Russian pronunciation and its basic rules

Considering the fact that Russian (as it might seem) is a language of relatively low difficulty, it has not many rules, designating pronunciation; basically almost all words both written and spoken identically (this rule works in reverse order too). For example, when you want to pronounce the sound "oo", you courageously write the letter "y", always speaking «oo». Sometimes, of course, it happens in a different way; but even in such case pronunciation varies in exact accordance with the strict and fairly simple rules (we’ve given them right here).

I propose to begin a survey of pronunciation with some the most regnant sounds directly linked with Cyrillic letters of Russian language. In reality, this language has 3 major exceptions to uniquely relevant pronunciation rules of vowels; there’re also a couple of exceptions, describing the exact pronunciation of consonants. Into the bargain to the rules, we’ve given below, the Russians have in their language another couple of small exceptions, which we won’t discuss here (they are not so important for the correct pronunciation).

Devoicing of sounds in many words

Note that simultaneously with hard-soft consonants, the Russians have very important consonants: the first one - "voiced", whiles the other - «voiceless». Here you have a special table, where are exemplified the so interestingly called "voiced-voiceless pairs" (often occurring in Russian consonants). In fact, they are similar, with the exception when you’re pronouncing voiced ones. In this instance vocal cords have to vibrate surely, unlike the cases when voiceless consonants are pronounced. These types of sounds are easy to distinguish - simply pronouncing them, you’d put any hand on your throat, saying such sounds slowly. By the bye, they are fully tantamount with the similar our English sounds – there also is such a phenomenon).

TABLE 1: Basic Russian Pronunciation
Russian
Letter
Pronunciation Russian
Letter
Pronunciation
a 'Ah!' but short р 'r' as in Scots 'run'
б 'b' as in 'bet' с 's' as in 'set'
в 'v' as in ''Vette' т 't' as in 'Tet'
г 'g' as in 'Gucci' у 'Oo!' but short
д 'd' as in 'dad' ф 'f' as in 'fifty'
е 'Yay!' but short х 'kh' in Scots 'loch'
ё 'Yo!' as in 'Yo, dude!' ц 'ts' as in 'lets'
ж 'zh' as in 'azure' ч 'ch' as in 'church'
з 'z' as in 'zit' ш 'sh' as in 'shush'
и 'ee' but short щ 'shch' 'fresh cheese'
й 'y' as in 'Yuck!' ъ hard sign
к 'k' as in 'kit' ы between 'i' and 'u'
л 'l' as in 'let' ь soft sign
м 'm' as in 'met' э 'Eh?' (short)
н 'n' as in 'net' ю 'yu' as in 'you'
о 'Oh!' but short я 'ya' as in 'yacht'
п 'p' as in 'pet'

The "Akanie" together with the so-called "Ikanie" rules

The represented pronunciation rules are used mainly in some dialects spreading in the center of Russia (where also the Muscovites live). In accordance with the "Akanie" rule the letter "o" pronounced as "a" in the "malignant" syllables that immediately precede words, acting as accented; and it is pronounced like "uh" in other cases. The «Ikanie» rule states: if you want to speak without an accent, then the letters "e", "ё" including "я" must be said in the same way as "и". In a subsequent you’ll hear the sound letter samples which are regulated by these rules (attentively see table). Those syllables, where sounds acting as accented, are highlighted. Never relax: without accented sounds of any kind "o" and "a" are pronounced very near to the "especial" syllables that immediately precede accentuated ones. The sound "e" (if it’s clean, without an accent) sounds identically with "и".



TABLE 2: Akanie and Ikanie
Akanie Sounds like Ikania Sounds like
городa : города [garada] реку : река [rika]
бороды : борода [barada] берег : берега [biriga]


How is sonority of the entire combinations of consonant sounds regulated?

Pay great attention to a very important feature in the pronunciation of consonant combinations: always, when in the same word occurs once 2 and more consonants, then voicing all the other sounds within this combination is defined exclusively by the ending consonant (see table). In sum, when at the end of the letter combination is a voiced consonant, EVERY sound in it will be voiced; but when this consonant at the end is a deaf one, then all sound combination becomes deaf.

TABLE 3: Word End Voicing
VoicedVoicelessExamples
бп дуба : дуб
д т рада : рад
г к берега : берег
вфлова : лов
зсмороза : мороз
жшмужа : муж


TABLE 4: Consonant Cluster Voicing
Written
Voiceless
Pronounced
Voiced
Written
Voiced
Pronounced
Voiceless
от жалости [od zhalasti] из Томска [is Tomska]
жить бы [zhid' by] абсолютно [apsalyutna]
мост же [mozd zhy] мужской [mushskoy]