How do you tell when you need to pronounce a soft vowel as soft and stressed? I only ask because I've run into a grammatical rule that says that an unstressed я like in "девять" should be pronounced like "i" in "machine" however any time I hear the name "таня", it's pronounced TAN-YA. Is there some kind of exception to when an unstressed soft vowel is to have its softness pronounced?

  • In case of that name there is confusion with Hebrew-originated name Tanya (it's full name) while "Таня" is shortening of "Татьяна" (Tatiana). Irony is that the last vowel of the former should be read similar to the middle sillabe of Татьяна. "ь" is used to denote that iodized sound.But keep in mind, Tanya is not always meant to be a slavic name, e.g. Agent codename "Tanya" in Red Alert is an American of Hebrew origin, supposedly how she could get that codename.
    – Swift
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 8:43
  • The IPA guide says "девять" is /ʲɪ/, while "machine" is /i/, so those words are not pronounced the same. The example of "hit" would be a bit closer.
    – Sam
    Commented May 8 at 14:00

4 Answers 4


Fully pronounce the vowel if it is stressed

Яркий - мЯгкий - румЯна

If it's in the beginning or ending, you won't fully pronounce it, but it won't be shortened as it is shortened when the vowel comes in between (like in девять)

язЫк - Яблоня

If the vowel comes in between you'd take the most comfortable way to get from the previous consonant to the succeeding one. That will be usually an i/e sound.

лягУшка - дЕвять - лЮбят

I'd say the я is more i-like in девять and some kind of i/e sound in лягушка

*caps indicate stressing

You can look for vowel reduction, but I doubt that some rules always apply, as given e. g. here

  • So таня would be pronounced more like /Tan-YUH/ rather than /Tan-YA/?
    – Johnq
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 12:41
  • @johnq Yep, I think one can say so. The /UH/ in /-YUH/ is rather short and unstressed. The point in this case is, that since it's the word ending the tongue does not have to prepare for a following syllable. If you focus on the stressed vowel (here а) your я will automatically shrink to a proper /-YUH/
    – user3538
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 14:00

A good ear for different sounds. These sounds maybe a bit different, depending on how a speaker wants it. Or the same. The thing is, usually Russian vowel reduction is described as a process consisting of two stages: first, the reduction in the first pretonic syllable (immediately before the stress) and then the second stage "everywhere else".

However, some researchers suggest that only pretonic-stage is consistent, and "everywhere else" is just a speedup device, i.e. it largely depends on making speaking easier and is prone to variation depending on the speaker, the amount of hypercorrection and how fast you speak. It was supported in a paper by the experiment, in which words and expressions were subject to less second-stage reduction where read slowly — but still, first-stage reduction remained the same no matter how slowly a person read a word.

From the practical point of view, the recommendation from the books and tips for announcers are as follows:

  • 1st pretonic, that is, the first syllable before the stressed one: the vowel in Я (with or without Й) is mostly the same as unstressed И and Е: close to "i" in English words like "hit". I-like vowel, but not as characteristic of "ee"-ness as in words like "eat" of "see"
  • everywhere else in the unstressed position: similar to the previous, but somewhat closer to the unstressed "А/О" sound. More open.

So, while in "девять" and "Таня" the sounds may be rendered a bit differently (also, Н is a nasal consonant which, of course, influences the sound), no distinction between them is usually made. But it is definitely not the kind of i you woukld hear in "machine": only the stressed "И" is pronounced that way.

Anyway, I do not undestand the initial question. What can you possibly mean by "have its softness prnounced"? Palatalisation is always pronounced, stressed or unstressed, except when the consonant does not have "soft" counterpart. There are some writing conventions (in reflexive verbs -ться and -тся are pronounced ца). Some actors pronounce reflexive -ся as -са because it sound cooler and more in line with theatrical tradition (and probably saves the microphone a lot of hisses if you are recording their speech).

Note also the difference of how stress works in Russian and English speech. The English language has rhythm, so if a syllable is stressed, then the one before it is reduced, and the one before that one is again a bit stronger. In Russian only the first syllable, IMMEDIATELY before the stressed one is somewhat clearer than the rest — the syllable, that in English is usually quite weak.


At the end, я is much easier to pronounce. If there are additional sounds after the unstressed я, one's tongue must twist more to say я than и. Therefore девИть but ТанЯ, СенЯ, ПетЯ.

In Ukraine, Russians say девять, лягушка, and so on. That, and their h instead of Г is very "hearable".

  • So is their any general rule that says that soft vowels can be pronounced with their softness at the end of a word?
    – Johnq
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 0:56

Sorry, but I'm at a loss from the question as well as the answers... There is absolutely no difference in pronunciation of Я in any of the words listed. The only exception is the case of Я as the first letter (Я, Яркий, Ярослав). There is a consonant sound preceding it and it sounds a bit like ЙA. It never, however, comes even remotely close to the pronunciation of "I".

  • 1
    Если отвлечься от написания и внимательно послушать как произносится "девять", то там действительно "я" не звучит. Вот здесь приведена транскрипция слова: [ˈdʲe.vʲɪtʲ]
    – Artemix
    Commented May 16, 2014 at 6:34
  • может в произношении Американца или Чукчи, так и есть. Но если я себя словлю на произношении "девить", попрошу меня пристрелить.
    – Metaphor
    Commented May 16, 2014 at 13:20

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