Stressed & Unstressed Syllables
They were not very clear, in the Tips and Notes, what exactly a stressed or unstressed syllable is or how it is designated. I think I now know what the accent aigu is in so many of the words. I am assuming that these are designating which syllable is being accented/emphasized/stressed and they are showing this to help with the pronunciation. Is this correct? And if so, which syllable gets pronounced stronger, the one before or after the accent mark?
"Мари́я гото́вила пир" ("Mah-REE-yah gah-TOH-vih-lah PEER")
Each word in Russian has only one stressed syllable. The syllable with an accent mark above it is the one that is stressed. The accent mark is there to help you as a learner, but in written Russian it will almost never be indicated (the exception is for situations like "Я понимаю, что́ ты хочешь сказать," but even then it's not strictly necessary).
The reason why the accent is usually indicated for Russian learners is because the accent can shift rather unpredictably in Russian depending on the declension/conjugation pattern. Unfortunately, getting the correct stressed syllable is rather important for being understood and for pronouncing the rest of the word correctly.
A couple of rules:
1) If there's a "ё," that's always the stressed syllable.
2) Single syllable words are not given an accent mark, since there is only one syllable.
A few exceptions:
1) Hyphenated and compound words can have double accent: "тёмно-си́ний."
2) Sometimes a preposition gets an accent: "Она́ вы́шла и́з дома." In these situations, the following word has no accent and you treat the two words as a single unit.
Спасибо Уarjka! That explains it well. The accent can help with knowing where the syllables are or what is making them up. In reading Russian and interpreting the Cyrillic alphabet I often am not sure which letter goes with which perceived syllable. Like does the 'в' go with the letters before it, or is it starting the next syllable. Hearing it pronounced does not always make that clear either because sometimes the ending sound of the first syllable sounds the same as the starting sound of the next syllable. I notice this a lot when I am writing out my own phonetic way of pronouncing something. For example, it is hard to tell if the first syllable is ending with an 's' sound (ч ) or if the second syllable is beginning with that 's' (ч) sound. :) I hope that made sense....:) Does Russian use something like what the French use with what they call "liaisons". For example, "Nous allons". "Nous" is pronounced like "new" and "allons" is pronounced like "ah-lohn". The 's' in "nous" is normally silent or mute. But when said together, I believe because of the second word starting with a vowel, they are pronounced as "newz-zal-lohn". They create a link by pronouncing the 's' in "nous" and in French that sounds like a 'z'. This is done for euphony and I thought I heard something like this with some Russian words I have heard.
Russian does have a bit of a similar situation with voicing and devoicing of consonants. It's a bit complex, but the basic idea is that a voiced consonant will affect the pronunciation of the preceding consonant in a consonant cluster. So in the word вокзал, you would expect "vahk-zahl" but it actually is pronounced "vahg-zahl". Also, any consonant in word final position is devoiced unless otherwise affected by the word that follows. Here's a basic rundown: http://www.russianforeveryone.com/Rufe/Lessons/Course1/Introduction/IntrUnit9/IntrUnit9.htm
As for where the syllable stops, way back in Old Church Slavonic days, the language had only open syllables (meaning every syllable ended with a vowel). But over time a lot of these short vowels dropped leaving some interesting consonant clusters and closed syllables. Here's a nice bit of history about that: http://www.lonweb.org/links/russian/lang/004.htm