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As a native Portuguese speaker, I was told "ж" in Russian is pronounced like the Portuguese and French "j" (IPA: ʒ), a voiced palato-alveolar fricative.

However according to Wikipedia the Russian "ж" is a retroflex fricative (IPA: ʐ). Is this the only correct pronunciation, and if so, how incorrect is the approximation above?

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    This is an incredibly lovely way to characterize pronunciation of Russian "ж" as "voiced palato-alveolar fricative". I don't argue linguistic (or anatomic for that matter) correctness of that definition but it is as if to call "бульон с яйцом" as "консоме с пашотом". :) – Anvar Jun 1 '13 at 6:27
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Wikipedia is right, Russian Ж is a retroflex fricative (IPA: ʐ), and the sound sample they have in the article is exactly how it sounds in Russian.

If you pronounce it like the Portuguese and French "j" (IPA: ʒ), you will be understood well, but this will add a foreign accent to your speech, I'd advise sticking to the correct, retroflex fricative variant. Russian Ж (IPA: ʐ) can never be "soft" (palatalized), even when in spelling it is followed by the palatalizing vowels (е, ё, и, ю, я,), so жизнь is actually pronounced as *жызнь, Жюль Верн as *Жуль Верн, etc.

In Russian there is another phoneme, a long (gemminated) voiced palato-alveolar fricative (IPA: ʑː which can also be transcribed as ʒ:), which is normally spelled ЖЖ, like in вожжи, дрожжи, жжение, жужжать, можжевельник. But this sound is now substituted in the speech of most people by /ʐ:/, that is it loses its palatal nature, the tendency in Russian is to have all Ж-like phonemes non-palatalized.

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  • ЖЖ, like in вожжи, дрожжи sounds is soft, completely different from hard ЖЖ, like in жжение, жужжать, можжевельник – A-K Jun 19 '13 at 19:37
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    @A-K - Any proof? I think it's just your individual pronunciation, not the standard. Here's a Russian pronunciation dictionary with the transcription that proves that both variants are possible, the soft and hard ЖЖ: жжение, жужжать, можжевельник. – Yellow Sky Jun 19 '13 at 21:54
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    The pronouncing of palatalised (soft) and long [ж'] is a remarkable part of the Moscow's and some other dialects. In the official language it is just long [ж] in words which are written with double ж letter and [жд'] in words with group жд before a palatalising vowel letter. – Viridianus Feb 9 '14 at 10:53
  • But returning to the question that was asked Yellow Sky is right: [ʒ] will be understood but will sound a bit foreign whereas the most correct description is [ʐ]. – Viridianus Feb 9 '14 at 10:55

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