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I've seen the word "hushers" used to describe the Russian consonants ч, ш, щ, ж (especially in the context of spelling rules). Is this an accepted linguistic concept or is it just a convenient name coined to help language learners?

I understand that they make a "hushing" sound, but what actually distinguishes these consonants linguistically (phonetically/phonologically)? It seems that the letters ш/ж are retroflex consonants and ч/щ are alveolo-palatal. Are these the only distinguishing feature that makes them "hushers"?

If I want to be more precise linguistically, could I just refer to them as "retroflex and alveolo-palatal consonants"? Or is there some other feature I am missing?

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    "Is this an accepted linguistic concept or is it just a convenient name coined..." Aren't all linguistic concepts at some point or another just a name (convenient or not) coined by someone, somewhere? – THEAO Sep 18 '13 at 9:15
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    I searched the entire archive of the Journal of the International Phonetic Association and I was able to find four (!) occurrences only of "hushing" (used adjectivally) and not a single use of "husher" or "hushers." Just saying how uncommon this term is. – Alex B. Mar 11 '19 at 1:49
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    Kenneth Stevens' (1998) Acoustic phonetics - the bible for anyone seriously interested in acoustic phonetics - does not even mention either husher(s) or hushing at all. – Alex B. Mar 11 '19 at 2:09
  • Yes, I have encountered the word "husher" in this context only in language learning materials specifically for learning Russian, not in academic publications about linguistics. That was part of the reason for my original question, since this term seemed to be in use only in Russian textbook materials I was wondering if it had a one-to-one correspondence to a phonetic concept in linguistics, or was just a convenient way of grouping these consonants for language learners. – joshualotz May 4 '19 at 15:00
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As for me, I've never encountered the word "hushers" before, but since you are writing about ч, ш, щ, ж, I guess you mean what is called шипящие звуки in Russian. Шипящие звуки can be translated as "hissing sounds" into English, but there is a conceptual difference between the ideas behind the English hissing and Russian шипящий: in English snakes hissssssss, in Russian snakes шшшшшшшипят, that is they say not "s-s-s-s", but "sh-sh-sh-sh", hence the sounds that are sh-like are called шипящие звуки in Russian. So, the term hushers sounds rather apt, since "sh-sh-sh-sh" is exactly the way you hush someone. To sum it up,

Hushers are sh-like sounds.

Why these four sounds are groupped together and considered sh-like is rather logical:

ж is a voiced counterpart of ш,

щ is a long palatalised ш,

ч is an affricate that includes a palatalised version of ш as its second component.

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The Linguistic term of these sounds is sibilant consonants.

Apart from their differences, what they have in common is that they all have a more or less hissing sound.

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    Russian c, з and ц are sibilants but are not called шипящие. "Hushers" have a lower-frequency noice spectrum (peak at 4 KHz). с, з and ц are called свистящие ("whistlers") in Russian. – Quassnoi Sep 19 '13 at 17:17
  • @Quassnoi Yes wikipedia includes other sounds that I wouldn't have included, but I think it's still the best (and only) single term to refer to those the OP listed. Thanks for the Russian terms by the way. :) – Alenanno Sep 19 '13 at 17:19
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    The wiki article you linked mentions "shibilants" which (if it's a real term at all) would be more correct. – Quassnoi Sep 19 '13 at 17:19
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I think you need to take a look at the following table. As you can see there are other consonants in the system. From the 4 consonants that you mention 3 belong to the same group but still differ in some way.

As to your question about "retroflex and alveolo-palatal consonants", I found this in Wikipedia's Retroflex consonant article:

Retroflex sounds need to be distinguished from other consonants made in the same parts of the mouth (postalveolar, alveolar, or palatal).

Does that mean that a consonant cannot be retroflex and alveolo-palatal at the same time and your question is erroneous per se? I am not sure, I am not a phonologist, but I hope my answer helps you to work in the right direction.

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Russian phonetics (in Russian)

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  • Phonologists study phonology, while your chart shows the sounds of Russian which is the scope of phonetics. – Yellow Sky Sep 19 '13 at 18:36
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I disagree with Ш in the following statement by Serge Seredenko: "Ж is always 'hard', Ч, Ш, Щ are anyway 'soft'. I have been taught from a native St. Petersburg Russian literature professor that Ш is always hard. And Щ is always soft. That is the difference between Ш and Щ. These two letters are respectively hard and soft -- just as Serge writes, "ж is always hard". As in жизнь, they are exceptional consonants, whose hardness/softness is not controlled by the vowel that follows them.

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Yeah, quite easy. They cannot be both 'soft' and 'hard' depending on the vowel next to it. Example, take letter К. It can be Ка or Кя — different sound. Your hushers may be only one: Ж is always 'hard', Ч, Ш, Щ are anyway 'soft'.

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  • J is also always soft - but definitely not a husher/shibilant. – Viridianus Oct 6 '18 at 22:40
  • Also, this is specifically Russian; Lithuanian shibilants can be hard/soft (hence Шяуляй). – Viridianus Oct 6 '18 at 22:41
  • @Viridianus There's no J in Russian, which is what this forum is about. – Serge Seredenko Oct 7 '18 at 10:02
  • There obviously is. To clarify, I mean IPA [j] not IPA [d͡ʑ]. – Viridianus Oct 13 '18 at 0:20

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