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Thread: IPA Pronunciation for Russian

  1. #1
    Почётный участник ShakeyX's Avatar
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    IPA Pronunciation for Russian

    I find all the sources for IPA to be quite unreliable (well as I am currently using Wiktionary and it seems to just be peoples opinions on IPA rather than the actual pronunciation following the rules). Anyone know anything that describes all the IPA symbols used in Russian with their sounds. A book I have recently purchased has a few confusing parts (A comprehensive Russian Grammar by Terence Wade)

    Лес [IPA: lʲɛs]
    Весь [IPA: vʲecʲ] (NOTE: another way to write the small j is by a small tail on the letters l,v and c in this case if you are more used to this.)

    Now from what I understand, the "е" being a soft vowel right? (has a "y" sound in front) this makes the previous consonant soft also?? and the soft sign at the end of весь gives the same softening affect to "с". What I cannot understand is what is the difference between ɛ and e in the IPA.

    There is then a later part in the book which reads;

    "Э and е are pronounce [ɛ] and [jɛ] in stressed position followed by a hard consonant..." "...but as [e] and [je] when followed by a soft consonant".

    WHATS THE DIFFERENCE? I assume [jɛ] = Russian letter "е" so... whats IPA [e]?

    Sorry if this is confusing, I think the fact Russian E and IPA E and English E are all different things haah.

  2. #2
    Почётный участник ShakeyX's Avatar
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    I have managed to learn how to properly say Хорошо by reading about the pre-tonic, post-tonic, pre-pre-tonic positions of vowels, so the book is top notch haha.

    Хорошо [IPA: xərʌˈʃo]

    Right? Huh-Ra-Sho of sorts.

    PS. So yeh my point was is their any website that sounds out all the IPA symbols, as it is hard to understand from reading a book what these sounds are, however I already knew [ə] & [ʌ]... I don't know difference between [ʒ] and [ʒ with a tail, can't find it] so it's extremely difficult

  3. #3
    Старший оракул Seraph's Avatar
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    Various recorded pronunciations are on the masterrussian site, and other sites listed in 'resources' section.
    http://russianlearn.com/pronunciation/category/rule_3

    also individual words:
    http://russianlearn.com/words
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    Yeah, that's what difficult about real languages.
    I was surprised myself when digging through wikipedia I found that Russian has OVER 15 VOWEL sounds, just like English. Only in English most of them are considered "different" and important to distinguish between words, while in Russian all of them are variations on standard А, И, У, Э, О, Ы.

    See, in "весь" the E is sandwiched between two soft consonants. Remember what I said about palatalization, and how your tongue is raised? Well, this has effect on vowels as well as consonants. When your tongue is raised for palatalization, Е in "весь" becomes more "closed" vowel than in "лес" or "это". That's the same reason you have A from English "cat" in "пять" or "мяч". Normally Russian А sounds quite different from English A in bad/cat/map/lap.
    However, you shouldn't worry about such peculiarities unless you are a speech synthesizer. For real er... mouth and tongue these variations occur naturally: for instance, "лес" has a vowel like E in "bed" and "весь" has a vowel like "eh" in "play". You may have hardly ever noticed that they were somewhat different in quality. Still, as IPA chart says, they are I only linked you there because the page has explanations of how Russian sounds may be different. And each vowel/consonant sound has its own page, where you can listen to it, get an overall idea where the tongue is, how the sound is generated and, for example, whether you have this sound in English or not, or maybe only in dialect you don't speak.

    Try using forvo.com or some recordings and... well, copy! If you can already pronounce words, it usually doesn't take much time to at least obtain your own pronunciation (save for R, which is difficult). Maybe, imperfect pronuciation - hell, you are gonna have an accent, and won't get rid of it in near future! Yet, for a beginner "good enough" is when you hear the difference between sounds (ok, лук "bow/onion" and люк "hatch, manhole") and can use them in your speech. To some extent, of course.

