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I was reading a reputable textbook (A Comprehensive Russian Grammar) to revisit my fairly shaky knowledge of pronunciation, and the book claimed that:

The vowels а, о, and у are in practice pronounced as [ja], [jo], and [ju] following these consonants [ie ч and щ].

It then gave some examples, eg час (hour), which apparently should be phonetically rendered чяс. I was immediately doubtful and conducted research on Wiktionary and Forvo. Both sites informed me that the pronunciation was indeed час, as I had suspected. (I also tested this with other consonant-vowel combinations and the sites confirmed to me the same result).

I may be missing something here, and I suspect that the textbook is retaining a somewhat obsolete pronunciation that native speakers don't tend to practice, but I don't want to learn an incorrect pronunciation. Is the pronunciation of such vowels after ч and щ indeed iotated (ie with an added 'y' at the start) or is the consonant before simply soft, as I might have expected?

Thanks anyway for any help - much appreciated

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    Simply, no. Trash that textbook. This is not even obsolete. This is how clowns mock foreigners.
    – Anixx
    Dec 16, 2021 at 20:06

2 Answers 2

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I'm not a linguist - and also believe that questions like yours are better to be asked at Linguistics Stack however I believe that the answer to your question would be no.

While pronunciation of particular vowel is affected by lot of factors, in a simplified world of practical Russian language learning you can accept following statement: vowel is not iotated by preceding consonant.

We should separate following facts:

  • In Russian most of consonants exist in two forms, hard and soft (palatalized)
  • Russian consonants "ч", "щ" are nevertheless always soft.
  • Russian consonants "ж", "ц" and "ш" are always hard.
  • Russian letters "я", "ю", "е" are iotated at the beginning of the words or at the start of the root in compound words and after vowels. And by iotated, we mean that they are pronounced "йа", "йу", and "йэ" correspondingly.
  • After consonants this letters just designate palatalization of such consonants - we should not confuse such palatalization with iotation.
  • For reasons that are out of scope of this answer, after soft vowels "ч" and "щ" we write "а" (like in "чаща"), "у" (like in "чудо") but still "е".

If we had have written "чяща" or "чюдо" it would have still pronounced the same way - we don't have vowel alterations like, say umlaut. For instance, consider two spellings, correct one, "тёмный" and ungrammatical spelling "тьомный" - they will be pronounced the same way - it's not like "ё" is pronounced like German "ö".

In fact, iotated pronunciation of vowels after soft consonants is associated with a stereotypical pronunciation of foreign speakers who do not have enough experience with soft consonants. "Который чйас" is the way westerners are talking in Russian movies.

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    But... we do have the vowels alteration. The vowels in вол and вёл are different, the vowels themselves, not just the consonants before them. Iotation doesn't happen after the consonants, but the vowels do change.
    – Quassnoi
    Dec 14, 2021 at 1:12
  • @Quassnoi however 'вьол' and 'вёл' will be pronounced equivalently. As of вол and вёл - you are right, the quality of vowel differs in this case, however when learning language this distinction is not that important and crucial.
    – shabunc
    Dec 14, 2021 at 10:08
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    @Quassnoi. Just a side note about the "ж" that is always hard. Many people still pronounce "вожжи" и "дрожжи" with soft "ж". Check ru.forvo.com/word/%D0%B4%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%B6%D0%B6%D0%B8 and ru.forvo.com/word/%D0%B2%D0%BE%D0%B6%D0%B6%D0%B8
    – VaNdal
    Dec 14, 2021 at 20:38
  • @VaNdal: I just corrected an obvious typo
    – Quassnoi
    Dec 14, 2021 at 21:21
  • @VaNdal, curious note about soft ж. I think same applies to позже when pronounced as пожже.
    – il--ya
    Dec 15, 2021 at 14:38
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The vowels а, о, and у are in practice pronounced as [ja], [jo], and [ju] following these consonants [ie ч and щ].

As a native speaker I find this statement rather questionable.

Fully "iotating" а, о, у right after ч would change the sound too much and may make it hard to understand the following word. Compare чья vs ча(сто), чьё vs чо(порный), чью vs чу(вство). Changing sounds like that is actually often used to mock foreigners speaking Russian.

In combination witn щ this duality doesn't exist as far as I can think of. Hard "iotation" would still sound foreign, but to some degree a partial iotation can be perceived there, probably due to the soft sound of the preceding щ.

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