In standard Russian, the vowel я in the word январь must be reduced to /ɪ/. So, январь sounds [ɪnˈvarʲ]. Today in Forvo there are eight people pronouncing this word, and all of them do it as [jɪnˈvarʲ], without the vowel reduction. Considering that is borrowed from latin ianuarius and the sound /ɪ/ is preserved in most languages like English, French, Catalan, German, Italian, Romanian, maybe there is an exception for this word and the rule doesn't met in this case, or the eight people in Forvo are non standard speakers? How most Russian speakers pronounce it?

  • when I was in school my Russian teacher said that, and also some other words like "язык" (a language, tongue), that they are pronounced as "изык" etc. but we laughed at her. It might be, that in some linguistic literature, far from reality, this is stated to be "the correct" form. But I personally don't pronounce it that way, and 99% of other native speakers too.
    – d.k
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 1:05
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    The first vowel я reduces to "I", as in bit. So you end up with йi, or yi. That makes йiзык. Natives on Forvo sometimes exaggerate, in other words the pronunciations are sometimes "too accurate", or put other way, not realistic.
    – VCH250
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 2:50
  • Are the people on Forvo saying the word separated from other words and "for the record"?
    – yury10578
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 4:42
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    Rather than a rule, I'd say it's more of a consequence of quick speech. If you asked s native to pronounce it clearly and slowly, so that they're saying each syllable clearly, they'd say something between [ja-],[je-] and [ji-]. If they're speaking very fast without enunciating, the [j] would get lost and if they're really lazy, even the [i] could kinda disappear ['n-var']
    – Curiosity
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 18:59
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    A related question I asked: Where does the sound “йи” / iotated и occur in Russian?
    – sumelic
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 5:10

1 Answer 1


In standard Russian, the vowel я in the word январь must be reduced to /ɪ/. So, январь sounds [ɪnˈvarʲ]

It does not sound like that.

Word-initial and post-vocalic я, е, ю, ё, are subject to iotation (prepending the vowel with [j]), so the Forvo pronunciations are correct.

The vowel reduction is still there: a stressed word initial я, as in яблоко, would have been [jäbləkə].

  • Then, can I conclude that this is not the most common (video at min. 8:40)? YouTube Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 12:24
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    i'd call it scandalous, i wonder what phonetic textbooks she bases her pronunciation on and if she herself talks that way, because it sounds comical... maybe it's worth considering how words are pronounced in isolation and how they sound in a free flow of speech, because in the latter case they MAY sound like that, but not because they should... for example the phrase я видел японку may sound like я виделЪИпонку but i think it would be a disservice to teach a person to pronounce it like that Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 13:27
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    @RicardoGutiérrez this is definitely not how most Russian speakers pronounce these words, especially in isolation. She might have been omitting the j at the beginning of words for pedagogical purposes, or it's her own speech peculiarity, but most Russians speakers would clearly enunciate the j when carefully pronouncing the words like she does on that video.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 15:15
  • The YouTube video is absolutely wrong, omitting the initial [j] in words beginning in я- is not allowed, all those words should be pronounced with the word-initial [j], [jɪnˈvarʲ], [jɪˈponkə], etc.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 8:16
  • The [j] sound is not particularly emphasized and can easily get lost in the flow of speech, for a comical example see bash.im/quote/423717 . But a foreigner would certainly do well to pronounce the sound without reduction. Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 19:36

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