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I still have trouble understanding how I'm supposed to reduce vowels in long words. Because in some words like cвидания, the unstressed "я" becomes /jə/; while in others like язык, it sounds more like /jɪ/.

Same happens with "e", or at least that's what it seems to me. I feel the ones in "телефон" sound more markedly like /jɪ/ than the one in "очень", for example.

Could it be I'm just wrong? If so, can anybody point out to me what the right pronunciation is for these vowels?

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  • "I feel the ones in "телефон" sound more markedly like /jɪ/" - in the word телефон there is no j-sound.
    – Anixx
    Jul 27 '15 at 13:06
  • I do not hear any difference when I pronounce очень, язык and телефон.
    – Anixx
    Jul 27 '15 at 13:08
  • You are most likely wrong. I decided to approach the problem scientifically, read a number of words (сомнение, свидание, занятие, язык, седьмой etc.) several times and measured the formants of the vowels. The sound is definitely somewhere between И, Э and Ы. It comes nowhere close to ə. With a glide from "й" in words like "язык" or "пятое" it is quite close to normal И because of the consonant's influence.
    – Shady_arc
    Jul 28 '15 at 20:15
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First of all, "я" = "ja" (or "softsign+a") and it is "A" what we reduce.

The actual reduction of vowels may change from word to word and from speaker to speaker. Much like English-speaking persons have a dozen of different pronunciations for "E". You may even do not reduce vowels at all, though it's quite an unusual way of talking. That is both "jezyk" and "jizyk" are OK, while "jazyk" sounds like you've just come from some tiny village in Siberian wilderness where the people are as slow as the seasons of the year ;-)

But never ever confuse ja/je/ji with its "simply-soft"-counterpart. That is "t'el'ifon" or "t'il'ifon" are both OK, yet "t'eljifon" is just an epic fail.

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  • 2
    I'd say that people mostly say t'el'efon.
    – UVV
    Jul 27 '15 at 10:15
  • @UVV I'd say that it mostly depends on the whole sentence not the speaker. It seems that anyone periodically shifts the pronunciation from one to another.
    – Matt
    Jul 27 '15 at 10:43
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In standard Russian pronunciation based on the Moscow dialect, я or a consonant ending in -я, or one of the soft syllables ча or ща have the vowel reduced to [ɪ] when they occur directly before the stressed syllable.

ча or ща theoretically represent the sound combinations чя and щя, yet since ч and щ are considered inherently soft consonants by their own right, the spelling with -a- is orthographically correct and logical in order to avoid a "double softness" in the spelling.

Note the following:

язы́к [jɪˈzɨk] яйцо́ [jɪjˈʦo] я́йца [ˈjajʦɐ] яи́ц [jɪˈiʦ]

час [tʃas] but часо́в [tʃɪˈsof]

я́сно [ˈjasnɐ] but объясни́ [ɐbjɪsˈɲi]

When in doubt, you can go to this site and enter any word or word form, and it will indicate the pronunciation with all the correct vowel reductions using the cyrillic phonetic transcription, which is easy enough to understand. Just be sure to choose словоформы in the dropdown next to the search field. Otherwise, you'll just get a list of words that rhyme with your entry.

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