elroy

Imperfect mod
US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
My understanding is that Russian <e> is pronounced “ye” (like й + э). This is also what I hear in every word I’ve heard with <e> except <eë>, which I heard in a video and it sounded like “yiyo” rather than “yeyo” (with a йи sound instead of a йэ sound, which I expect the Russian <e> to have).

Is it in fact pronounced this way and if so, what’s the reason? Is there a rule or pattern?
Or is this me mishearing it or the person mispronouncing it?
 
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  • Vovan

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Russian <e> is pronounced “ye” (like й + э).
    Normally it's just /e/, but in some positions /je/ is pronounced instead (at the beginning of a word, for example).
    <eë>, which I heard in a video and it sounded like “yiyo” rather than “yeyo”
    In unstressed positions /e/ is reduced to /i/ (more or less). So you haven't misheard anything!:thumbsup:
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    My understanding is that Russian <e> is pronounced “ye” (like й + э).
    1. The meaning of the letter depends on the surrounding letters. It's /e/ after consonant letters (denoting their softness, if applicable and if not in certain loanwords), or /je/ in the remaining positions. That is, if it doesn't actually stand for "ё" to begin with.
    2. The sounding of the /e/ phoneme depends on its position in the word (mostly on its position in relation to the word's stress and on palatalization of the preceding consonant, if it is present).
    So, in "её" it's naturally /jejó/ > ~[(j)ɪ'jɵ]
     
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    elroy

    Imperfect mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    1. The meaning of the letter depends on the surrounding letters. It's /e/ after consonant letters (denoting their softness, if applicable and if not in certain loanwords), or /je/ in the remaining positions. That is, if it doesn't actually stand for "ё" to begin with.
    Well, my understanding is that if <e> appears after a consonant, it causes that consonant to be palatalized, while <э> does not. While it's true that не, for example, is not really "nye," it's also not "ne," and "nye" is the closest approximation from an English speaker's perspective. In any event, it seems to be presented as "ye" to English-speaking learners, and, as you say, that's how it's pronounced word-initially. While "ye" may not be 100% accurate, it's misleading to say that it's just "e," as though it didn't differ from <э>.
    (And yes, <ë> is, of course, a different animal entirely.)
    2. The sounding of the /e/ phoneme depends on its position in the word (mostly on its position in relation to the word's stress and on palatalization of the preceding consonant, if it is present).
    So, in "её" it's naturally /jejó/ > ~[(j)ɪ'jɵ]
    This is really what my question is about. You say it's "naturally" pronounced this way, but I don't know why. :D In parentheses, you mention stress and palatalization of the preceding consonant, if present (I assume you mean "if a preceding consonant is present"). If there's a preceding consent it's always palatalized, to my knowledge, isn't it? That leaves stress, which @Vovan also mentioned. Is it the case that it's always realized as [ɪ] when unstressed? Something tells me that's too straightforward to be true :(, and I'm fairly certain I've heard it pronounced [e] in unstressed syllables.
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Well, my understanding is that if <e> appears after a consonant, it causes that consonant to be palatalized
    Only most basically. Some consonants are never palatalized (so stressed "ше", "же", "це" are just [ʂɛ], [ʐɛ], [ʦɛ]). In a great deal of loanwords "е" doesn't palatalize anything either (e.g. теннис, секс, амбре etc.). "Э" appears after consonants only in loanwords and in foreign proper names, and does so in a pretty random fashion (for example, both "тег" and "тэг" may be used in computing for "tag", and they are pronounced identically). Its most consistent role is denoting /e/ after vowels (which combinations occur only in loanwords again) and word-initially. I personally percieve the situation with "э", "е" and "ё" as the most pressing issue of Russian orthography.
    and "nye" is the closest approximation from an English speaker's perspective.
    Hm, I never thought about it at that angle, to be frank. Still, in Russian [Ce], [Cʲe] and [C(ʲ)je] are all contrasted to each other (and for dental plosives [Cje] and [Cʲje] are also consistently contrasted; for other consonants [j] most typically causes near-automatic palatalization).
    While "ye" may not be 100% accurate, it's misleading to say that it's just "e," as though it didn't differ from <э>.
    And yet after consonants it's just /e/ on the phonological level, even though it normally modifies the meaning of the preceding consonant letter. How foreign speakers percieve palatalized consonants isn't of great relevance here, I am afraid.
    If there's a preceding consent it's always palatalized, to my knowledge, isn't it?
    Given everything mentioned above - no, it isn't. :) Even if we exclude loanwords entirely. Russian has /e/ after certain hard (non-palatalized) consonants since the 15th century, after the previously soft /š/, /ž/ and /c/ had hardened (and, of course, it's still spelled as "e" there - no one ever tried to change that, as there was no necessity).
    And again, I must remind that after consonants "э" and "е" reflect one and the same vowel phoneme /e/ (usually spelled /э/ in the traditional Cyrillic transcription) - these letters just treat the preceding consonant differently (...or not, occasionally).

    The Cyrillic script was originally created for Old Church Slavonic, which had many important differences in its phonology (open syllables only, comparatively little phonemic relevance of palatalization, etc.). It suited Old Russian perfectly fine, but a millennium of phonetic shifts and phonological restructuring resulted in its usage in Modern Russian being pretty complex and sometimes counter-intuitive.
     
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    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    P.S.:
    Is it the case that it's always realized as [ɪ] when unstressed?
    Sometimes closer to a fronted/close schwa, especially in post-tonic positions.
    After hard consonants, after vowels or word-initially unstressed /e/ may range from [ɨ̞] to [ə], depending on the exact position and the speaker.
     
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