I am a newbie using Memrise (memrise.com - a Russian language app) to build a vocabulary and my pronunciation, so please forgive me if this is a stupid question.

Тhe word, бояться, is pronounced in Memrise as "bi-yat-ca" but I would mistakenly pronounce it as "ba-yat-ca". If the "я" is associated with the start of the second syllable, why is the "бо" portion pronounced as "bi" - as though the "я" is part of the first syllable? I know that the я is actually two sounds [йа] so even if the й portion was attached to the end of the first syllable, I didn't hear the "а" at the start of the second syllable, I hear the full "я.

Can anyone explain or refer me to the grammar rule guiding the pronunciation sound of а vowel followed by я?

  • But listening to Memrise - is there a link? You seem to assume everybody knows what "Memrise" is - well, I don't. :) In any case, though, pronunciations of vowels in Russian depend much more on whether they (vowels) are stressed or unstressed, so that's something you have to turn your attention to first. Off the top of my head - there are no rules for "the pronunciation sound of а vowel followed by я", meaning, there is nothing special about 'я' in this regard.
    – tum_
    Oct 10, 2020 at 20:05
  • i added a link and simplified my question to be more to the point of my confusion. I am still confused - how does one know if the sound is "bo-ya" vs "bi-ya" ?
    – kial
    Oct 10, 2020 at 21:51
  • By the way, Thank you for the time you took to respond. I am still puzzled, neither a soft or hard stressed б sound like "bi-..."
    – kial
    Oct 10, 2020 at 21:58
  • 1
    I think one issue with your question is you using [i] to represent the [ai] sound. It confuses people, because normally in most transliteration using Latin characters [i] is the sound of the i in the word "bit", so when you say it sounds like "bi-ya", people read is as "bee-ya" or something close and get confused about where you got that from. [i] for i in "bit", [ai] for the "long i" sound in "bike", i.e. [baik].
    – Curiosity
    Oct 13, 2020 at 16:13
  • "bi" here may be heard only if the 'a' vowel is completely silent in pronunciation. Then, indeed, the word sounds like "б'яться". This pronunciation variant is, imho, legit, but quite garbled and shortened.
    – Alexander
    Oct 13, 2020 at 17:19

2 Answers 2


Бояться is pronounced as [bɐjætsə] (with some regional variations in the first syllable, which can be [ʌ] or even [ə] in some dialects)

You can listen to some actual pronunciations on forvo.

I'm not familiar with any pronunciation which would render the first vowel any close to "bi-yat-ca".

The wiki article about Russian phonology is not a bad 101 intro.

  • sorry.... i listened to forvo, google translate, and yandex and i don't hear either [ʌ] or [ə] vowels following the "б". I hear a long "i" as in "bye".
    – kial
    Oct 10, 2020 at 23:27
  • 2
    @kial: "bye" is pronounced as [bai] or [bɑi], the [i] being short either way. What exactly do you mean by "long i"?
    – Quassnoi
    Oct 10, 2020 at 23:38
  • i meant the /aɪ/ used in English words such as the "i" in "bike". I hear that long i sound after the "б" in "боятьса" (listening to Google Translate and Yandex) but was expecting a [ʌ] or [ə]
    – kial
    Oct 11, 2020 at 1:32
  • 1
    @kial: the difference between [ʌ], [a] and [ɐ] is quite subtle, especially in a reduced vowel. You can use any of these sounds and you will be well understood.
    – Quassnoi
    Oct 11, 2020 at 2:10
  • @kial I do not know, why the IPA uses this strange notation /aɪ/ , but it is actually a vowel and a consonant, /aj/ not "long vowel".
    – Anixx
    Oct 12, 2020 at 19:29

I spoke to a Russian native speaker (a software programmer) about the pronunciation of боятьса. She said that the way she thinks about it is that я consists of two sounds [йя] and that the й portion attaches to the preceding letter. If that letter is a hard consonant vowel (о, а) the vowel becomes ой or ай which gives it the proceeding letter an |ai| sound. She gave the example пойдём where the й is explicit in the spelling and pronounced it "piedyom". She further explained that because the preceding letter is not a consonant the я retains its native "ya" sound, it does not become "a" as it would if the letter were consonant. she also gave a few disclaimers -

  • her thoughts are confined to three letter syllables ending in а hard consonant vowel (а, о, э) followed by a soft consonant vowel (я, ё, ю, е, и) as the first letter of the following syllable.
  • not applicable for all case but ok for beginners.
  • and that she's emphasized that she's not an expert and these are just her thoughts.

I tried a few examples on Google Translate and it seems to confirm her thoughts.

  • You should learn Russian phonetic analysis, it is taught in every Russian school. It is pathetic to use IPA or ad-hoc English transliteration.
    – Anixx
    Oct 12, 2020 at 19:32
  • 2
    @Anixx I wholeheartedly disagree on IPA part - actually IPA is preferable - trying to use transliterations is troublesome, can not argue with that.
    – shabunc
    Oct 13, 2020 at 10:41

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