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https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Hectoglot

Cyrillic 101 (for the upcoming Russian course)

This is a mini-Russian lesson on Cyrillic. I'll be going through each of the letters with their names, pronunciations, grammar rules (if that applies), etc. Enjoy!

the format I'll be using is Letter - Letter name in Russian - Pronunciation of the letter

Аа - а - a in father

Notes:

  • Never pronounced like the a in apple or atrium, always like the a in father
  • А is a hard vowel. What this means, is that if there is a consonant preceding the a, then that consonant is pronounced hard. I'll explain more about this later on.

Бб - бэ (pronounced beh) - b in bad

Notes:

  • there are five letters that look like a B (Б, В, Ъ, Ы, Ь). Make sure not to get them confused!

Вв - вэ (pronounced veh) - v in vine

Notes:

  • there are five letters that look like a B (Б, В, Ъ, Ы, Ь). Make sure not to get them confused!

Гг - гэ (pronounced gheh) - g in go


Дд - дэ (pronounced deh) - d in do


Ее - е - ye in yes

Notes:

  • Е is a soft vowel. What this means, is that if there is a consonant preceding the e, then that consonant is pronounced soft. I'll explain more about this later on.

Ёё - ё - yo in yoghurt

Notes:

  • Ё is a soft vowel. What this means, is that if there is a consonant preceding the ё, then that consonant is pronounced soft. Then, the ё is pronounced like o. I'll explain more about this later on.
  • In printed texts other than resources for learning Russian, the two dots are not indicated. You must be told when to pronounce ё and when to pronounce е.
  • Ё is always stressed.

Жж - жэ (pronounced jeh) - s in pleasure

Notes:

  • Ж is always hard, even if it is followed by a soft vowel or the soft sign (I'll talk about the soft sign later on)

Зз - зэ (pronounced zeh) - z in zoo


Ии - и - e in me

Notes:

  • И is a soft vowel. What this means, is that if there is a consonant preceding the и, then that consonant is pronounced soft. I'll explain more about this later on.

Йй - и краткое (pronounced ee kratkoye) - y in toy

Notes:

  • In Russian, Й is considered a "semi-vowel"

Кк - ка - k in kiss


Лл - эл or эль (ignore the second one for now) (pronounced el) - l as in lamp

Notes:

  • The handwritten form of Л is Λ

Мм - эм (pronounced em) - m in map


Нн - эн (pronounced en) - n in not

Notes:

  • This letter always confused me. IT IS PRONOUNCED LIKE N, NOT H

Оо - о - o in more

Notes:

  • There are actually two pronunciations for О: o as in more and a as in father. O is pronounced like the first one if it is stressed. If it isn't, it's pronounced like A.
  • О is a hard vowel. What this means, is that if there is a consonant preceding the о, then that consonant is pronounced hard. I'll explain more about this later on.

Пп - пэ (pronounced pe) - p in pet


Рр - эр (pronounced er) - rolled r (like in Spanish)

Notes:

  • This letter always confused me. IT IS PRONOUNCED LIKE R, NOT P

Сс - эс (pronounced es) - s in see

Notes:

  • Pronounced always like the s in see, never like the c in caterpillar

Тт - тэ (pronounced te) - t in tool


Уу - у - oo in boot

Notes:

  • У is a hard vowel. What this means, is that if there is a consonant preceding the у, then that consonant is pronounced hard. I'll explain more about this later on.

Фф - эф (pronounced ef) - f in face


Хх - ха - h in ha

Notes:

  • there are three pronunciations for Х: the h in ha, the j in the Spanish word jamón, and sometimes like kh.

Цц - це - ts in sits

Notes:

  • Ц is always hard, even if it is followed by a soft vowel or the soft sign (I'll talk about the soft sign later on)

Чч - че - ch in chip

Notes:

  • Ч is always soft, even if it is followed by a hard vowel or the hard sign (I'll talk about the hard sign later on)

Шш - ша - sh in sharp

Notes:

  • Ш is always hard, even if it is followed by a soft vowel or the soft sign (I'll talk about the soft sign later on)

Щщ - ща - see notes

Notes:

  • Information from Shady_arc and LongHenry: The "shch" pronunciation is uncommon and limited to some dialects found I am not sure where. It reflects the historical pronunciation of the letter, and which is it's pronunciation in both Ukrainian and Rusyn. In modern Russian Щ is pronounced as a long raised "sh" (with the middle part of your tongue raised very high), which is more hissy and noisy than the English sound in "sheer".
  • Щ is always soft, even if it is followed by a hard vowel or the hard sign (I'll talk about the hard sign later on)

Having trouble with Ш and Щ? Check out this website: http://blog.properrussian.com/2014/02/q-russian-sounds-for-and.html. Listen to the audio recording to.


