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Lesson Transcript

Hi everyone.
Welcome to The Ultimate Russian Pronunciation Guide.
In this lesson, you'll learn about Russian palatalization.
It is imperative that you get a firm understanding of the content in this lesson because palatalization is a major component of Russian.
Consonant sounds in Russian are heavily influenced by their neighboring sounds. There are many instances where a letter's pronunciation will change based on the sounds that follow it.
There are generally two ways of pronouncing a consonant letter in Russian: hard...
...or soft.
The hard version is said to be non-palatalized, while the soft version is said to be palatalized.
What is Palatalization?
But what is palatalization?
Palatalization refers to a way of pronouncing a consonant in which part of the tongue, usually the middle part, known as the blade of the tongue, moves closer to the roof of the mouth. When this happens, a Y-like sound quality is added to the consonant sound.
Notice how in the previous example, the hard version sounded like an English K sound,
while the soft version – although still sounding like a K sound – has an added Y-like quality to it.
That's because the tongue lays flat in the hard version, but is raised in the soft version. This difference in tongue positioning is the sole factor that determines the hardness or softness of a consonant, and this is what we refer to as palatalization.
When to use hard and soft pronunciations
Now you know the difference between a hard and a soft consonant, but which pronunciation should you use? And when?
Enter these two Russian letters: the hard sign, and the soft sign.
These two Russian letters are special because they do not produce any sounds on their own. Instead, they modify the sound that precedes them.
As you might have guessed, the hard sign indicates that you must pronounce the preceding consonant as hard, or non-palatalized, while the soft sign indicates that you must pronounce the preceding consonant as soft, or palatalized.
объект (object)
бьорк (Bjork)"
Simple, right?
But these two letters aren't the only ones that can modify a consonant's pronunciation. Vowels, too, can change the hardness or softness of a preceding consonant.
Similar to consonants, there are also hard and soft varieties of vowels. Unlike consonants however, each hard and soft vowel is represented by a letter, so they don't require the use of modifiers like the hard or soft sign to indicate their pronunciation. We can categorize them as: Hard indicating vowels, and Soft indicating vowels.
Like consonants, palatalization works the same way for vowels.
"а, я
o, ё"
Ok. Let's review what we've learned so far.
We know that two special letters, and all vowels, have the ability to determine the palatalization of a preceding consonant.
*These* letters will make the pronunciation of a preceding consonant hard.
And all of *these* letters will make the pronunciation of a preceding consonant soft.
Now, consider this example...
Using the chart to assist you, try to guess the proper pronunciation for this word.
The first letter is a vowel. Using the chart, we can see that it's a hard vowel, so it'll be pronounced hard.
The second letter is a consonant. Will this be the hard or soft pronunciation? The hard sign here indicates that it's a hard consonant, so it'll also be pronounced hard.
Next is a vowel. It's a soft vowel, so it'll be pronounce soft.
The letter after that, is a consonant. How would this consonant be pronounced?
As you can see, we've run into a slight problem. There's no sign to indicate whether it's hard or soft, and the letter after that isn't a vowel either, so how is this consonant meant to be pronounced?
The answer, is hard.
Consonant clusters, meaning a group of consonants that do not have an intervening vowel, like this one, take on the palatalization quality of the final consonant in that cluster.
Look at the KT consonant cluster in this example. The K and any preceding consonants in that cluster, will take on the palatalization quality of the final letter in that cluster, in this case T. The reason that the T has a hard pronunciation, even though no vowel or modifier is apparent, is because the hard sign is omitted.
In modern times, the hard sign is often omitted, particularly at the end of a word. Words which would've had the hard sign at the end in the past are omitted in present day. This would mean that unless the final letter ends with a soft sign or a vowel, all consonants in the final position will be pronounced hard.
Since the T is hard, the K must also be pronounced hard as well. If the T had been soft, the pronunciation of all consonants that precede the T, in that cluster, must also be pronounced soft. Unlike the hard sign however, the soft sign is never omitted.
In this example then, the final two letters are pronounced with the hard pronunciation.
объект (object)
Now you know all the rules about Russian palatalization. See if you can guess the pronunciation of the following words.
The first one is...
мат (yoga mat)
This vowel is a hard vowel, which indicates that the first consonant must also be pronounced hard. The final consonant doesn't have any signs or vowels following it, so it too, must be pronounced hard.
мат (yoga mat)
What about this one?
мать (mother)
The vowel in the middle is a hard vowel, which indicates that the first consonant must be pronounced hard. The final letter is a soft sign, which indicates that the consonant preceding it must also be pronounced soft.
мать (mother)
Here's the last one.
нести (to carry)
The first vowel is a soft vowel, which indicates that the first consonant must be pronounced soft. Next we have a consonant cluster, and finally a vowel. Since the final vowel is a soft vowel, we must pronounce the preceding consonant, and all consonants in that cluster, as soft.
нести (to carry)
Well done! In this lesson, you learned about Russian palatalization.
In the next lesson, you'll learn about voicing in Russian.
How did you do on the quiz? Please share your results in the comments.
See you in the next Ultimate Russian Pronunciation Guide lesson!