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Pronunciation, soft sign vs soft vowel.

0 votes
Hi all,

I was just wondering whether the pronunciation of soft consonants indicated by a vowel, such as -ню -пё -ве was any different from the pronunciation of consonants indicated by the soft sign, such as -пь -нь -кь. As far as i knew, when the soft sign is used a slight 'y' sound is imparted, but when a vowel is used, the pronunciation is palatalised. I'm pretty sure that this is wrong at that the soft sign indicates the soft pronunciation that varies from consonant to consonant. I am completely new to this, sorry if i have used the incorrect terms etc.

asked Jan 16, 2013 by Mricca47 (160 points)

1 Answer

+1 vote
Best answer

Before I can fully answer your question, you need to understand that soft vowels such as я, е, ё, юproduce the same sound as the corresponding hard vowels а, э, о, у. Their sounds are [a], [e], [o], [u]. The sounds of the vowels ы and и are also similar but not as much as the other four. In writing, the vowels are only different to indicate that the preceding consonant is soft (palatalized).

Now, to actually answer your question. The pronunciation of the Russian soft consonants is the same in any position. The sounds of the soft н, п or в are marked as [n'][p'] and [v'] respectively. Look at the following examples:

нюанс [n'uáns] nuance
небо [n'ebə] sky
нёбо [n'obə] palate

The situation with an additional slight 'y' sound is different. The 'y' sound is added before soft vowelsя, е, ё, ю (not including и) when they occur in one of the following positions:

  • after the soft sign ь (as you mentioned in your question)
  • after the hard sign ъ
  • after another vowel and in place of й
  • in word-initial positions

Note that the soft consonant sound is the same but it's followed by an additional 'y' sound because that sound is added before the vowel!

Нью-Йорк [n'jjork] (j-sounds are because of the soft sign and letter й; [n'] is soft)
пьяный [p'janij] (j-sound because of the soft sign; [p'] is soft) 
ёж [josh] (j-sound because the vowel is in the beginning of the word)
моя [mɐja] (j-sound because of the vowel o in front of я)

answered Jan 16, 2013 by Alex (13,670 points)
Thank you very much, so am i correct to assume that the soft consonant sound and the hard consonant sound are simply 'different' (albeit slightly) and that the 'y' sound is imparted onto the vowel only? so pronouncing -пь would not have a 'y' sound at the end, but pronouncing -рё would because it ё is a soft vowel? thank you for your help!
рё wouldn't have 'y' sound at the end either. It's a soft [p'] + [o]. There's no 'y' sound.

пь is just the soft sound [п']

рь is just the soft sound [p']

пё is soft [п'] + [o]