Russian phonology

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This article discusses the phonological system of standard Russian based on the Moscow dialect (unless otherwise noted). For discussion of other dialects, see Russian dialects. Most descriptions of Russian describe it as having five vowel phonemes, though there is some dispute over whether a sixth vowel, /ɨ/, is separate from /i/. Russian possesses 34 consonants, which can be divided into two sets:

Vowels

Front Central Back
Close i (ɨ) u
Mid
Open ä

A long-standing dispute among linguists is whether Russian possesses five vowel phonemes or six; that is, scholars disagree as to whether [ɨ] constitutes an allophone of /i/ or if there is an independent phoneme /ɨ/. The five-vowel analysis, taken up by the Moscow school, rests on the complementary distribution of [ɨ] and [i], with the former occurring after hard (non-palatalized) consonants and [i] elsewhere.

Russian vowel chart by Jones & Trofimov (1923)1

The six-vowel view, held by the Saint-Petersburg (Leningrad) phonology school, points to several phenomena to make its case:

  • Native Russian speakers' ability to articulate [ɨ] in isolation (for example, in the names of respective letters, и and ы),2
  • Rare instances of word-initial [ɨ] (including the minimal pair икать 'to produce the sound и' and ыкать 'to produce the sound ы'),3 as well as borrowed names and toponyms, like Ыб About this sound [ɨp] , the name of a river and several villages in the Komi Republic.
  • Morphological alternations like готов About this sound [ɡɐˈtof]  ('ready' predicate, m.) and готовить About this sound [ɡɐˈtovʲɪtʲ]  ('to get ready' trans.) between palatalized and non-palatalized consonants.4

The most popular view among linguists (and that taken up in this article) is that of the Moscow school,3 though Russian pedagogy has typically taught that there are six vowels (the term phoneme is not used).5

Reconstructions of Proto-Slavic show that *i and *y were separate phonemes. On the other hand, numerous alternations between the two sounds in Russian indicate clearly that at one point the two sounds were reanalyzed as allophones of each other.citation needed

Allophony

A quick index of vowel pronunciation
Phoneme Position Letter
(typically)
Stressed Reduced
 /a/ V, CV(C), CʲV(C)
CʲVCʲ
  а  äɑ
 æ
ə, ɐ
CʲV(C)
CʲVCʲ
  я  ä
 æ
ɪ
 /o/ V, CV   о   ə, ɐ
CʲV   ё  ɵ̞ ɪ ×
 /e/ V, CV  э, е  ɛ ɪ̈
CʲV   е  e ɪ
 /u/ V, CV   у  u ʊ
CʲV(C)
CʲVCʲ
  ю  u
 ʉ
ʊ
ʊ̈
 /ɨ/ * V, CV  ы, и ɨ ɪ̈
 /i/ * V, CʲV   и  i ɪ
* distinction is disputed
× written as е in this position

Russian vowels are subject to considerable allophony, subject to both stress and the palatalization of neighboring consonants. In most unstressed positions, in fact, only three phonemes are distinguished after hard consonants, and only two after soft consonants. Unstressed /a/ and /o/ merge (a phenomenon known as akan'je); unstressed /e/ and /i/ merge (ikan'je); and all four unstressed vowels merge after soft consonants, except in absolute final position in a word. None of these mergers are represented in writing.

Front vowels

When a preceding consonant is hard, /i/ is retracted to [ɨ]. Formant studies in Padgett (2001) demonstrate that [ɨ] is better characterized as slightly diphthongized from the velarization of the preceding consonant,6 implying that a phonological pattern of using velarization to enhance perceptual distinctiveness between hard and soft consonants is strongest before /i/. When unstressed, /i/ becomes near-close; that is, [ɨ̞] following a hard consonant and [ɪ] in most other environments.7 Between soft consonants, both stressed and unstressed /i/ are raised,8 as in пить About this sound [pʲi̝tʲ]  ('to drink') and маленький About this sound [ˈmalʲɪ̝nʲkʲɪj]  ('small'). When preceded and followed by coronal or dorsal consonants, [ɨ] is fronted to [ɨ̟].9 After a labial + /l/ cluster, [ɨ] is retracted, as in плыть About this sound [plɨ̠tʲ]  ('to float'); it is also slightly diphthongized to [ɯ̟ɨ̟].9

In native words, /e/ only follows unpaired (i.e. the retroflexes and /t͡s/) and soft consonants. After soft consonants (but not before), it is a mid vowel ([e̞] or [ɛ̝]), while a following soft consonant raises it to [e]. Another allophone, an open-mid [ɛ] occurs word-initially and never before or after soft consonants (hereafter [ɛ̝] is represented without the diacritic for simplicity).10 Preceding hard consonants retract /e/ to [ɛ̠] and [e̠]11 so that жест ('gesture') and цель ('target') are pronounced About this sound [ʐɛ̠st]  and About this sound [t͡se̠lʲ]  respectively.

