I learned different grammar rules. Regarding vowels I learned the rule that there is an "j" added / vowels are spoken with a j if:

  • in the beginning of a word (like яблоко [jáblaka])
  • after a vowel (as in красивая [kraßíwaja])
  • after a ь (like in семья [ßimjá])
  • after a ъ (like in подъезд [padjézd])
  • and И after Ь (оладьи [aládji])

In the russian word Нева (the river) the e is reduced, as the a is emphasized. However, none of the above rules applies. As e comes after an Н. Therefore I would not use a j. I would pronounce it as "Niwa", not "Njiwa". When I check the wiktionary the audio sound exactly like I expected. However, under pronounciation it says: [nʲɪˈva]. Now my question is, why is there a small "j" added? I would have thought - and at least that is what I hear when I am listening to the audio - that it would be [nɪˈva]?

  • To my knowledge there's no such IPA symbol as ß ;) there's a similarly looking voiced bilabial fricative ꞵ but this is not ß and is used for a completely different phoneme.
    – shabunc
    May 2, 2021 at 12:22
  • 1
    @shabunc - That's how they transcribe the russian letter <C>, IPA [s], on this Geman-language site: russlandjournal.de/russisch-lernen/schrift-und-aussprache. In German, S before vowels is always read as [z], so they use the “eszett” symbol ß to make sure the readers pronounce [s] in those words. In German, ß is always read as [s] but cannot be in the word onset: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ß
    – Yellow Sky
    May 3, 2021 at 8:54
  • @YellowSky well, as one who lives in South Germany I'd rather say that soft s and z are allophones, so native German speaker will have hard times telling apart Симон and Зимон. Thank you for the link! - of course one is free in choosing any symbols - all I'm trying to say it's not IPA.
    – shabunc
    May 3, 2021 at 9:03

2 Answers 2


Most Russian consonants form pairs “hard” versus “soft”, in phonetic terminology it's plain/non-palatalized vs. palatalized, for example т vs. ть, н vs. нь, etc. These pairs in IPA look like this: /t/ vs. /tʲ/, /n/ vs. /nʲ/. The small j (ʲ) marks consonant palatalization: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palatalization_(phonetics)

Consonants that can be palatalized are pronounced as palatalized before и, е, ё, ю, я, and ь: ни /nʲi/, не /nʲe/, нё /nʲo/, ню /nʲu/, ня /nʲa/, нь /nʲ/.

These are the basics of Russian phonology and orthography that can be found in every Russian textbook.

UPD.: It's highly recommended that you learn Russian from textbooks that use IPA, or at least learn IPA for Russian at early learning stages. Use en.wiktionary.org and ru.wiktionary.org, there's good Russian IPA for most words.

  • But here in this case is there a consonant palatalization? So for me there is no obvious rule or the rules clearly say that there should be a /n/. This is as the voice in the audio pronounces it. However in the IPA it says with small j. So why is there a palatalization happening here? From my understanding it should be [nɪˈva] and not [nʲɪˈva]. Or: why is it [nʲɪˈva] and not [nɪˈva]?
    – BertHobe
    May 1, 2021 at 11:29
  • Thanks for the update but my question is still there: Why is it [nʲɪˈva] and not [nɪˈva]? And what is the rule saying that a "j" is added here? The voice in the audio does not say [nʲɪˈva]? It says it without a j?
    – BertHobe
    May 1, 2021 at 11:37
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    @BertHobe - In fact, it's very difficult, often impossible for Russian native speakers to pronounce /ni/ or /nɪ/, without palatalization. When they try to do it, they actually say either /nʲi/ or /nɨ/.
    – Yellow Sky
    May 1, 2021 at 11:44
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    @BertHobe - Exactly, no /j/ is added in pronunciation, but still the consonant changes, it's not the plain /n/ anymore, and /nʲ/ is one sound, not two, the small ʲ doesn't mean a separate sound, it shows that it's not actually /n/, it shows the consonant is palatalized, Read this very attentively: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palatalization_(phonetics)
    – Yellow Sky
    May 1, 2021 at 11:52
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    Thanks for this comment. I see, I think this comment is the actual answer to my question.
    – BertHobe
    May 1, 2021 at 12:01

However, under pronounciation it says: [nʲɪˈva]

Because IPA was not designed for Russian language, it is intended for English only. That's why they use this "ʲ" sign even where there is no /j/ sound. It indicates the consonant /n/ is soft.

You should learn and use the Russian transcription system, called "phonetic analysis" (фонетический разбор). It is taught in Russian schools.

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