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Thread: The Letter "ye"?

  1. #1
    Почтенный гражданин xXHoax's Avatar
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    Question The Letter "ye"?

    Hello, I've just started getting serious about learning Russian, and I'm doing well. However, I have run across some mixed explanations for the pronunciation of the letter "ye"(е). Some sites say it's only ever pronounced <ye>. Others say it's sometimes <ye>, sometimes <ee> like the letter "и". A few sites even say it's pronounced <eh>, like "э". They say it's based on whether or not the syllable is stressed, after a vowel, or at the beginning of a word. I've read that this is actually a complicated question. Could anyone please give me a complete set of rules as to how it's pronounced? I've noticed that always pronouncing it as <ye> makes words quite a bit harder to say, so I'm worried that I've been making things harder for myself than they need to be.

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    Your question involves two different things:

    1. Orthography.

    When used after a consonant, letters я, е, ё, ю indicate the softness of the previous consonant:

    тема — soft /t/ + /e/
    тяга — soft /t/ + /a/
    тётя — soft /t/ + /o/
    тюль — soft /t/ + /u/

    When used at the begining of a word or after a vowel, they get additional /y/ instead of missing consonant:

    есть, заехать - /y/ + /e/
    яблоко — /y/ + /a/
    ёж, приём — /y/ + /o/
    юла, краюха — /y/ + /u/

    2. Vowel reduction.

    Unstressed vowels undergo vowel reduction:
    Unstressed /e/ merges with /i/: леса ("forests") and лиса ("fox") are pronounced in the same way with short /i/.
    Unstressed /o/ and /a/ merge after hard consonant: валы ("bulwarks") and волы ("oxen"), both with /a/.
    Unstressed /a/ merges with /i/ after soft consonant: пятёрка ("five") pronounced as if it were питёрка. Usually, this merge happens only in syllables before the stressed one (пятёрка, рядовой, тягать), and does not happen after it (тётя, котя, статуя, туя).
    Unstressed /u/ also tends to merge with /i/ after soft consonant: тюбетейка is more like тибитейка, however some people pronounce /u/. This merge happens only in syllables before the stressed one.
    fortheether likes this.

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    Some tips Е vs Ё:

    1) е is similar to 'Yellow'
    2) ё is similar to 'York' (r is not pronounced), equal to saying "йо"
    3) ё is ALWAYS stressed, е - sometimes stressed, sometimes unstressed
    4) ё used to always be present in the past, but in contemporary Russian the letter е is often used instead of the letter ё (but it must be pronounced as if it's ё - that's the real problem and issue, SOUND is not changed, LETTER is changed in writing)
    5) if you see ё in writing, most likely it's because the writer wants it to be there for clarity (but the dictionary following the rules of modern writing may use е in that case), or a writer wants foreign students to see the real sound and uses ё (but the dictionary may say е)
    6) the general trend in modern Russian is to stop using the letter ё. But there is a persistent trend, as I can see, that insists it's absolutely important to retain ё in the Russian language.
    fortheether likes this.

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    but your question seems to refer to е and reduced е ....

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    That's not all. Some Russian consonants, namely "ш", "ж", "ц" don't have their soft pairs. So, the letter "е" after them doesn't soften these consonants:
    Жесть - [жэст']
    Цель - [цэл']
    Шест - [шэст]
    Actually, the consonant sound [ш] has a soft pair, but this sound has its own letter "щ" so the letter "e" after "ш" doesn't soften this consonant.
    There are also some words in Russian which are borrowed from foreign languages that have latter "e" in place of original Latin letter "e", though in such words it's often doesn't soften the preceding consonant. For example:
    Тест is pronounced [тэст]
    Прогресс - [прогрэс]
    Партер - [партэр]
    Although the last rule isn't very strict and there can be variations. For example, some people could pronounce the word "прогресс" as [прогр'эс] (with the soft "р"), some pronounce it as [прогрэс] - with the hard "р". The same story happens with such word as "энергия".

  6. #6
    Завсегдатай Throbert McGee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RedFox View Post
    When used after a consonant, letters я, е, ё, ю indicate the softness of the previous consonant:

    тема — soft /t/ + /e/
    тяга — soft /t/ + /a/
    Many foreigners (perhaps English speakers especially) make the mistake of thinking that a "soft consonant" is the same thing as "a hard consonant followed by the /y/ sound". Thus, they incorrectly say:

    тема — hard /t/ + /y/ + /e/ (as though it were т-йэма)
    тяга — hard /t/ + /y/ + /a/ (as though it were т-йага)

    However, there's no /y/ sound between the consonant and the soft vowel -- rather, the vowel's softness is "absorbed" (so to speak) into the consonant, and the value of the consonant itself changes.

    Some English speakers also have trouble with the Spanish ñ, which is very close in pronunciation to the Russian "soft /n/," as in няня, "nanny." So instead of señora, they will say "sen-yora", dividing the single consonant sound /ñ/ into two sounds, /n/ + /y/.

    Even though you're just beginning in Russian, this is an important point to understand right away -- a Russian "soft consonant," such as the т (both of them!) in тётя, "aunt," is ONE sound, not "a consonant plus /y/".
    RedFox likes this.
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