In words borrowed from other languages, /e/ rarely follows soft consonants; this foreign pronunciation often persists in Russian for many years until the word is more fully adopted into Russian.12 For instance, шофёр (from French chauffeur) was pronounced About this sound [ʂoˈfɛr]  in the early twentieth century,13 but is now pronounced About this sound [ʂɐˈfʲɵr] . On the other hand, the pronunciations of words such as отель About this sound [ɐˈtɛlʲ]  ('hotel') retain the hard consonants despite a long presence in the language.

Back vowels

Between soft consonants, /a/ becomes [æ],14 as in пять About this sound [pʲætʲ]  ('five'). When not following a soft consonant, /a/ is retracted to [ɑ̟] before /l/ as in палка About this sound [ˈpɑ̟lkə]  ('stick').14

For most speakers, /o/ is a mid vowel but it can be more open for some speakers.15 Following a soft consonant, /o/ is centralized to [ɵ̞] as in тётя About this sound [ˈtʲɵ.tʲə]  ('aunt').1617

As with the other back vowels, /u/ is centralized between soft consonants,18 as in чуть About this sound [t͡ɕʉtʲ]  ('narrowly'). When unstressed, /u/ becomes near-close.

Unstressed vowels

Russian unstressed vowels have lower intensity and lower energy. They are typically shorter than stressed vowels and tend to merge:19

  • /o/ and /a/ merge in most unstressed positions (e.g. валы 'bulwarks' and волы 'oxen' are pronounced About this sound [vɐˈlɨ] ).
  • Likewise, /e/ and /i/ merge in most unstressed positions (e.g. лиса 'fox' and леса 'forests' are pronounced About this sound [lʲɪˈsa] ).
  • All four merge in most unstressed positions after soft consonants.

These mergers do not occur in all dialects. The merger of unstressed /e/ and /i/ in particular is less universal than that of unstressed /o/ and /a/ (e.g. speakers near the border with Belarus have the latter but not the former merger, distinguishing between лиса́ ('fox') and леса́ ('forests'), прожива́ть ('to reside') and прожева́ть ('to chew'), etc.). The distinction between unstressed /e/ and /i/ is codified in some pronunciation dictionaries Avanesov (1985:663) Zarva (1993:15).

As a result, in most unstressed positions, only three vowel phonemes are distinguished after hard consonants (/u/ vs. /a ~ o/ vs. /e ~ i/), and only two (/u/ vs. /a ~ o ~ e ~ i/) after soft consonants. For the most part, Russian orthography (as opposed to that of closely related Belarusian) does not reflect vowel reduction.

Vowel mergers

In terms of actual pronunciation, there are at least two different levels of vowel reduction: vowels are less reduced when a syllable immediately precedes the stressed one, and more reduced in other positions.20 This is particularly visible in the realization of unstressed /o/ and /a/, where a less-reduced allophone [ɐ] contrasts with a more-reduced allophone [ə].

The pronunciation of unstressed /o ~ a/ is as follows:

  1. [ɐ] (sometimes transcribed ʌ) appears in the following positions:
    • In the syllable immediately before the stress, when a hard consonant precedes.21 Example: паром About this sound [pɐˈrom]  ('ferry'), трава About this sound [trɐˈva]  ('grass').
    • In absolute word-initial position.22
    • Adjacent to a hiatus, when the same sound occurs on both sides of the hiatus (written aa, ao, oa, or oo).22 Example: соображать About this sound [sɐ.ɐ.brɐˈʐatʲ]  ('to use common sense/to reason').
  2. [ə] appears elsewhere, when a hard consonant precedes. Example: облако About this sound [ˈobləkə]  ('cloud'), .
  3. When a soft consonant or /j/ precedes, both /o/ and /a/ merge with /i/ and are pronounced as [ɪ]. Example: язык About this sound [jɪˈzɨk]  'tongue'). /o/ is written as e in these positions.
  4. These processes occur even across word boundaries as in под морем [pɐˈd‿morʲɪm] ('under the sea').

The pronunciation of unstressed /e ~ i/ is [ɪ] after soft consonants and /j/, and word-initially (эта́п About this sound [ɪˈtap]  ('stage')), but [ɨ] after hard consonants (дышать About this sound [dɨ̞ˈʂatʲ] } ('to breathe')).

