The short i, vowel or consonant (part 1)
Mikhail Lermontov (Part 1)

The short i, vowel or consonant (part 2)

In the first part of this article we explained you that in Russian alphabet, the letter Й (short i) is a strange letter. You can learn more about it now.

A vowel or a consonant?

Thus, we arrive to that point: “short i”, despite its name, and to the astonishment of foreigners, is not the short pronunciation of the vowel i. At school, we learn that “Й” is not a vowel, but a consonant! Yes, it’s true but somehow no one thought about explaining how И (the vowel i), when being shortened, becomes suddenly a consonant.

Indeed, if we follow such a logic, it is quite possible, in theory, to have consonants with all shorten vowels “А краткое” (short A), “О краткое” (short O), “Э краткое” (short E) or “Ы краткое” (short Y). However, in practice it doesn’t exist (there is, it is true a “short У” in Belorussian language, but that’s another story…)

The role of consonants

Another important point, now that we consider the letter Й as a consonant, is that consonants in the Russian alphabet can freely be combined with each others and preserve their sounds in all combinations. The letter Й, it’s easy to check, always requires a vowel before or after it, and therefore the Russian keyboard’s combination “ЙЦУКЕН” (which corresponds in English to “QWERTY”) can only be written but not read.

So, is the letter Й a vowel or a consonant? Foreigners are waiting for an answer. To stick to the existing theory, a special term was invented for the letter Й (and similar characters in other languages): “полугласная” (semivowel). However, in this term, despite its prevalence, there is a complete lack of logic. In reality, how one cannot understand that semivowels are the same as vowels but uttered in a lower voice?

What is a semivowel or semi-consonant?

And the inventors of “полугласных” (semi vowels), “полусогласных” (semi-consonants) and others “скользящих аппроксимантов” (shady approximations) could not give a clearer and more distinct explanation. Here’s a grandfather, and here’s a grandmother, so far this is clear, but what is a “grandfa-mother” or a “grandmo-father”, if someone can explain…

Such sterile palliative appears in the interpretation of the letter Й as an unstressed or non-syllabic vowel. It is clear that the mere denial of the second and third points of what characterise the other vowels can’t explain the specificity of the letter Й, or to be more exact the transformation of the words combination into unstressed consonant or non-syllabic consonant is in contradiction with itself.

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Thus, the letter (or sound) Й is neither a vowel nor a consonant, neither a “semivowel” nor a “semi-consonant”. So what is she (he or it)?… The only possible explanation in this case is to admit that the letter Й is entirely different, paradoxical with the traditional point of view of linguistic semi-consonants.

I would be pleased to hear your point of view about this article and to answer your questions.

Дмитрий Крюков