Ъъ - твёрдый знак (pronounced tvordiy znak) - silent

Notes:

  • This is the hard sign. It prevents palatalization of the preceding consonant
  • It is found within words and is used to seperate the prefix from the root of the word when the prefix ends in a consonant and the root of the word begins with a soft vowel.
  • there are five letters that look like a B (Б, В, Ъ, Ы, Ь). Make sure not to get them confused!

Ыы - ы - a mix between the i in kit and the u in sugar (see notes)

Notes:

  • This sound does not exist in English
  • Information from TezRomacH: "The best explanation of 'Ы' i've ever heard was: 'Ы - euih (like you've been jabbed in the stomach)'.
  • Infromation from kayla_nolan_: "Ы is a sound that is very uncommon in English, but can be easily recreated. The pronunciation can be recreated if you stick a pencil inbetween your teeth (horizontally, so that you are biting on the wood of the pencil) and if you say words like Vee and Me you actually get the pronunciations for the conjugates of you(informal) and we. Just for anyone who's unclear on this letter!"
  • Ы is a hard vowel. What this means, is that if there is a consonant preceding the ы, then that consonant is pronounced hard. I'll explain more about this later on.
  • there are five letters that look like a B (Б, В, Ъ, Ы, Ь). Make sure not to get them confused!

Ьь - мягкий знак (myagkee znak) - silent

Notes:

  • This is the soft sign. It palatalizes the preceding consonant
  • there are five letters that look like a B (Б, В, Ъ, Ы, Ь). Make sure not to get them confused!

Ээ - э - e in met

Notes:

  • Э is a hard vowel. What this means, is that if there is a consonant preceding the э, then that consonant is pronounced hard. I'll explain more about this later on.

Юю - ю - u in use

Notes:

  • Ю is a soft vowel. What this means, is that if there is a consonant preceding the ю, then that consonant is pronounced soft. Then, the ю sound will change to an у sound. I'll explain more about this later on.

Яя - я - ya in yard

Notes:

  • Я is a soft vowel. What this means, is that if there is a consonant preceding the я, then that consonant is pronounced soft. Then, the я sound will change to an a sound. I'll explain more about this later on.


That's the alphabet. but there are a few more things you should know:

Accents

  • Accents indicate where the stress is in a word. Example: себя, sebyá, "myself"
  • Accents, like the two dots in ё, are never shown in in printed texts other than resources for learning Russian.

Soft and hard

This section is adapted from the FSI FAST Russian Course

When we say that Russian has 20 consonants, we are referring only to the 20 consonant symbols in the alphabet. In reality, Russian has nearly twice that number of consonant sounds due to something called "palatalization", or "softening". All this means is that certain consonants can be slightly modified by arching your tongue and moving it forward, towards the hard palate area (that ridge on the roof of your mouth where your upper teeth fit in) while making the consonant sound. the effect is to make the sound "softer" and, in terms of pitch, higher. The best mechanism for a good, palatalized consonant sound is to SMILE while pronouncing. Try it -- it really works!

Now you know how to make the sound. But how will you know when? Consonants which can be palatalized (all of them except Ж, Ш, and Ц) will be pronounced palatalized when you see them followed by: the soft sign (Ь) or a soft vowel

When any consonant has no soft sign following it, or is followed by a hard vowel, that consonant will be pronounced hard (non-palatalized). No smiling allowed!

Keep in mind: Ч and Щ" are always SOFT, no matter what follows them. Ж, Ш, and Ц are always HARD, no matter what follows them.



Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or if I missed something, don't hesitate to comment!

