vowel reduction is, thankfully, regular, even if the phenomenon
is not. Vowel reduction is when the stress of a vowel affects the pronunciation
of other vowels in the word. To provide an example and guide to pronouncing Russian in all its vowel-reducing glory, however, I have to start on the actual vowel system first.
The vowels in Russian are split into two groups, which I have been to taught to call “positive” and “negative.” Unfortunately, since not everyone can read the Cyrillic here, I will also use the standard Roman alphabet way of representing Russian. The positive vowels are as follows:
- А (A) – like father, but with a but sound appended. “ah-uh”*
- Э (E) – like bet, but with that same “uh” after. “eh-uh”
- Ы (I) – like in bit. “i-uh”
- О (O) – like in boat. “oh-uh”
- У (U) – like in cool. “ooh-uh”
The full pronunciation with the “-uh” sound is only when exaggerated
or at the end of a word. Quick Russian pronunciation does not accommodate the full length
of the vowel. It is usually shortened to just the first sound, so “ah-uh” becomes “ah,” etc.
Next come the negative vowels:
- Я (YA) – like yahoo.*
- И (EE) – like in street.
- Е (YE) – like in yet.
- Е (YO) – like in yoke. (For those interested, this is really just a heavily stressed “ye.”)
- Ю (YU) – like in you.
Now is the fun part. Depending on the position of the stress in the word, these vowels shift their sounds. This only happens to three vowels: “O”, “YA”, and “YE”. When unstress
ed they become, respectively
, “A”, “EE”, and “EE”. There is, as usual, an exception: When a word ends in “YA” or “YE”, the reduction does not occur. Like many languages, the ending represents vital information
, such as verb conjugation
or noun declension
. “YA” and “YE” both can convey this information but “O” does not.
To demonstrate Russian vowel reduction, I will give several words with their stress marked. Next to it I will give how it is actually pronounced.
poznakomeetsya - paznakomeetsya
spaseebo - spaseeba
horosho - harasho
The reduction is universal and without exception
s, except for the one listed above.
*A hearty thanks to Gritchka
for pointing out that only in America were my examples for pronunciation valid.