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Lesson Transcript

Hi everyone.
Welcome to The Ultimate Russian Pronunciation Guide.
In this lesson, you'll learn about stress and vowel reduction.
Stress refers to the prominence or relative emphasis placed on certain syllables in a word.
When you say the word "unbelievable" for example, do you notice how the "lie" is accentuated?
That's because it's pronounced longer and louder than any other syllable, and this is what we refer to as stress.
Consider the word for 'flour' in Russian.
мука (flour)
Notice how the final syllable is emphasized.
мука (flour)
If we were to stress the *first* syllable instead...
мука (torture)
The meaning changes completely and we get a new word.
мука (torture)
Both words are exactly identical, the only thing that differs between them, however, is their stress.
As you can see, the incorrect placement of stress can lead to dire misunderstanding. Therefore, it's incredibly important to recognize where the stress is placed when learning a new word.
See if you can guess where the stress is placed in the following examples.
"Тревога (alarm)
тревожный (alarming)
тревожить (to alarm)"
Did you get it? The stress is placed consistently on the second vowel.
What about these two words?
"земля (ground)
приземистый (low to the ground)"
The stress is on the final vowel in the first example, but moves to the root of the word in the second example.
Here's the last one.
"Чувство (sense)
чувственный (sensual)
чувствительный (sensitive)"
Did you get it right?
In each of the examples shown, each set shares the same root word. The stress may remain on one syllable in one example, but can shift unpredictably in another example.
Unfortunately, this is true for most words in the Russian. The stress placement is very random and will change from word to word.
While there *are* stress rules in Russian, they are often so complex and littered with exceptions that you cannot reliably use them.
The only surefire way to ensure that you stress the right syllable is to check with a dictionary that indicates stress, or better yet, listen to native speakers and imitate how *they* say it.
Now that you've learned about stress in Russian, let's move on to vowel reduction.
Vowel reduction is the weakening of a vowel via a decrease in volume, a shortening of the duration, or a change in the articulation of the vowel, causing it to become less prominent. Due to this weakening, the pronunciation and therefore the sound of the vowel itself will change.
"Consider this English example (about).
It's pronounced 'aye-bout'."
But in many dialects, or during rapid speech, it'll often be pronounced 'uh-bout'.
This is a perfect example demonstrating the reduction of the letter A.
Less energy is required to produce an 'uh' sound than it is to produce an 'aye' sound because your tongue is in the center, rest position, as opposed to the 'aye' sound which requires you to open and widen your mouth.
While this may not seem like very much, in situations where the tongue has to move from one corner of the mouth to the opposing corner, it can become very tiresome and impractical for everyday speech. Just imagine how unnatural it would be talking to someone who insists on enunciating every single letter.
Okay, now that you have a sense of what vowel reduction is, let's bring our attention back to Russian.
In Russian, vowels will tend to undergo reduction if they are part of an unstressed syllable.
This means that for vowels that are in unstressed syllables, the tongue becomes lazy and will want stay closer to the center of the mouth, and so the vowel sound will change accordingly.
But don't worry, we already covered every single vowel sound in lesson 3. So if you've been studying properly, then you already know how to pronounce all of these sounds!
And since you learned about stress in this lesson, identifying the unstressed syllables should be easy!
Vowel Reduction Rules in Russian
The good news is that a handful of Russian vowels will remain unchanged, so these rules will not apply to them.
We have four reduction rules in Russian.
Rule 1: о is pronounced а in the syllable before the stress
Rule number 1.
When unstressed,
will sound like...
o [ʌ]
if it's in the syllable immediately *before* the stressed syllable.
"окно́ (window)
Москвá (Moscow)"
Notice how it's pronounced differently to the way that it's spelt.
"окно́ (window)
Москвá (Moscow)"
Keep in mind that this only applies if the vowel appears in the syllable immediately *before* the stressed syllable.
Rule 2: е and я are pronounced и in every *unstressed* syllable, except some noun endings
Rule Number 2
When unstressed,
е, я
will sound like...
"и [i]
и [jɪ]"
if it isn't stressed.
мечта (dream)
сестра (sister)
Rule 3: o and a are pronounced [ə] in every unstressed syllable *except* the syllable before the stressed syllable, *or* if it's the very first sound in a word.
Rule Number 3
When unstressed,
o, a
will sound like...
а (in лампа) [ə]
in any unstressed syllable that *isn't* the one immediately before the stressed syllable.
"крепко (strongly)
лампа (lamp)"
Rule 4: е and я are pronounced [jə] in some noun and adjective endings, ое/ее, ая/яя
Last one! Rule Number 4
When unstressed,
е, я
will sound like...
я (the second я in дядя) [jə]
in some noun endings, and these forms of adjective endings.
дядя (uncle)
номер (number)
новое/новaя (new)
In this lesson, you learned about stress and vowel reduction in Russian
In the next lesson, we'll review everything that we've learned in this series and test you on the material.
Can you think of any vowel reductions in your language? Share it in the comments.
See you in the next Ultimate Russian Pronunciation Guide lesson!