ъ and ь. Harden and soften.
How do ъ and ь harden and soften? Also how is it known where to place these letters in a word?
well, you know by memorizing just as well as it is with any other letters. it's not your decision where to put them, just the way it is with other letters.
how does it soften? well, it's used before a consonant and the consonant becomes soft. english doesn't have a soft consonants but a common example is the letter L in the word "eLephant". L is soft there. how to make it soft? you make the sound by raising and flattening the far middle of your tongue (closer to the end), while the tip of the tongue goes somewhat down (depending on the letter).
how does it harden? certain vowels force consonants to sound soft if they follow it. just the way it happens in eLephant. for example letter "я" does that. "ля-ля-ля" makes the letter L (л) soft. if one needs to have a hard L sound it's possible to write лъя. in that case L should not be softened. in our example it would be elЪephant where L would sound like that in "Land". the tongue at the letter L would not be flattened when touching the hard palate, instead the middle would be placed down and then at letter "e" (ye) it would jump up to the position that would soften the L (be it used right away).
so hard signs are used to avoid softening of the consonants by certain vowels and soft signs are used to soften the consonants as if there is such a vowel.
basically, it doubles the amount of consonants in russian language, because they sound completely different. we could use a different set of letters but having a special sign makes the alphabet much smaller and more clever.
Thank you for your well written and informational explanation. I understand now!
Not a native speaker but I'll try to explain, I think I've got it right.
A hard consonant is pronounced with the tip of your tongue touching the roof of your mouth, for example л is pronounced like in English in the word "pal".
When a consonant is followed by the soft sign though, like ль, you pronounce it with the whole of your tongue touching the roof of your mouth. Try it now and feel/hear the difference.
Consonants also soften when followed by the vowels е, я, ё, ю, и.
In some words there is a consonant followed by a vowel that softens, but you don't want this particular consonant to be soft - then you use the hard sign. For example if you have оля, that л should be pronounced soft, but you want it to be hard, so you write it like this: олъя. Now the word is pronounced like it's two different words: ол-я, hard л and Ya.
The Pushkin Institute offers free online Russian courses with very extensive pronunciation guide and exercises that help immensely to understand the difference. You might want to give it a try. The whole course is excellent:
It is basically the same as they have stated here, I think I get it. Also how is it like in Moscow?
Yes, you're welcome ArachnoSla.
A Russian guy (he calls himself "Alex Drone") makes these videos - he's got a ridiculous amount of talent in filming using a drone. One of the best I've seen.
I will be sure to check this "Alex Drone" guy out as your recommendation. I liked the video.
From what I understand so far it is just silent and used to differentiate words in their written contexts. But I am by no means an expert...
It seems that you may be right though, I've noticed that the sound of the vowels seem to change in some of the words with the ь in it.
Yes, to me it is very confusing! But I feel I will understand more when I know how it works.
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