According to vowel reduction rules, the "е" at the beginning in some words like Европа Елена Екатеринбу́рг should be reduced just like "j+ɪ" (where "ɪ" stands for something very near to "и"). Wikitionary says they should be pronounced in this way too.

But if I listen to a russian radio jingle ( “Европа +”) and some others native speakers saying that words I hear the “e” being pronounced like “j+э” as it would have been a stressed one even if shortened.

Could someone please explain the correct way to pronounce the unstressed “Е” at the beginning of a word and the exceptions?

  • This does not matter. Just skip this topic. I do pronounce ye in Европа and Елена. – Anixx Jun 3 '20 at 5:47
  • yes... but why? As a student, I'm courious about that. I would like to know when to use or not the rules [e.g. Yэ or Yɪ ??]. – kermit1973 Jun 4 '20 at 15:01
  • if you pronounce it as written, you would be always understood. – Anixx Jun 4 '20 at 23:34
  • The reduction of o is much stronger than reduction of e, but even in that case you can pronounce as written (but people would think you speak with an accent). Whether you reduce e or not is much less important. – Anixx Jun 4 '20 at 23:40

The word Европа in this radio station's jingles is uttered using chanting pronunciation (скандирующее произношение) where every syllable is pronounced in isolation and is stressed. Think people chanting "U! - S! - A!" or similar.

Besides, the prosody of the lyrics has to follow the music accents.

It's not how the word Европа is pronounced in neutral speech.


I took recordings of the words Европа and язык from forvo.com and increased the duration of the first vowel fivefold, keeping the pitch. I used TwistedWave online sound editor for that (speed: 20%, lambda: voice, quality: best).

They sound pretty similar to me.

  • Ok. Thanks, but it's not the point I was asking about. Sung or not, some words in Russian tend to be pronounced not applying the reduction of unstressed "E". If I just listen to the neutral speech... I can catch Yevròpa :) and not something more near to "Yɪvròpa" or "Yɪl'ena" as it should be. I was sust asking why. Thank you again. – kermit1973 Jun 4 '20 at 14:55
  • @kermit1973: it's there in neutral speech. Are you a native Russian speaker? If you are, you might be subconsciously assigning allophones (real sounds with a defined frequency spectrum) to phonemes (the abstract things you perceive to be the same in the words е́лей and еле́й). Try saying these two words out loud, pulling the first vowel and listening to it, or, even better, do the same in a sound editor. You will see that those vowels are different. – Quassnoi Jun 4 '20 at 15:28
  • I'm not a native speaker, just a student: I'm italian. But as a singer, I listen to the sounds. Even I can't catch what you mean by "it's there in neutral speech", I can understand the difference between phonetics (the sounds) and phonemics (the "basic" pronounce "unit" we recognize mentally). But in "neutral speech", the initial sound e.g. in язык and the one in e.g. еле́й or Елена or Европа should be the same because they would have been identically reduced: but they aren't. :) – kermit1973 Jun 4 '20 at 18:54
  • @kermit1973: see the update – Quassnoi Jun 4 '20 at 20:40
  • Okay, thank you. So they are both pronounced with a "Y+[ɪ]": something between a "Y+[e]" and a "Y+[i] ". As an Italian speaker I supposed the [ ɪ ] had to be pronounced like our [ i ]. Each one of you put the focus on some various aspects about reduction of this vowel at the beginning of a word. I have just understood that basically this tipe of reduction happens in fast speech, not sung, or not stressed by any steered enunciation; it also tend not to happen in long words with a "secondary" stress on the first syllable. Thank you all. – kermit1973 Jun 7 '20 at 17:06

In the mind of most literate native speakers, these words "should" be pronounced with Ye, the way they are written. Vowel reduction is a nearly subconscious process which occurs in fluent speech. When you ask someone to read it loud and clear (or sing it), they will probably sound it closer to Ye rather than Yee. Also, longer words like Екатеринбург tend to get a secondary stress on the first syllable which makes the Ye even more pronounced.

  • 4
    True, and that's a funny fact: first we are illiterate children and we don't know about the fact that the Russian unstressed vowels are written not the way they sound, but then, when we learn the spelling, and the ability to spell correctly becomes a valuable thing in our lives, hypercorection switches on and we prefer to pronounce words much closer to the way they are spelled. – Yellow Sky Jun 3 '20 at 13:58

This type of vowel reduction isn't strictly necessary for correct speech, unlike о>а, for example. It happens naturally in fast speech when the speaker doesn't enunciate. In lazy speech it can reduce pretty much to ə or even a glottal stop isn't a vowel at all. It can even reduce to ы if there's a preceding consonant, although this is considered slurred speech pretty much. С Еленой в Екатеринбург > сыленай выкатиринбур.

If you enunciate properly it isn't considered wrong to pronounce it as ye, just takes more effort as you have to open your mouth wider between consonants where your mouth is closed.

  • What's your source that -ринбур is a norm? For that would be barely comprehensible. – Anixx Jun 7 '20 at 17:49
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    Oh I didn't say it's the norm, that's why I said it's pretty much slurred speech. Which part you're asking about? The lack of г at the end? – Curiosity Jun 8 '20 at 14:39

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