September 26, 2015

32 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TezRomacH

The best explanation of "Ы" i've ever heard was: "Ы - euih (like you've been jabbed in the stomach)"


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Hectoglot

I've added that.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JustinArntz

Thank you, this is a very helpful guide. I have some previous experience with the Cyrillic alphabet, but your descriptions of how each letter sounds is great for beginners. Especially your description of whether a letter is hard or soft in pronunciation. I especially liked your pronunciation guide for the letter Щ ; your explanation is more straightforward than the usual fish-chair example that a lot of Russian lessons use. спасибо.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/alexm768

Keep in mind: Ч and Ш are always SOFT, no matter what follows them. Ж, Ш, and Ц are always HARD

Typo. "Ч and Щ", I suppose.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Hectoglot

Yes, thank you for the correction.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Nerdator

Щщ - ща - sh in sheer There are two pronunciations for Щ: like the sh in sheer or the shch in fresh-cheese

Note that this is a very crude approximation. The first consonant in 'sheer' is nowhere near as palatalised as [щ] (though it is closer than the one in 'sharp'). Could you provide Russian examples of the two variants of [щ]?


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shady_arc

I am not sure the information about two possible pronunciations is correct at all. At the very least, the "shch" pronunciation is uncommon and limited to some dialects found I am not sure where.

In modern Russian Щ is pronounced as a long raised "sh" (with the middle part of your tongue raised very high), which is more hissy and noisy than the English sound in "sheer".


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/flootzavut

One thing I find very peculiar is that pretty much every book I've got on Russian (and I have a few! and they're mostly fairly up to date) still teaches Щ as approximating shch, even though in my experience very few people say it that way. I find it very odd.

I think the only time I've ever heard anything even close to shch is how some people say борщ. I have no idea why it's still taught this way.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/LongHenry

if possible edit your note for shcha above to include: shch pronunciation reflects the historical pronunciation of the letter, and which is it's pronunciation in both Ukrainian and Rusyn.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/flootzavut

It's interesting how many variations there are of the letter. I'm pretty sure it's -sht in Bulgarian, for example.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Nerdator

Thanks! A good way to approximate this sound would be to take the [sh] in 'sheer' and then raise the middle part of your tongue up an slightly forward, so that it's closer to the hard palate, and the sound becomes audibly higher in 'pitch'.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/alexm768

I may be wrong, but for my ear "щ" sounds exactly as "sh" in "sheet". Russian word "щит" (shield) sounds very similar to "sheet": forvo.com/word/щит/#ru.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Nerdator

They are similar, but they are far from being exactly the same (both in how they sound and how they are articulated).


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/AlexinNotTurkey

Interestingly enough, the English "sh" is actually somewhere between "Щ" and "Ш," but is a little closer to "Щ." We tend to pronounce "sh" with the middle part of our tongue raised vs. the front.

"Ш" in my experience (mostly with Russian Jews in America) tends to be retroflex (as in the tip of your tongue curls back towards the top of your mouth).


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/LongHenry

Historically in Russian, Shcha represented the consonant cluster /ɕt͡ɕ/ whereas now it represents /ɕː/ for the majority of speakers. however some Russian language primers still prescribe /ɕtɕ/ - in part because the learner may not be able to distinguish between Ш - ɕ and Щ - ɕː, and by teaching the historical pronunciation, it helps the learner to distinguish between the two when speaking.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/vytah

Ш is not /ɕ/, it's /ʂ/.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/LongHenry

i thought you wrote щ not Ш


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/LongHenry

and in another source: In today's most widespread pronunciation, [ɕt͡ɕ] appears (instead of [ɕː]) for orthographical reasons in -зч-/-сч- where ч- starts a words's root, and -з/-с belongs to a preposition or a "clearly distinguishable" prefix (e.g. без часов About this sound [bʲɪɕt͡ɕɪˈsof] (help·info), 'without a clock'; расчертить About this sound [rɐɕt͡ɕɪrˈtʲitʲ], 'to rule'); in all other cases /ɕː/ is used. and according to Borunova, Vorontsova & Yes'kova (1983), [ɕtɕ] was formerly a widespread pronunciation. whether or not this means that Щ has recently changed in its pronunciation, is up for debate, but you can be sure that the consonant cluster [ɕtɕ] is not unusual or dialectal, and certainly a historical/formerly widespread pronunciation.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shady_arc

"Formerly widespread" of 1983 is "widespread about 50-70 years ago" of today.

Historically, [ɕt͡ɕ] was one of the mainstream pronunciations in the 19th century. It is not what modern learners study, I hope.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shady_arc

I meant that one should be very careful when using outdated dictionaries and articles about a language. 30 years is a long, long time. Some trends turn out to be a fashion quick to die, some take over rather rapidly (e.g., the pronunctiation of "фольга").

