The function of ъ and ь in non-grammatical terms?
I am writing a grammar glossary for Russian. I am writing notes for the alphabet, and I need help in explaining the function of ъ and ь in non-grammatical terms. I know their function, but only by using grammatical terms to explain it.
ь palatizes ("softens") the consonant that comes in front of it.
ъ does the opposite. It also eliminates the palatization from soft vowels (called hardening, "съездь"). It also isn't used that much since almost all Russian consonants are hard by default.
Well, the hard sign is an easy one to explain, at least to anglophones, so I will assume that is who you are writing the glossary for.
Treat it like you would a pronunciation apostrophe in middle of words, e.g. Shin'ichi, Qur'an.
Soft sign is pretty hard to explain without getting overly grammatical for the simple reason that not many other languages use anything similar and certainly not English.
The way I would go about it is to cover it in a different completely with plenty of voiced examples,but that is obviously not what you are looking for.
Perhaps try using the soft vowels in English as an example? How "k" becomes softer if it comes before and "i".