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The short i, vowel or consonant (part 2)
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The short i, vowel or consonant (part 1)

Every Russian has studied Russian alphabet at school (in its national version) and wonders: what is complicated and incomprehensible in it?

Alphabet, the visit card of a language

Let’s look at our alphabet through the eyes of foreigners… How does they see it? The fact is that the alphabet is a kind of “визитной карточкой” (visit card), no matter the language, and if people discover on that card something mysterious and incomprehensible, and therefore hostile, then they’ll more likely give up the learning of the language at that stage.

In opposition, a clear and distinct alphabet, answering all the questions that are coming to one’s mind, will motivate anyone to continue the study of this language.

The phonetic of the language is closely related to the good understanding and construction of an alphabet.

Learning methods of Russian pronunciation

It is well known that the training of pronunciation for foreigners is reduced to two methods: им либо указывают на аналогичные звуки в их родном языке (either by pointing out similar sounds in one’s native language) (which is great when the native language is rich of sounds), либо полагаются на дальнейшее “погружение” в русский язык (either with a further “immersion” into Russian language), which is meant to help foreigners picking up the correct pronunciation (from Moscow).

Many foreigners came out of this long immersion into the Russian environment quite “сухими из воды” (dry out of the water, meaning come off clear), gaining only a “strange” accent. However, a detailed explanation of the basic principles of Russian phonetics (the alphabet) would be a good help in this matter.

Of course, there are many “academic” interpretations on this matter and lots of special terms. But they might be more suitable for speech therapists rather than foreigners.

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The mysterious “short i”

Let’s talk about the mysterious letter Й (short i). This seemingly simple and familiar character strangely escapes all known categories …

So let’s start. The letter “Й” is called “И краткое” (short i). And “i”, as it is known, is one of гласной (the vowels) of the Russian alphabet. Without using the abstract academic definitions, a vowel should be:

  • a letter (sound) which can be sang (this is why it is a vowel)
  • a letter which forms a separate syllable, and
  • a sound that can be stressed.

What is a short sound?

So, according to its name “Й” is the short sound of “i”. But despite the “primitiveness” of such an understanding, many foreigners mark a pause on it, making it often longer than the usual “И” (i), which often leads to confusion.

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А что значит краткая в данном случае? (but what does “short” means in this case?) When it comes to duration, the duration of the sound “i” (as other vowels) is obviously determined by the rate of speech, that is the faster the speech, the shorter (nearly down to swallowing) the sound of the vowels.

In the opposite, in conversations given at an extremely slow rate of speech (as in slow motion movies, for example), the “short i” can (theoretically) reaches a few seconds.

And we also can point out another argument against the “short i”: in its combination with the vowel i, the “long i” and “short i” should be pronounced like one and a half sound … and this is actually not the case.

Read now the second part of this article about that strange letter Й.

Дмитрий Крюков