5

(Note: I would like to learn Russian, but I have not started yet, so unfortunately I will be making this post entirely in English. I don't mind what language you use for answers.)

It seems that the letter "и" does not generally represent an iotated vowel in Russian at the start of a word. It is pronounced /i/ with no glide ( unlike for example "я" /ja/ or "ю" /ju/).

But I would guess that it is not difficult for a Russian speaker to pronounce /ji/ (sounds like "йи") and to distinguish the sound of this from /i/. I would like to know if I am right about this, and if so, what are some examples of Russian words where /ji/ does occur? And does it occur at the start of any words that you know of?

So far, my research has turned up inconsistent results that I am not sure I can trust.

An old book from 1916, The Russians and Their Language, by Nadine Jarintzov, says:

Only the и, amongst the light vowels, makes a slight exception: there are only three words beginning with it in which it has the y-sound to start it with; these are the genitive, dative and ablative cases of the Russian word for 'they' = они́: ихъ[*] (of them), имъ[*] (to them), and и́ми (by them), yih, yim, yimi. In all the rest of the Russian words beginning with an и the latter (against the nature of other light vowels) has no y-part in it: иго́лка (needle) igolka, и́ва (willow) iva, идти́ (to go) idt’i; etc. (p xvii-xviii)

(*note: I understand that the word-final hard sign "ъ" is not used in the present-day spelling of these words)

The Wiktionary entries on их, им and и́ми describe the pronunciations starting with /ji/ instead of /i/ as "dated or regional".

A little later on, Jarintzov mentions the existence of /ji/ in words like се́мьи. The Wikipedia article "Soft sign" also seems to say that ьи is pronounced as /ji/ in Russian. But since it is an unstressed syllable, I would guess the phonetic pronunciation is actually [jɪ], with vowel reduction causing the vowel /i/ to be less close than it would be in a stressed syllable.

In a Reddit discussion I found, native speakers say not to pronounce /ji/ in им, but a commenter also said that some word-intial unstressed syllables might sound like they start with "йи" because of vowel reduction. The example was

"единорог" is pronounced "йидинарок"

The Wikipedia article "Russian phonology" says a number of things about the pronunciation of vowels in unstressed syllables. Some of them seem confusing or dubious. The parts that I think seem relevant:

When a soft consonant or /j/ precedes, both /o/ and /a/ merge with /i/ and are pronounced as [ɪ]. Example: язы́к About this sound [jɪˈzɨk] 'tongue'). /o/ is written as ⟨e⟩ in these positions.

[...]

The pronunciation of unstressed /e ~ i/ is [ɪ] after soft consonants and /j/, and word-initially (эта́п  [ɪˈtap] ('stage')

[...]

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

Vowels may not merge in foreign borrowings, particularly with unusual or recently borrowed words such as ра́дио, [ˈradʲɪ.o] 'radio'. In such words, unstressed /a/ may be pronounced as [ɐ], regardless of context; unstressed /e/ does not merge with /i/ in initial position or after vowels, so word pairs like эмигра́нт and иммигра́нт, or эмити́ровать and имити́ровать, differ in pronunciation.[citation needed]

This is all a bit complicated, so I wanted to make sure I understand.

Here is my summary of what I think I have gotten from all of this:

In word-initial stressed syllables, un-iotated /ˈi/ occurs. Iotated /ˈji/ doesn't occur at the start of any (?) word in standard Russian.

In word-initial unstressed syllables,

  • [jɪ] (which is equated with /ji/; that is, it sounds like it is pronounced as "йи") occurs at the start of words that are written with iotated vowels like я (from Wikipedia: язы́к) or е (from Reddit: единорог), except sometimes (in "foreign borrowings" in particular?) it seems these may be pronounced without vowel reduction as /ja/ and /je/ respectively (according to an uncited sentence in the Wikipedia article). Update. according to a document I found, linked below, these words may in fact be heard pronounced without /j/, at least "in casual speech". I don't know how common or accepted this is, however.

  • [ɪ] occurs in unstressed syllables at the start of words that are written with un-iotated front vowels, such as э (from Wikipedia: эта́п) or I assume и (as in игле́, which Wiktionary says is pronounced [ɪˈɡlʲe])

In non-word-initial syllables:

  • in unstressed syllables, /ji/ (I understand that according to the rules of vowel reduction, this would technically be pronounced [jɪ]) occurs after consonants in words written with ьи, and perhaps after vowels in words written with и or е (the existence of a j-like glide before /i/ after vowels seems dubious, or optional at best).