There are a number of exceptions to the above vowel-reduction rules:

  • Vowels may not merge in foreign borrowings,262728 particularly with unusual or recently borrowed words (e.g. радио, About this sound [ˈra.dʲɪ.o]  'radio'). In such words, unstressed /a/ may be pronounced as [ɐ], regardless of context and word pairs like эмигра́нт/иммигра́нт or эмити́ровать/имити́ровать differ in pronunciationcitation needed.
  • Across certain word-final inflections, the reductions do not completely apply. For example, after soft or unpaired consonants, unstressed /a/, /e/ and /i/ of a final syllable may be distinguished from each other.2930 For example, жи́тели About this sound [ˈʐɨtʲɪlʲɪ]  ('habitants') contrasts with both (о) жи́теле About this sound [(o) ˈʐɨtʲɪlʲɛ]  ('[about] an habitant') and жи́теля About this sound [ˈʐɨtʲɪlʲə] .
  • If the first vowel of oa, or oo belongs to the conjunctions но- ('but') or то ('then'), it is not reduced, even when unstressed.31
  • In loanwords, unstressed /e/ does not merge with /i/ in initial position or after vowels, so word pairs like эмигрант/иммигрант or эмитировать/имитировать differ in pronunciation.
Other changes

Unstressed /u/ is generally pronounced as a lax (or near-close) [ʊ], e.g. мужчина About this sound [mʊˈɕːinə]  ('man'). Between soft consonants, it becomes centralized to [ʉ̞], as in ютиться About this sound [jʉ̞ˈtʲit͡sə] } ('to huddle').

Note a spelling irregularity in /s/ of the reflexive suffix -ся: with a preceding -т- in third-person present and a -ть- in infinitive, it is pronounced as [t͡sə], i.e. hard instead of with its soft counterpart due to the affricate [t͡s] (as in ц) being a phoneme always hard in the traditional Russian phonology. In other forms both pronunciations [sə] and [sʲə] alternate for a speaker with some usual form-dependent preferences.32clarification needed

In weakly stressed positions, vowels may become voiceless between two voiceless consonants: выставка About this sound [ˈvɨstə̥fkə]  ('exhibition'), потому что About this sound [pə̥tɐˈmu ʂtə]  ('because'). This may also happen in cases where only the following consonant is voiceless: череп About this sound [t͡ɕerʲɪ̥p]  ('skull').

Phonemic analysis

Because of mergers of different phonemes in unstressed position, the assignment of a particular phone to a phoneme requires phonological analysis. There have been different approaches to this problem:33

  • The Saint Petersburg phonology school assigns allophones to particular phonemes. For example, any [ɐ] is considered as a realization of /a/.
  • The Moscow phonology school treats [ɐ] as either /a/ or /o/, depending on morphological alternations or etymology. To make a determination, one must seek out instances where an unstressed morpheme containing [ɐ] in one word is stressed in another word. Thus, if the word [vɐˈlɨ] ('shafts') shows an alternation with [val] ('shaft'), then this instance of [ɐ] is an allophone of /a/. Meanwhile, [vɐˈlɨ] ('oxen') alternates with [vol] ('ox'), showing that this instance of [ɐ] is an allophone of /o/. If there are no alternations between stressed and unstressed syllables for a particular morpheme, then the assignment is based on etymology.
  • Some linguists34 prefer to avoid making the decision. Their terminology includes strong vowel phonemes (the five) for stressed vowels plus several weak phonemes for unstressed vowels: thus, [ɐ] represents the weak phoneme /ɐ/, which contrasts with other weak phonemes, but not with strong ones.

Diphthongs

Russian diphthongs all end in a non-syllabic [i̯], an allophone of /j/ and the only semivowel in Russian. In all contexts other than after a vowel, /j/ is considered an approximant consonant. Phonological descriptions of /j/ may also classify it as a consonant even in the coda. In such descriptions, Russian has no diphthongs.

The first part of diphthongs are subject to the same allophony as their constituent vowels. Examples of words with diphthongs: яйцо About this sound [jɪjˈt͡so] } ('egg'), ей About this sound [jej]  ('her' dat.), действенный About this sound [ˈdʲejstvʲɪnnɨj]  ('effective'). /ij/ (written -ий or -ый) is a common inflexional affix of adjectives, participles, and nouns, where it is often unstressed; at normal conversational speed, such unstressed endings may be monophthongized to [ɪ̟].35

Consonants

ʲ denotes palatalization, meaning the center of the tongue is raised during and after the articulation of the consonant. Phonemes that have at different times been disputed are enclosed in parentheses.

