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I have been studying Russian recently and I have come across a problem that I have been trying to resolve for some time now which involves the softening of consonants.

I understand that there are certain vowels that indicate whether a consonant succeeding it would be hard or soft, for example the vowel 'e' would indicate that the consonant after it would soften while an 'a' would indicate that the consonant after it would harden (and of course, 'ь' is the most obvious indicator that a consonant preceding it would soften).

I also understand that vowels and consonants come in pairs, so in frames of two characters both must either be hard or soft but not both. However, I have been trying to find a concise table that would provide transliterations of what consonants would sound like when softened.

I know that 'т' sounds similar to 'ц' when softened, but with more odd examples such as 'л' I am lost. I know that there are numerous sound recordings of words with softened and hardened characters, but as a beginner to this language it is hard to pick up the subtleties.

All of the online Russian learning resources I have been to have so far only been stating the groups of vowels that harden or soften characters, not listing how the consonants sound or are transliterated when softened.

Therefore, I would be much obliged if anyone could help me in this matter.

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    It's not quite clear what your question is. Transliterations would not help you much since you don't know how the corresponding consonant sounds. PS. "ть" does not sound similar to "ц".
    – Abakan
    May 1 '18 at 11:30
  • the title of the topic merits clarification, whether it's about transliteration into Latin character set or maybe a transcription in Cyrillic, and whether transliteration of isolated characters or of complete words... you say you know of audio recordings, but did you use them? what was your experience? in what respect were they lacking and unhelpful? May 1 '18 at 12:29
  • I found recordings lacking and unhelpful because they did not explain how the softening takes place. I have noticed on websites that they provide the recordings for sounds but the only explanation provided is that combinations of characters with certain letters soften while others harden. For example, in some words I have noticed that the vowels would be pronounced differently such as 'e' being pronounced as an 'и' and 'o' preceding soft consonants would be pronounced as 'oй' as in the contracted 'oчь'. But having read your explanation, I see that I am lacking in this area of understanding. May 1 '18 at 14:07
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I understand that there are certain vowels that indicate whether a consonant succeeding it would be hard or soft, for example the vowel 'e' would indicate that the consonant after it would soften while an 'a' would indicate that the consonant after it would harden

This assumption is incorrect. Softening and hardening works the other way round, that is what determines pronunciation of a consonant is the following vowel, not the preceding one.

Please consider the word колЕно. In it the soft consonant is Л which precedes the E, and not Н which follows it. In the inflected form (на) колЕнЕ both Л and Н are soft due to each being followed by Е.

This logic applies to English as well (in tune T is soft due to U while in tone it's hard due to O)

I also understand that vowels and consonants come in pairs, so in frames of two characters both must either be hard or soft but not both. However, I have been trying to find a concise table that would provide transliterations of what consonants would sound like when softened.

This assumption is also incorrect. Besides the fact the vowels cannot be hard or soft (although do affect softness or hardness), the members in pairs of consonants are distinguished by the degree of vocalization and not by hardness-softness.

Please consider one pair Д - Т (basically equivalent to the English D - T), of which both can be either hard or soft depending on the following vowel. For example:

Дело soft
Дом hard
Тело soft
Том hard

For the record, Т and Ц aren't considered a pair.

The rule of thumb is that E, И, Ю, Я and Ё soften preceding consonants, while А, О, Э, У and Ы harden them. Ш and Щ are hard and a soft versions of the same sound and don't depend on the following vowel. Ц and Ж are mostly hard regardless of the following vowel. Ч is always soft regardless of the following vowel.
There're of course details but those i'm sure are covered in the textbooks.

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  • @The Contextual Path you're welcome, my impression is that online resources tend to be sketchy unless they're fully based on published courses May 1 '18 at 14:32
  • I call E(йэ), И, Ю(йу), Я(йа) and Ё(йо) soft vowels. Yes, it is not the correct term obviously, makes no literal sense, but highlights behavioral difference of them vs their "hard" counterparts :-)
    – Arioch
    May 7 '18 at 10:01

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