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Why is the IPA for the Russian word "здание" is /ˈzdanʲɪje/ although people pronounce it like /ˈzdanʲɪjə/? Do Russians pronounce the IPA letter "e" like "ə" if it is at the end of the words?

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  • You should not use IPA for Russian. You should use "phonetic analysis", the Russian transcription system. – Anixx Jul 2 at 14:29
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Perhaps it's a mistake in the Wiktionary Russian Cyrillic to IPA transcriptor engine (or whatever they use to generate transcription), it's got to be /ˈzdanʲɪjə/. Wiktionary has all the Russian words ending in -ние transcribed as ending in /-nʲɪje/. But this online tool, Russian pronunciation tool - phonetic transcription translator, has it as it should be, /ˈzdanʲɪjə/, etc. In Russian, due to its vowel reduction, [e] cannot be found in an unstressed syllable.

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At least in the Moscow dialect, the actual pronunciation of "здание" in a sentence is different. The unstressed ending ие is barely distinguishable, and its pronunciation can vary even for one and the same speaker, depending on the tempo of the speech and just random factors. I myself pronounce this word as зданье, зданне, здани, зданни, зданьи, and even зданий. Тhe exact pronunciation of the ending does not matter, because it is very short and unstressed. Just say здáнь and add a short unstressed vowel like ə or ɪ or a combo like jɪ or jə, whatever your tongue feels like producing.

For example, the sentence "там одно здание стоит" sounds like тáмаднoздáннестаи́т, where all unstressed vowels are barely distinguishable. If I want to put the emphasis on "одно," I will say "тамаднó (pause) здáннестаи́т".

But if you want to say this word very distinctly, you have to stress each vowel: "здá, ни́, é", and in this case you need /e/ rather than /ə/ at the end.

The same is true for situations where the ending is crucial for understanding the sentence and must be pronounced clearly. For example, compare "там здание построили" and "там здания построили". In practice, however, a Russian speaker may ignore the ambiguity or instinctively avoid sentences whose meaning depends on an unstressed ending of a word. He will say, for example, "там одно здание построили" or "там несколько зданий построили".

  • It is actually not proven (and I know even of a disproving term paper on referential choice (not on vowel reduction though)) that speakers actively tend to avoid ambiguous sentences. – Viridianus Jul 1 at 13:50
  • @Viridianus Well, yes, we do not try to avoid by making real mental efforts, and sometimes we accidentally say ambiguous sentences, but in my opinion some instincts generally help us talk in a non-ambiguous way. – Sandra Jul 1 at 14:13
  • @Viridianus I edited my answer to soften my statement, following your comment. – Sandra Jul 1 at 14:21

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