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It makes no sense to me; when I'm listening to Russians on YouTube, they sometimes pronounce "о" as "a", and sometimes as "o" — why is this?

Another thing, if I choose to pronounce most of my o’s as a’s, will there be people who won't understand me?

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  • This has been a life long pet peeve. Where I'm from, we pronounce the letter O in most words. When our family moved to a location where people never ever pronounce the letter O, they instead make it sound like an A, it drove all of us nuts. Example: DOG is somehow pronounced "DAHG". Why? COFFEE is KAFFEE. How did this happen? Really, Kaffee? Isn't there an O in that word? It's not DAHG. It's DOG. Say the word right. Just recently there was a twitter battle with people arguing over how to say VP Kamala Harris' first name. One guy said it was pronounced "COMMA-LA". Wrong. The letter O in the wor Commented Jul 28, 2021 at 15:43
  • Actually in English this is exactly what happens in different dialects as well
    – shabunc
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 9:48

1 Answer 1

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This is a phenomenon called vowel reduction.

A good starting point would be the Wikipedia article on Russian phonology: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_phonology#Vowel_mergers

In a nutshell, most Russian dialects distinguish о and а and pronounce them more or less the way it says on the tin when they're stressed, and merge them (pronounce a neutral schwa instead of clear о or а) when they're unstressed.

There are some Russian dialects which (mostly) don't merge о and а even if they're unstressed, and those dialects are readily understood by practically any Russian speaker, although they do sound peculiar to those not accustomed to them.

You can't go pronouncing а instead if о or the other way around all the time. You have to separate them when they're stressed either way, and if you're unsure, you can always just pronounce them as а and о, respectively, even if they're unstressed. You'll be understood.

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