  • Perhaps /ji/ can occur in stressed syllables as well? I would appreciate some examples if so. I found a web page that says

    Nouns ending with -ий, -ия, -ие (not to be confused with substantivated adjectives) are written with -ии instead of -ие in Prepositional (as this ending is never stressed, there is no difference in pronunciation): тече́ние - в ни́жнем тече́нии реки́ "streaming - in lower streaming of a river". But if words в течение and в продолжение are representing compound preposition meaning "while, during the time of", they are written with -е: в тече́ние ча́са "in a time of an hour". For nouns ending in -ья, -ье, or -ьё, using -ьи in the Prepositional (where endings of some of them are stressed) is usually erroneous, but in poetic speech it may be acceptable (as we replace -ии with -ьи for metric or rhyming purposes): Весь день она́ лежа́ла в забытьи́ (F. Tyutchev).

    which confuses me a bit. Does this mean stressed "ьи́" does not occur in any words in non-poetic speech, or are these remarks only applicable to words ending in ьи́?


Update. I found a document, "Russian intervocalic deletion in Derivational Optimality Theory", by Janina Mołczanow (2012), that says that "in casual speech" unstressed syllables starting with [jɪ] may even lose the glide and be pronounced with [ɪ] or after a hard consonant, [ɨ]. The examples given are

"jevropa [i] ‘Europe’ > golos jevropy [s ɨ] ‘the voice of Europe’
jelovyj [i] ‘firry’ – > v jelovom lesu [v ɨ] ‘in the fir forest’
ježa [i] ‘hedgehog’ – > nos ježa [s ɨ] ‘hedgehog’s nose’
(p. 289)

That is, it says that words like Евро́па, ело́вый and ежа́ can be pronounced with the sound "и" (not "йи") at the start, and го́лос Евро́пы can be pronounced with "сы" in the middle, в ело́вом ле́су can be pronounced with "вы" at the start, and нос ежа́ can be pronounced with "сы" in the middle. Russian speakers, does that sound possible to you/are you familar with this type of pronunciation? If so, does it sound OK, or would you definitely recommend that a learner avoid it?

  • please be aware that from practical standpoint the only hard and fast and inviolable rule of vowel reduction in Russian, which must be observed to not sound odd or dialectical, is unstressed O -> A, the rest are pretty much provisional, they only simplify pronunciation or are rather a result thereof, and certainly not a part of the school's Russian language curriculum as far as i remember – Баян Купи-ка Jan 23 '18 at 7:50
  • @БаянКупи-ка: Thanks! Can you post that as an answer, maybe with some supporting evidence? It seems relevant – sumelic Jan 23 '18 at 7:53
  • @БаянКупи-ка: The sources I have seen so far do seem to say that "иканье" is standard, e.g. the answer to this related question: pronunciation of “e” – sumelic Jan 23 '18 at 8:29
  • it's standard as a phenomenon, but it's not an absolute rule to abide by, with native speakers this occurs naturally, non-native speakers may safely dispense with this nuance without risking to sound odd... since foreigners learn the language in its written form and not from hearing like the native speakers, trying to remember and apply all the reduction nuances may be overwhelming, but luckily they are not indispensable – Баян Купи-ка Jan 23 '18 at 11:52
5

A big question.

1.In word-initial stressed syllables, un-iotated /ˈi/ occurs. Iotated /ˈji/ doesn't occur at the start of any (?) word in standard Russian.

I think so. Some people still pronounce j in those pronouns like им, их, ими. In my region at least.

In word-initial unstressed syllables,

[jɪ] (which is equated with /ji/; that is, it sounds like it is pronounced as "йи") occurs at the start of words that are written with iotated vowels like я (from Wikipedia: язы́к) or е (from Reddit: единорог), except sometimes (in "foreign borrowings" in particular?) it seems these may be pronounced without vowel reduction as /ja/ and /je/ respectively (according to an uncited sentence in the Wikipedia article).

