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I've looked up the pronunciation of the word "Египет" at forvo.com, and while it says that the pronunciation is /jɪˈgʲipʲɪt/, I hear a [b] and not a [p] in both available sound files. Am I hearing it correctly? If I am, then in what enviroments is [b] the realization of /p/ in Russian? Is it a phenomenon that affects other plosives too? Does it have a name?

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I hear a [b] and not a [p] in both available sound files. Am I hearing it correctly?

I've made a spectrogram of the first phrase in Praat:

The vowels and vocal consonants are clearly distinguished by pulses in the lower part of the spectrum (black wave-like patterns in the lower part of the picture).

The red cross is positioned at the middle of the stop for /п/ which as you can easily see is the least voiced part of the whole word (the lower part of the spectrum is almost silent and definitely not pulsing).

Russian voiced consonants are full-voiced, that is they have significantly negative voice onset time, and be that a voiced consonant, the voice would have merged with the previous vocal sound, which we don't observe here.

Hence, it's definitely [p], not [b].

In what enviroments is [b] the realization of /p/ in Russian?

As with other consonants, voiceless consonants in weak positions before voiced sounds become voiced too (and voiced consonants lose voice before voiceless).

Those processes are (quite creatively) called "vocalization of the voiceless" and "devocalization of the voiced" (озвончение глухих and оглушение звонких).

This may be observed on morpheme or word boundaries: крепдешин, шлюпбалка etc.

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    I can only add that if it were [b], you could see a dark bar in front of the vowel around 2-3 kHz, the same as the previous voiced consonant [g] has around 3-4 kHz. You could also see a burst of waves in the corresponding place of the upper part of the picture that would signal the release of sound (not just air). – Olga Feb 28 '13 at 14:19
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It is definitely [p] in both sound files and everybody pronounces it with [p].

The reason why you hear it as [b] is that the difference between /p/ and /b/ in Russian is merely in the absence/presence of voice, while in English it is more than that, English [pʰ] is not only voiceless, but is strongly aspirated, while [b] is weak and not aspirated. English speakers tend to rely mostly on aspiration to distinguish between /p/ and /b/. If there's no aspiration, like in Russian [p], one perceives it as an English [b]. In Russian there are no aspirated sounds; you will have to learn to detect if the sound is voiced or voiceless, if you are going to learn Russian.

Two languages can have a pair of sounds that are distinguished by different features in each language.

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  • I am not a native English speaker. My native language is Polish, in which the presence or absence of aspiration is also not the main distinction between /p/ and /b/. In the first file, I'm sure I hear at least a partially voiced sound, something like what most native English speakers produce word-finally, for example in "gob". It is more voiced that it would be natural for the phoneme /p/ in Polish. I could be wrong of course, but I'm pretty sure. I'm less sure about the second file. – ymar Feb 28 '13 at 0:30
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    @ymar - Then I'm sorry, I cannot tell why you hear [b] there, the woman pronounces it correctly, as [p]. Sometimes П is pronounced as [b], like in Филипп знает, but between vowels it's always [p]. – Yellow Sky Feb 28 '13 at 2:34
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It is п [p], not б [b]. It's not aspirated like the English p [ph].

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