I am trying to correctly pronounce ш (/ʂ/), ж (/ʐ/) and щ (/ɕɕ/), so I must learn the 3 related phonems: /ʂ/, /ʐ/ and /ɕ/. I am familiar with the phonems /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ from English and, as all these phonems are fricative, the difference can only be in labialization and tongue position.

I have read on https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labialization that the Russian fricative phonems does not have the slight rounding usually done in English fricative phonems.

Regarding the tongue position, it is my understanding that, if I start with the tip of it in the front upper region of the mouth, touching the back of the upper teeth, and bring it all the way to the center of the roof of the mouth (palate) (the same place where my tongue is when producing /j/), I will pass through the phonems /ʃ/, /ʂ/ and /ɕ/. /ʐ/ will become easy after I have figured out where /ʂ/ is done, as the only difference is vocalization. Am I right about all this?

I got confused after seeing this video: https://youtu.be/zltpo15toe0 . At 8:00, it is said that, to get to /ʂ/ from /ʃ/, you must drop the pitch by flattening out the rounded position of the tongue done in the latter. However, I do not feel any "rounded position of the tongue" in /ʃ/, so I have no idea how to "flatten it out". Is that related to the labialization change I mentioned above? Even if it is, my tongue tip would still be in the same position of /ʃ/ and I thought that, in order to pronounce /ʂ/, the tongue tip should be not in the alveolar ridge, but a little backwards, between the alveolar ridge and the palate. This video also says that /ɕ/ is done by doing the opposite and raising the pitch by rounding the tongue even more towards the roof of your mouth and keeping your tongue tip near your lower teeth. That seems to imply that /ʃ/ is between between /ʂ/ and /ɕ/ , what goes against my theory above.

1 Answer 1


The video's description sounds mostly right, though I never thought of it in terms of pitch. Instead of "flatten out" the tongue it may help to think of just lowering the tongue a bit for ш and raising it a bit for щ.

I personally find phonetic minutiae to be better suited for analysis than acquisition. Instead, I would ask a native speaker to repeat minimal pairs such as чаша ("chalice") and чаща ("thicket") and see if you can both detect and repeat the differences.

  • 1
    "in terms of pitch" - I'd hazard a guess that pitch is used in the sense "the steepness of a slope, especially of a roof" here. Nothing to do with higher/lower frequency as this indeed wouldn't make any sense. So they must be talking about the position of the tongue relative to one's palate. (Haven't watched the video; native-speaker). I would agree that the English sh sounds as something between ш and щ to the Russian ear.
    – tum_
    Sep 11, 2019 at 6:13
  • In my specific case, I find it hard to differentiate between similar new phonems and to be able to replicate them just from listening. A detailed description of how the mouth creates the sound is what works best for me. That said, when you said to lower/raise the tongue to make the two phonems, does that means to keep it at the same position in the back-front axis? Based on the position of these 2 phonems in IPA consonants chart, shouldn't they be generated in different positions of the back-front axis (one between the alveolar ridge and hard palate and the other one in the hard palate)? Sep 11, 2019 at 6:15
  • My intuition is that the front "half" of the tongue drops a bit from the position of /ʃ/ to make ш, and raises a bit from /ʃ/ to make щ. I don't really feel the tip of the tongue moving much in terms of towards or away from the teeth.
    – RTF
    Sep 11, 2019 at 12:59
  • to drop the front half of the tongue = uncurl it? If so, the tongue tip is naturally moving away from the palate and approaching the teeth when you do it. The part of the tongue which remains static in this movement is the tongue base (= back half). Sep 11, 2019 at 21:05

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