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 Phonetic System: Vowels

The system of vowel sounds in Russian differs from that in English in having no diphthongs and division into long and short (cf. the English [i] and [i:] in "ship" and "sheep"). There are only six vowel sounds in Russian: [], [], [], [], [], [], but 10 vowel letters: , , , , , , , , , .

Russian vowel letters fall into two groups:

usually represent in writing one sound each;

usually represent in writing a combination of the consonant sound [] with respective vowel, e.g.  - [],  - [],  - [],  - [].

Almost all vowels in Russian have similar ones in English. Below is the list of Russian vowel letters along with their rough English equivalents.

Table #3

Russian Vowels and Their English Equivalents

Russian Vowel Letters

As occurs in English

     as a in father

     as ye in yes

     as yo in yoghurt

     as ee in bee

     as o in object

     as oo in book

     as i in bill

     as e in pet

     as you

     as ya in yard

The letter demands special attention. It is not present on the standard Russian keyboard and you won't meet it anywhere in Russian publications except educational materials. It is always replaced with the letter , and as these letters are pronounced differently, it will be difficult for a learner to know which sound to pronounce when seeing the letter in a word. That is why, all the words containing the letter should be learned by heart.

Note that differs from English i very much. It's the most difficult Russian vowel for English speakers to pronounce. To get , you should place your tongue in the position right between the positions of English sounds i in "kit" and u in "sugar". Then make a new sound of keeping your mouth stretched as for a smile.
The letter can never start a word except for the very rare words borrowed from the Turkic languages.

In the Table #3, presented above, the English equivalents are given to the names of Russian vowel letters. But, for accurate pronunciation, you should know that letters are not always read the same as they are written. Russian vowels can sound differently depending on stress, position in a word, and surrounding letters. Please find the next table devoted to their reading rules below.

Table #4

Russian Vowels and Their English Equivalents

Letter

Name

How to read

Sound

Keyword

Position in a word

A

[a]
[^] note
[]

(bank)
(lock)
(watch)

Stressed
Unstressed
Unstressed after ,

[]

[']
[]

(if), (congress)
                                       
(six)
(river)

At the beginning of a word;
after vowels,  when stressed.
Stressed after consonants
Unstressed

[]

[']

(fir-tree), (my)

(honey)

At the beginning of a word;
after vowels,  when stressed.
Stressed after consonants

[]
[]

(raspberries)
(circus)
(he and she)

Almost in all positions
After , ,
In word combinations after hard consonants

[]
[]

[^] note

(house)
(she)

(cold adv.)

Stressed
In the syllable immediately
preceding the stress
In the second pre-stress
and post-stress syllables

[]

(ear)
(where)
(university)

In any position

[]

(son)
(porch)
(magazines)

In any position

[]

(this)
(floor)
(ecology)

In any position

[]

[']

(south), (June)

(people)

At the beginning of a word;
after vowels, ,
After consonants

[]

[']
[]

(pit, hole), (my)

(meat)
(month)

At the beginning of a word;
after vowels, , when stressed
Stressed after consonants
Unstressed

Note that in unstressed positions, any vowel is always reduced more or less:
          vowels , , , , and are not reduced very much;
          vowel a is reduced pretty much when unstressed: in the syllable immediately preceding the stress and right before stress, it is pronounced like u in "nut" (1st level reduction), e.g. (lock), in all other unstressed syllables it is pronounced yet weaker (2nd level reduction), e.g. ; the farther from the stress, the weaker is the vowel; it even can be omitted in hurried speech;
          vowel is reduced very much in unstressed syllables and it should be pronounced as if letter were in its place (this process is called (akanie));
          vowels and are reduced to a vowel very similar to [], e.g. (river), (month) (this process is called (ikanie)).
Vowel is always stressed.

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