I found the 1983 dictionary you mentioned. It clearly says such pronunciation was falling out of use (by the way, Avanesov, who wrote these words, died in 1982, so I am not sure which time period the words are about). Indeed, I am not sure I have even heard it in films released a decade or two before I was born. Which is not objective, of course, because Moscow pronunciation was already [ɕː] at the beginning of the 20th century.

Avanesov in his 1955 work on phonetics of Standard Russian (standard at the time, of course), always used [ш'] in his transcriptions of words that have Щ. Naturally, dictionaries written since I was born do not so much as mention there are any alternatives for the sound this letter represents. One such example is "The dictionary of difficulties in Russian pronunciation" (Kalenchuk, Kasatkina, 1997).

"The History of Standard Russian pronunciation" (Panov, 1990) states that as of "now", the vast majority of people speaking standard language only pronounce [ɕː] where "щ" is spelt, "These days it is the norm both for Moscow and for Leningrad, both for scarlet and for orange systems" ("scarlet" is what he calls the absolute modern pronunciation, "orange" being the speech of the older generation, "yellow" the early 1900s speech etc.)

So, calling it a "conservative" pronunciation is an understatement. For the language a Russian course typically teaches, such pronunciation has been uncommon since 1980 or earlier, with [ɕː] being the preferred pronunciation for the last 50 or 100+ years, depending on the region (Moscow used the modern sound for over a century, as far as I know). About as relevant as Mid-Atlantic accent from old American films (maybe less, because you won't hear it in films)

You can find a dialectal pronunciation with [шч] by an old woman on the MSU site, by the way. So it is clearly used by some old speakers (or was, in recent decades).


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/LongHenry

did not understand your first sentence, can you rephrase it? second sentence: can you provide a source please? - as i have indicated and i am sure it is likely that - you make the sound ɕt͡ɕ in some words in some cases, but perhaps you aren't referring to the possibility of the sound existing in Russian today - but whether ɕt͡ɕ corresponds to the grapheme Щ, and I agree it is in fact ɕ: today, the question is when did this become standard pronunciation? with regards to teaching Russian SOME but not MOST language primers MAY still prescribe /ɕtɕ/ - in part because the learner may not be able to distinguish between Ш - ɕ and Щ - ɕː, and by teaching the historical pronunciation, it helps the learner to distinguish between the two when speaking. - this is a result of some educators teaching a form of the language that is closer to the written standard (MORE CONSERVATIVE) than being closer to the spoken language, indeed pronunciation may vary throughout Russia and in expatriate communities and universities, just as it is with many other languages such as French, German, Italian. obviously some do aim to teach the learner the current spoken standard, but others may rely on the older less current written standards, especially in countries where said language is a second or third language.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Nerdator

Yes, for me, [shch] immediately identifies the speaker as someone from a bilingual area –at best, or as a non-native speaker.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/kayla_nolan_

Just to add, Ы is a sound that is very uncommon in English, but can be easily recreated. The pronunciation can be recreated if you stick a pencil inbetween your teeth (horizontally, so that you are biting on the wood of the pencil) and if you say words like Vee and Me you actually get the pronunciations for the conjugates of you(informal) and we. Just for anyone who's unclear on this letter!


[deactivated user]

    I don't really have intentions to learn the language, but I love writing systems. Thanks for posting this.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/daadaadaaren

    i actually have a question regarding the new russian course. is there going to be a system in place which allows for translation using a base script (spelling rossiy/mal'chik etc. and the converse for cyrillic alphabets for english), or is it going to be mandatory to constantly switch between 2 keyboards for translations requiring different inputs?

    i ask because it might prove to be a little troublesome to have to constantly switch between keyboards when eng-ru or ru-eng translations during courses seem to be quite arbitrary, and i'd personally hate to have to change my keyboard from eng to ru for 1 translation, then ru to eng again for the next and so on


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jorbi333

    In windows (or at least in windows 7/8) you can change the keyboard just by pressing alt+shift (or windows+space bar), but you have to set up the keyboards you want before that.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/RomanRussian

    In Eng<-Rus course there is no need to switch the keyboard layout, it switches automatically. I guess this feature will work in Rus<-Eng course as well.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/daadaadaaren

    wow that'll be a real time saver! can't wait for its release now!


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/vytah

    The Ukrainian course has that, although I'm not sure how well it works.


    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Taurendil

    Thanks! I'll probably start the course some day. Maybe not the moment it's done, though I'm interested in learning Russian :)

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