    If you want my opinion, your major obstacles are going to be:
    - lack of "normal" Russian A in English. I mean, certain realisations of A do exist in English, but how you say "Aaaah" in English is a bit different from how I say "А-а-а" in Russian. Same with "O", sadly. But don't you worry, sounds in "Aah" and "law" are a good thing to start with.
    - in English vowel sounds are less variable depending on their environment; as a side effect, when you try speaking Russian as English, it sounds, well, strained, Relax, Russian vowels are subject to much allophony
    - Ы. You don't have that
    - Р, which is different from English R (which is absent from most major laguages, anyway). Don't worry, even children have some trouble mastering this sound. I started consistently pronouncig it correctly, different from L in both hard and soft variants, from the age of 7 or 8. Even in words like секретарь
    - X. Way easier that Р, as you don't have to do anything complex with your tongue.
    - palatalization. To make things harder, a few sounds have other changes when palatalized: for example, л in люк is close to L in "loop" (i.e. alveolar), while Л in "лама" is not.
    - no real air "puffs" (aka aspiration) in K,P,B
    - T,D,N and hard L are pronounced different: your tongue touches your teeth (or almost touches)
    - Ш and Ж are retroflex (tongue tries to slightly bend backwards as compared to straightforward English SH). Щ is even more hissy than English, and, in fact, it's a double consonant. If you want half Щ, Japanese have it.
    - Ч is close to CH, but is, so to say, palatalized. Your tongue is raised even higher than in English
    - consonant clusters. And consonant clusters with palatalization. Sometimes two adjacent letters get softened, but the overall tendency is not to - for most clusters. I.e. it's an actual process noticed in the language, as consonant system gets more complex and vowel system simplified. For example, in стена "wall" I only pronounce T soft, while C remains hard ("both soft" is still an acceptable variant, and was a mainstream one, like, 50 years ago).
    - devoicing of consonants and reduction of vowels. Пароход "steamboat" is pronounced the same as if it were парахот.
    - and, actually, stress is different. Russian stressed syllables are not only louder, they are a bit longer.
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  5. #5
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    LOL. "е" in both "лес" and "весь" pronounced the same way. Also there is no "y" sound in both words. IPA is completely not suitable for Russian language. I suggest you to use the phonetic transcription system used in Russian schools.

    лес [л'эс]
    весь [в'эс']

    The apostrophe delotes the soft consonant.

  6. #6
    Почётный участник ShakeyX's Avatar
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    Thanks for this, it really helped. So in short their is a difference but mostly in the very subtle ways in which IPA depicts rather than something I can actively do. I have however learnt most of the rules for the vowels in their several positions, now just consonants.

    Just another quick question, this book seems to have me confused over consonants... has every letter in the alphabet got an assignable adjective (hard / soft) or do they all transform based on several rules... from what I gather я ю е ё и are soft and а э ы у о are hard. So does the same apply to consonants or do they all have hard soft values. Cause I have also read about how for example д = т in a case that I do on fully understand but does that mean т is the hard version of д or do they both have their individual hard soft versions... again sorry for rambling/confusion.

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    There are no soft vowels. There are "softening" vowels, this means some vowels make the preceding consonant soft and others do not.

    Most consonants in Russian have soft and hard versions. д and т are different consonants, д is voiced and т is voiceless. Each of them have the respective soft versions [д'] and [т'].
    That way most consonants belong to quadruples of voiced/unvoiced soft/hard variants:

    д д' т т'
    г г' к к'
    б б' п п'
    в в' ф ф'
    з з' с с'

    etc.

    Some consonants are always soft or always hard. For example, й and ч are always soft while ж and ц are always hard. Any Russian can pronounce the soft ж as well but there are just no words with such sound in Russian. Some dictionaries advise to pronounce several words such as жжёшь with soft ж but this sounds a bit provincial to me.

    Hard [й] if existed in language would sound for me as a voiced variand of [х], (but some IPA-centric linguists would claim that there is a subtle difference). Such sound exists in Ukrainian (it is written as "г" there and normal Russian [г] is denoted as "ґ" in Ukrainian). That way [й] belongs to the same quadruple as [x] - it is a voiced variant of soft sound [x'].

