early thirteenth century, the voiced velar stop lenited to [?] (except in the cluster *zg).[21] Within a century, /?/ was reintroduced from Western European loanwords and, around the sixteenth century, [?] debuccalized to [?].[22]
  8. Common Slavic combinations *dl and *tl were simplified to /l/, for example, Common Slavic *mydlo became Ukrainian /'m?l?/ ().[]
  9. Common Slavic *?l and *?l became /?w/. For example, Common Slavic *v?lk? became /w?wk/ (?) in Ukrainian.[]



  • Bilous, Tonia (2005), ? ? [Ukrainian in International Phonetic alphabet] (DOC)
  • Buk, Solomija; Ma?utek, Ján; Rovenchak, Andrij (2008), Some properties of the Ukrainian writing system, arXiv:0802.4198, Bibcode:2008arXiv0802.4198B
  • Carlton, T.R. (1972), A Guide to the Declension of Nouns in Ukrainian, Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta Press
  • Danyenko, Andrii; Vakulenko, Serhii (1995), Ukrainian, Lincom Europa, ISBN 978-3-929075-08-3
  • Mascaró, Joan; Wetzels, W. Leo (2001). "The Typology of Voicing and Devoicing". Language. 77 (2): 207-244. doi:10.1353/lan.2001.0123.
  • Pohribnyj, M.I., ed. (1986), , Kiev: Radjans'ka ?kola
  • Pompino-Marschall, Bernd; Steriopolo, Elena; ?ygis, Marzena (2016), "Ukrainian", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 47 (3): 349-357, doi:10.1017/S0025100316000372
  • Ponomariv, O.D., ed. (2001), ? ? ?: , Kiev: Lybid'
  • Pugh, Stefan; Press, Ian (2005) [First published 1999], Ukrainian: A Comprehensive Grammar, London: Routledge
  • Rusanivs'kyj, V. M.; Taranenko, O. O.; Zjabljuk, M. P.; et al. (2004). ? ?: . ISBN 978-966-7492-19-9.
  • Shevelov, George Y. (1977). "On the Chronology of h and the New g in Ukrainian" (PDF). Harvard Ukrainian Studies. Cambridge: Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. 1 (2): 137-152.
  • Shevelov, George Y. (1993), "Ukrainian", in Comrie, Bernard; Corbett, Greville (eds.), The Slavonic Languages, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 947-998
  • ?ovtobrjux, M.A., ed. (1973), ? ? ? - , Kiev: Nakova dumka
  • ?ovtobrjux, M.A.; Kulyk, B.M. (1965). ? ?. ? I. Kiev: Radjans'ka ?kola.

Further reading

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