I agree. (ежи'ха, ежеви'ка, едини'чный, ягоди'цы)

3.[ɪ] occurs in unstressed syllables at the start of words that are written with un-iotated front vowels, such as э (from Wikipedia: эта́п) or I assume и (as in игле́, which Wiktionary says is pronounced [ɪˈɡlʲe])

Right. But only starting with "э" or "и" (этажи', игру'шки)

4.In non-word-initial syllables:

in unstressed syllables, /ji/ (I understand that according to the rules of vowel reduction, this would technically be pronounced [jɪ]) occurs after written with ьи after consonants, and perhaps in words written with и or е after other vowels (the existence of a j-like glide before /i/ after vowels seems dubious, or optional at best).

Yes. Се'мьи (plural from семья'.), ола'дьи .волну'емся, игра'ем, поко' ится. But : успока'иваться

5.Perhaps /ji/ can occur in stressed syllables as well? I would appreciate some examples if so.

Right. Семьи'(genetive singular), ладьи', бадьи', полыньи', свои', твои', мои', воробьи', соловьи'(plural from nouns endind with "й "(воробей, соловей)

Welcome to the world of Russian.

| improve this answer | |
  • Sorry, I made an update to the question. Please don't feel obligated to adjust the answer if it would be any trouble. I did a bit more research and came across a document (more details in the question) that says that "in casual speech" unstressed syllables starting with [jɪ] may even lose the glide and be pronounced with [ɪ] or after a hard consonant, [ɨ]. E.g. го́лос Евро́пы pronounced with "сы" in the middle, в ело́вом ле́су pronounced with "вы" at the start, and нос ежа́ pronounced with "сы" in the middle. Does that sound possible to you/are you familar with this type of pronunciation? – sumelic Jan 23 '18 at 6:41
  • That suggestion sounds wrong to me; more likely, it's clear [-sje-] and [-vje-] correspondingly, while сы is pronounced in с иголочки as is вы in в ином случае. – Alex_ander Jan 23 '18 at 8:13
  • @Alex_ander: interesting, sounds like most speakers do not recommend dropping /j/ in these words. Just to make sure, by [-sje-] and [-vje-] you mean hard s and v followed by the glide [j] and the vowel [e], right? basically the same pronunciation as "съе" and "въе"? – sumelic Jan 23 '18 at 8:18
  • Yes, the consonant is not softened here as it is within a word, so your transcription is very close. – Alex_ander Jan 23 '18 at 8:24
  • Oh, it's also interesting now that I've read Mołczanow to see that твои and мои are in your list. She suggests that some speakers delete /j/ in these words and just pronounce them as [ma.i] and [tva.i]. – sumelic Jan 23 '18 at 8:49
0

In response to sumelic's request i'm posting this as an answer, but without expecting any points for it.

Please be aware that from practical standpoint the only hard and fast and inviolable rule of vowel reduction in Russian, which must be observed to not sound odd or dialectical, is
unstressed O -> A,
the rest are pretty much provisional, they only simplify pronunciation or are rather a result thereof, and certainly not a part of the school's Russian language curriculum as far as i remember.

In any word all other vowels can be pronounced as they're written respecting the rules of their interaction with adjacent phonemes (e.g. ци/ши/жи).

Attempt at examples

коробкой (коробка in Instrumental) = каропкай BUT NOT коропкой
несерьёзному (несерьёзный in Dative) = EITHER нисирьйознаму OR несерьйознаму

Apart from principles of vowel reduction correct pronunciation of phonemes of course needs to be grasped.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks. I wonder if some people might change unstressed е to и in some words but not in others, or even in some syllables of the same word but not others (like saying "несирьйознаму" or "нисерьйознаму") or would you say speakers tend to be consistent at least about whether they reduce е to и in unstressed syllables? Also, am I right in understanding that я should not be pronounced as "йа” in unstressed syllables (except for at the end of a word of course), even for speakers who don't reduce "е" to "и"? – sumelic Jan 23 '18 at 8:45
  • the farther from the stressed syllable the likely reduction is to occur (that's a scientifically derived principle), so i'd say нисерьйознаму is more natural than несирьйознаму, however this word may not be a good example as the prefix не has its own semantic baggage and so is not necessarily going to get reduced, but if anyone is consistent it's habitual, it's not seen as a rule to be adhered to, in fact any uninitiated native speaker isn't likely to understand what this thing called reduction is or recognize they reduce something... – Баян Купи-ка Jan 23 '18 at 9:07
  • Unstressed я can be pronounced as йа as in ядро -> йадро OR йе/идро, поясок -> пайасок OR пайе/исок, in the middle of a word it may sound a bit forced but not incorrect – Баян Купи-ка Jan 23 '18 at 9:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.