    х х' ? й'

    Letters ш and щ denote hard and soft variants of the same sound. So if you see "ш" it is always pronounced hard even if it has a soft sign after it or a softening vowel. And щ is always pronounced soft.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shady_arc View Post
    Yeah, that's what difficult about real languages.
    I was surprised myself when digging through wikipedia I found that Russian has OVER 15 VOWEL sounds, just like English. Only in English most of them are considered "different" and important to distinguish between words, while in Russian all of them are variations on standard А, И, У, Э, О, Ы.
    There are as many vowel sounds in Russian as you wish, but there are only 6 (some say 5) vowel phonemes which can distinguish words.

  9. #9
    Почётный участник ShakeyX's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anixx View Post
    Some consonants are always soft or always hard. For example, й and ч are always soft while ж and ц are always hard. Any Russian can pronounce the soft ж as well but there are just no words with such sound in Russian. Some dictionaries advise to pronounce several words such as жжёшь with soft ж but this sounds a bit provincial to me.
    This is where the problem lies for me, I have adequately learnt the basic rules but it comes up with such IPA sounds in this book such as you mentioned with жжёшь being soft ж but I have no way to envision this in my head... and to me the sound zh sounds very soft, I was surprised it is a hard sound.

    I guess what I'm asking is their a sound board with IPA symbols just so I can visualise this. I had found one but it was for english and didn't use hardly any symbols that were used in Russian. I did watch that video you linked but again its hard to envision without a single sound solo'd as I am just a beginner.

  10. #10
    Старший оракул Seraph's Avatar
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    Russian ж is not the same as 'zh'. And ш is not really 'sh'. You have to really listen to these by native speakers for a while. Then you get it, that the tip of the tongue is doing something different for the Russian ж и ш. Like a little cupping back. Maybe they can describe it to you. Without doing a lot of listening, it won't come to you properly. Once you can get something close to the Russian ж и ш you will feel how tongue really is in position for hard sound (backed), not English zh, sh (fronted). Щ is fronted.

  11. #11
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    ж is close to English r. You can start pronouncing ш as unvoiced English r, it will be good approximation.

  12. #12
    Старший оракул Seraph's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marcus View Post
    ж is close to English r. You can start pronouncing ш as unvoiced English r, it will be good approximation.
    I have noticed this similarity of the back part of the tongue position of ж, ш and r. But the front part of the tongue is in different position. Can go seamlessly from ж into a kind of r and back, but it isn't a normal English r. I was going to describe the similarity of the hard backed part of ж, ш and r, but I wasn't confident that anyone would agree. Front part of tongue has to do the hush thing for ж, ш, different than relaxed position for r. The hush with the front part of tongue for ж, ш is different than the English sh and zh.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Seraph View Post
    I have noticed this similarity of the back part of the tongue position of ж, ш and r. But the front part of the tongue is in different position. Can go seamlessly from ж into a kind of r and back, but it isn't a normal English r. I was going to describe the similarity of the hard backed part of ж, ш and r, but I wasn't confident that anyone would agree. Front part of tongue has to do the hush thing for ж, ш, different than relaxed position for r. The hush with the front part of tongue for ж, ш is different than the English sh and zh.
    The tip of the toungue is closer to the teeth, than for English r, but that's my assumption only.
    How did you achieve good pronunciation in Russian and understanding of Russian phonology?

  14. #14
    Почётный участник ShakeyX's Avatar
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    I understand all that is being said, I truly do, and I only used "zh" as a placeholder, ofcourse i know that the Latin alphabet approximations are not exactly the same as the Russian counterparts. All I am really looking for is a sound clip of [ɛ] and a sound clip of [е] (not reffering to the Russian letter е). This is as my problem lies with the fact I can't isolate the sound in either лес or весь and they both sound the same to me and the fact with all the rest of the sounds I am unfamiliar with I have no reference, only writing and tongue positions which are confusing as hell :P

    I have actually been subject to a lot of Russian as I use the Rosetta Stone program and talk often with a Russian native on skype. I have become good at saying certain words but it would just help me sleep better if I understood it and then could copy the rules onto all new words I come across, look at the word, analyse if its ɛ or е and put it into practice. Obviously like I said this is just a small sound but with such things as the sound of а and о it is more useful.

