How strange would it sound to make the preceding consonants soft in the following words?—

All examples are from Jones and Ward (1969) The Phonetics of Russian. Furthermore, all examples are from the speech of the older generation. In other words people did speak like this at one time (or still do)--

(I mean the С)

спичка, смена, сфера, свет, смех

(I mean the м)

лампе, бомбе

(I mean the в)

деревня, дешевле

My question is— how strange (bad) will it sound if I make letters soft that should not be soft, or letters that were soft in past generations, but are not now?

Is it not such a big deal to make some mistakes in softness?

  • 2
    I wonder why would you want to make the consonants always soft? I've tried them - it implies additional muscle work.
    – AlexVB
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 20:52
  • 1
    I just felt reminded of some quite iconic poetry, the rhythm might help you out: И подъемный мост она забыла, / Опоздала опустить для тех, / У кого зеленая могила, / Красное дыханье, гибкий смех... rvb.ru/mandelstam/dvuhtomnik/01text/vol_1/01versus/0192.htm Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 22:45
  • 1
    BTW the locals of Пермь always pronounce their city name as Перьмь. Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 23:09
  • @Ivan Milyakov Interesting. That's a case of forward softening. The old Moscow dialect used to do that too.
    – VCH250
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 21:21
  • @AlexVB I guess it does, but at this point in time it's a lot more pleasant. Maybe with time I'll think the same as you.
    – VCH250
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 21:23

2 Answers 2


Actually i believe i've heard some people a feature of whose manner of speech was a degree of softening of the C's and the M's before soft consonants like in your examples. Not sure about B though as it seems to me quite resistant to softening in blends with soft consonants, i've tried it and it's not easy or convenient.

What i heard sounded a bit odd to me, rather funny, but acceptable. Can't speak of other cases, i'd need to hear them to make any judgement, but palatalization has potential to severely distort the way the language sounds, so its acceptability depends on the degree of resulted distortion.

At the same time accent is not that much of a problem, but from social perspective in order to be acceptable it at least has to be referential to foreign or regional background. An accent must be natural and not arbitrary, whimsical or one-off.

  • I've tried all the words listed in the post and found that softening was only distinguishable in 'бомбе'; for the rest of them nobody will probably notice the difference.
    – AlexVB
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 20:51
  • @AlexVB i believe VCH250 meant apparent habitual and persistent softening, not that which occurs accidentally and occasionally, i would definitely be able to notice the difference between сЬпичка and спичка Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 20:57
  • 1
    Nobody will notice the soft "с" in спичка, свечка or "з" in здесь, they are often pronounced softly because of softening vowels. Not sure with other sounds though. It would be funny, I think.
    – V.V.
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 8:47
  • @V.V. oh, i'm a nobody then, there's difference between not noticing and not fretting about it Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 11:49
  • @БаянКупи-ка Купи-ка I took all those words from the book--Jones and Ward (1969) The Phonetics of Russian. In that book they mention that older speakers used to make those letters soft. Thus I thought, well, there's so much variation in soft sounds and regression maybe it's not such a big deal to make mistakes or make certain combinations always soft. I think mistakes in softness are less noticeable than skipping the soft sound altogether. In old Moscow dialects they even had softening that went forward.
    – VCH250
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 21:16

It would sound archaic or regional indeed.
My grandfather, for example, keeps softening the с in words like свет, последний, косвенно. However he is both elderly (turning 88 this year) and he was born in a village in Tambov region and moved to Moscow at the age of 14, so his speech has some interesting dialectal features, besides that regressive assimilation. He is not the only (aged) person I heard this softening from.
This softening is part of a larger feature set called the old Moscow pronunciation. There palatalization went even further: четверг is pronounced like "четьверьг", церковь — like "церьковь" and so on. This is another thing, but nowadays also quite rare. If your Russian is good enough, I highly recommend to read this Wikipedia article, especially the section about the old Moscow pronunciation (Старомосковское произношение). The corresponding article in English is quite poor so far, unfortunately.

  • Thank you for the article. I really like old Moscow pronunciation. Maybe it's a bad thing, but I have decided to incorporate a few of the less archaic features into my own style of speech--like double soft жж.
    – VCH250
    Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 8:07
  • 1
    I personally pronounce soft жж in вожжи, дрожжи, but not in дожди. My pronunciation pattern however is not a good example since I speak a certain amount of languages, so I also pronounce a soft Ж in French names and words like жюри, Жюль, Жильбер etc. Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 22:39

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