It doesn't look as easy as it sounds. Is it possible to come up with a well defined set of rules that cover all possible cases?

up vote 11 down vote accepted

As Dima mentioned, the necessary condition is for each syllable to have one and exactly one vowel. But it's by far not sufficient. From here:

Законы слогоделения в разных языках и даже диалектах одного языка неодинаковы. Например, представители севернорусского наречия произнесут при скандировании слово “дружба” так: друж-ба. А представители южнорусского наречия – иначе: дру-жба.

В русском литературном языке деление на слоги опирается на принцип восходящей звучности. Это обозначает, что звуки в слоге (незаконченом) располагаются от наименее звучного к наиболее звучному. Если звучность условно обозначить цифрами, получится следующее:

3 – гласный звук,

2 – сонорный согласный звук,

1 – остальные (шумные) согласные звуки.

Разделение на слоги будет производится по принципу восходящей звучности: кни-га (1 2 3 - 1 3), и-на-че (3 - 2 3 - 1 3), по-ло-тно (1 3 - 2 3 - 1 2 3).

Трудности при разделении слова на слоги могут возникнуть при стечении согласных. При этом в русском литературном языке, опирающемся на московское произношение, разделение на слоги будет осуществляться с учетом следующего:

  1. Если на границе слогов рядом оказались два шумных или два сонорных звука (кроме [j]), они относятся к последующему гласному: пу-шка, и-зба, во-лна.

  2. Если в сочетании согласных первый [j], он всегда отходит к предшествующему гласному: вой-на, май-ка.

  3. В сочетании согласных, первым из которых является сонорный, а вторым – шумный, сонорный может отходить к предшествующему гласному: кон-спект, Вол-га.

So, in most cases it's a phonetic thing. You have to feel the pronunciation of the word, its phonetic division into syllables. Above are some good guidelines, but they require knowledge of phonetics and are not trivial to apply in practice. Also, note that the rules of hyphen (перенос, moving part of the word to the next line) are slightly different. If you're interested in them, check out these links. Hope this helped.

Update: Per Alenanno's request, here's an attempt of translating the above source:

The rules of splitting a word into syllables are different not only between languages but also between different dialects of the same language. For example in North-Russian dialect, one would utter the word дружба as друж-ба, whereas in South-Russian it'd be дру-жба.

In the literary Russian language the splitting into syllables is based on the principle of increasing sonority. This means that the sounds in a syllable are arranged from least sonorous to most sonorous. If we denote sonority with numbers, we'll have the following:

3 - vowel sound

2 - sonorant consonant sound

1 - other (obstruent) consonant sounds

The splitting into syllables will be done according to the principle of increasing sonority: кни-га (1 2 3 - 1 3), и-на-че (3 - 2 3 - 1 3), по-ло-тно (1 3 - 2 3 - 1 2 3).

Difficulties arise in case of consonant clusters. In literary Russian based on Moscow pronunciation, the splitting is done with consideration of the following rules:

  1. If on the syllable border there are two sonorants sounds or two obstruents (except for й) they refer to the latter vowel. пу-шка, и-зба, во-лна.

  2. If the first in the consonant group is й, it refers to the previous vowel: вой-на, май-ка.

  3. In a consonant group where the first is a sonorant, and the second is an obstruent, the sonorant may join the preceeding vowel. кон-спект, Вол-га.

  • 1
    I found this same page earlier but didn't understand much from it. Can you post a translated version below that? – Alenanno Jun 15 '12 at 15:42
  • 1
    @alenanno: I'll do that in a couple of hours. – Armen Tsirunyan Jun 15 '12 at 15:43
  • 1
    @ArmenTsirunyan Thanks! I'll wait. :) – Alenanno Jun 15 '12 at 15:44
  • 1
    @Alenanno: Done – Armen Tsirunyan Jun 15 '12 at 16:10
  • 1
    @ArmenTsirunyan +1 Fantastic! Thanks. – Alenanno Jun 15 '12 at 16:13

The only hard rule that I know of is that there must be one vowel per syllable.

For future reference this is how syllables are split in Russian according to a good English language source.

This is the source— A Comprehensive Russian Grammar

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  • not sure if о-тбро-сить is a good or correct way of separation, because it creates unwieldy cluster тбро which never occurs at the beginning of words and it also imprudent to split a prefix, so от-бро-сить looks much more natural, from my school years i remember that in writing we should not hyphenate single letters, and it makes sense so as to keep a word recognizable as much as possible – Баян Купи-ка Sep 10 at 19:55
  • almost the same argument applies to сте-пной where what's separated is the root and which looks more natural as степ-ной, also враж-да rather than вра-жда, and a few more in the text – Баян Купи-ка Sep 10 at 19:56
  • @БаянКупи-ка Are you maybe confusing the splitting of words in text with how words are split when spoken? The author of this book was an extremely well known Russian professor with massive experience. I think we should trust him. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terence_Wade – VCH250 Sep 11 at 7:13
  • not sure i understand the concept of splitting when spoken and what division into syllables is useful for apart from hyphenation and why they should differ, though maybe systematic the rules seem arbitrary to me – Баян Купи-ка Sep 11 at 8:48
  • Those rules are very useful for speakers of other languages. For example I'm a native English speaker. Thus I tend to want to say things like оп-ять, док-тор, дум-ать. The difference isn't huge, but if you split words after vowels, it reduces accent in Russian by quite a bit. The rules for writing are different‚ and I'm aware every Russian child learned them. But they don't seem apply to how people split words in speech. – VCH250 Sep 11 at 16:13

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