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    Почётный участник ShakeyX's Avatar
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    Finally after a few google pages I found something, Dunno about its authenticity but this demonstrates the difference. Anyone let me know if this sounds correct using the [ɛ] and [e] sounds abuot half way down

    The International Phonetic Alphabet - Audio Illustrations

  16. #16
    Почётный участник ShakeyX's Avatar
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    PS where is the L V S symbols with flicks at the bottom on this IPA chart? seems like it is lacking but again I am unknowledged on the subject

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    Завсегдатай chaika's Avatar
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    there are no "soft" or "softening" vowels. The vowel sounds are represented by SPELLING differences that do not reflect sound. The vowel letter is chosen based on the preceding consonant letter. Russian could do away with either Я Е И Ё Ю by using Ь instead: пьэть, мьач, йэйо, etc. That is, the vowel /e/ can be spelled E or Э depending on the previous consonant. The only anomaly is И,Ы, which do have distinctly different sounds, but they too could be covered by spelling rules.

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    ShakeyX, I think you took my IPA advice way too seriously. If you can't really see any substantial difference between [ɛ] and [е], - OK, that's the point: just use the sound from "red". Russians have only one conceptual "Eh"-like sound, which is realised slightly differenty depending on surrounding sounds.

    It would be another story if you were to generate synthesized speech. In that case playing the EXACT sound from лес in the word весь would lead to a somewhat unnatural result for an ear trained to hear normal Russian. If you insist, sound example for [ɛ] demonstrates a "generic" Э i.e. if you were to ask me how "э" sounds in Russian, I would say it whis way.

    As for the soft/hard vowels, calling them so is a convention in some books. In reality, Russians tend to only differentiate between six vowel sounds: А, И, У, Э, О, Ы. Now, there are soft and hard variations for consonants. OK, consonants before И always become soft, and consonants before Ы always remain hard. What about numerous words where consonants become soft before А or, say, Э? You have a choice: either introduce 14 more consonant letters - or reuse vowels, which are smaller in number (or use Ь each time, which would be a disaster for Russian). Russian takes latter approach. 4 more symbols for vowels are introduced: Я = йа/ьа, Ю = йу/ью, Е = йэ/ьэ and Ё=йо/ьо.*** If such a vowel letter is word-initial or comes right after some other vowel, it starts with Й (яблоко ~ /йаблака/). Otherwise it just softens previous consonant**** (unless a consonant doesn't have a soft counterpart, like Ж/Ш/Ц) like this: ветер ~ /в'эт'ир/. И is a naturally softening vowel, its "hard" counterpart is Ы (which sounds pretty different).
    *** I have written Э=йэ/ьэ and so this way just for sake of clarity. In actual Russian orthography soft sign + vowel means BOTH softening a consonant AND adding Й. For example: бульон = /бул'йон/
    **** In many foreign borrowings Е stands for Э and doesn't soften previous consonant: термос /`тэрмас/, экзодерма /экза`дэрма/, интернет /интэр`нэт/. As you can see, it is mostly for dentals (Т/Д/Н).

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    Quote Originally Posted by ShakeyX View Post
    This is where the problem lies for me, I have adequately learnt the basic rules but it comes up with such IPA sounds in this book such as you mentioned with жжёшь being soft ж but I have no way to envision this in my head... and to me the sound zh sounds very soft, I was surprised it is a hard sound.

    I guess what I'm asking is their a sound board with IPA symbols just so I can visualise this. I had found one but it was for english and didn't use hardly any symbols that were used in Russian. I did watch that video you linked but again its hard to envision without a single sound solo'd as I am just a beginner.
    In IPA they usually add a small "j" in upper index, which though does not mean that there is a "j" sound. It is just that IPA has no other means to convey that the sound is soft. In Russian phonetic system they add an apostrophe after a symbol to show that the sound is soft.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by chaika View Post
    The only anomaly is И,Ы, which do have distinctly different sounds, but they too could be covered by spelling rules.
    I do not think they have different sounds.

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