мь in front of я

Laceración

New Member
Swedish
Hello I've noticed many words have a soft consonant written out before a vowel that would have made them soft by default.

For example семья. As M goes before я why is it written семья and not семя? Is there a difference in the pronunciation of the two words?
 
  • Vadim K

    Senior Member
    Russian - Russia
    There is not only a difference in pronuncation between these two words but also there is a difference in meaning between them.
    "Семья́" is "a family" in English.
    "Се́мя" is "a seed" in English.
     

    Laceración

    New Member
    Swedish
    There is not only a difference in pronuncation between these two words but also there is a difference in meaning between them.
    "Семья́" is "a family" in English.
    "Се́мя" is "a seed" in English.
    So the only difference is the stress?
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    As M goes before я why is it written семья and not семя? Is there a difference in the pronunciation of the two words?
    Speaking about translating letters to phonemes, Russian orthography works as follows ("С" stands for a consonant):
    "Cа", "Сэ", "Со", "Су", "Сы" > /Са/, /Сэ/, /Со/, /Су/, /Си/
    "Cя", "Сё", "Сю", "Си" > /С'а/, /С'о/, /С'у/, /С'и/
    "Cе" > /С'э/, but in loanwords often /Cэ/; also may be /C'о/, if "e" actually stands for "ё" (which is quite typical).
    "Cья", "Сье", "Сьё", "Сью", "Сьи" > /С'йа/, /С'йэ/, /С'йо/, /С'йу/, /С'йи/
    "Й", "ч" and "щ" represent unpaired soft consonants no matter what is the following vowel letter; it works in a similar fashion for "ш", "ж" and "ц", but those are always hard (the choice of a vowel letter in these cases is often dictated by a tradition, and the rules are sometimes pretty complicated; not much of an issue for foreign learners, though, since those usually begin to study Russian in a written form and deal mostly with texts from the start).
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    So the only difference is the stress?
    The most important difference is the presence of underlying /й/. Those "iotated" letters ("е", "ю", "я", "ё") represent /йэ/, /йу/, /йа/, /йо/ in all positions except when they directly follow a consonant letter - and "ь" surely doesn't count as a consonant letter.
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Семья can be also pronounced with hard m: [sʲemja].
    I wanted to mention those cases, but changed my mind for the sake of simplicity. Anyway, the position before /й/ is weak for most consonants in regard to softness, so it doesn't matter a lot how these consonants are actually pronounced.
     
    Last edited:

    Lorenc

    Senior Member
    Italian
    I have a side question concerning the word семья. The corresponding Ukrainian word, сім'я, should be pronounced with a hard m sound. However, listening to the examples from Forvo, I really can't hear any difference with respect to the Russian word. Do native Russian speakers hear any difference from Russian in the Ukrainian recordings?
     
    Last edited:

    Maroseika

    Moderator
    Russian
    I have a side question concerning the word семья. The corresponding Ukrainian word, сім'я, should be pronounced with a hard m sound. However, listening to the examples from Forvo, I really can't hear any difference with respect to the Russian word. Do native Russian speakers hear any difference from Russian in the Ukrainian recordings?
    I'd say all of them are pronounced with hard м. But anyway the difference between hard and soft м in this word is subtle due to the following j.
    Same in the other words like that: скамья, Демьян, семью, семьи, премьер etc.
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    However, listening to the examples from Forvo, I really can't hear any difference with respect to the Russian word.
    The Russian word on Forvo is pronounced about half of the time with the soft [м'], as I hear it. I wouldn't call that difference instantly audible, though. Still, Ukrainian "сім'я" demonstrates a different pronunciation of the both vowels, which is well audible (in Russian it would be an accent).
     
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