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?
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
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
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.
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".