Consonant phonemes
Labial Dental​/alveolar Post-alveolar​/palatal Velar
hard soft hard soft hard soft hard soft
Nasal m
Stop p   b             k   ɡ () (ɡʲ)
Affricate t͡s (t͡sʲ) t͡ɕ
Fricative f   v             ʂ   ʐ (ɕː) (ʑː) x ()
Trill r
Approximant l j

Notes

  • Most consonants phonemes come in hard–soft pairs (exceptions are listed below). There is a marked tendency of Russian hard consonants to be velarized, though this is a subject of some academic dispute.36 Velarization is clearest before the front vowels /e/ and /i/.3738
    • /ʐ/ and /ʂ/ are always hard (even if spelling contains a "softening" letter after them, as in жена, шёлк, жить, мышь, жюри, парашют etc.), for most speakers it's true also in foreign proper names, mostly of French or Lithuanian origin (e.g. Гёльджюк, "Жён Африк", Жюль Верн, Герхард Шюрер, Шяуляй, Шяшувис).39 Long phonemes /ʑː/ and /ɕː/ do not pattern in the same ways that other hard–soft pairs do.citation needed
    • /t͡s/ is generally listed among the always-hard consonants, however certain foreign proper names, including those of Polish, Ukrainian, or Lithuanian origin (e.g. Цюрих, Цюрупа, Пацюк, Цявловский), as well as loanwords (e.g., хуацяо, from Chinese) contain a soft [t͡sʲ].40 The phonemicity of a soft /t͡sʲ/ is supported by neologisms that come from native word-building processes (e.g. фрицёнок, шпицята).
    • /t͡ɕ/ and /j/ are always soft.
    • /ɕː/ is also always soft. A formerly common41 pronunciation of /ɕ/+/t͡ɕ/ indicates the sound may be two underlying phonemes: /ʂ/ and /t͡ɕ/, thus /ɕː/ can be considered as a marginal phoneme. In today's most widespread pronunciation, [ɕt͡ɕ] appears (instead of [ɕː]) for orthographical -зч-/-сч- where ч- starts a words's root, and -з/-с belongs to a preposition or a "clearly distinguisheable" prefix (e.g. без часов About this sound [bʲɪɕt͡ɕɪˈsof] , 'without a clock'; расчертить About this sound [rɐɕt͡ɕɪrˈtʲitʲ] , 'to rule'); in all other cases /ɕː/ is used (щётка, грузчик, переписчик, счастье, мужчина, исщипать, расщепить etc.)
    • /ʑː/ was always soft few decades ago;clarification needed now it is generallycitation needed replaced with a geminated hard /ʐː/ (or with spelling-motivated /ʐd(ʲ)/ in the case of the root -дожд-: дождя, дожди, дождик, дождливый etc.). The status of /ʑː/ as a phoneme is also marginal42 since it may derive from an underlying /zʐ/ or /sʐ/. For more information, see alveolo-palatal consonant and retroflex consonant.
  • /ʂ/ is a somewhat concave apical postalveolar.43 It may be described as retroflex, e.g. by Hamann (2004), but this is to indicate that it is not laminal nor palatalized; not to say that it is subapical.44 /ʐ/ differs from /ʂ/ only by being voiced.
  • Hard /t/ /d/ /n/ /l/ and soft /rʲ/ are apical dental ([t̪] [d̪] [n̪] [l̪] [r̪ʲ]), while soft /tʲ/ /dʲ/ /nʲ/ and /lʲ/ are laminal alveolar ([t̻ʲ [d̻ʲ [n̻ʲ] [l̻ʲ]). For /tʲ/ and /dʲ/, the tongue is raised enough to produce slight frication. Hard /l/ is typically pharyngealized ([ɫ], "dark l"). Hard /r/ is postalveolar ([r̠]).45
  • /t͡s s sʲ z zʲ/ are dental.46not in citation given.
  • A marginal phoneme /ɣ/ occurs instead of /ɡ/ in certain interjections: ага, ого, угу, эге, о-го-го, э-ге-ге, гоп. (Thus, there exists a minimal pair of homographs: ага About this sound [ɐˈɣa]  'aha!' vs ага About this sound [ɐˈɡa]  'agha'). The same sound [ɣ] can be found in бухгалтер (orthographically хг; however in цейхгауз, хг is [x]), optionally in габитус and in a few other loanwords. Also optionally (and less frequently than a century ago) [ɣ] can be used instead of [ɡ] in certain religious words (a phenomenon influenced by Church Slavonic pronunciation): Бога, Богу... (declension forms of Бог 'God'), Господь 'Lord' (especially in the exclamation Господи! 'Oh Lord!'), благой 'good'.
  • Some linguists (like I. G. Dobrodomov and his school) postulate the existence of a phonemic glottal stop /ʔ/. This marginal phoneme can be found, for example, in the word не-а About this sound [nʲeʔ] . Claimed minimal pairs for this phoneme include суженный About this sound [ˈsʔuʐɨnɨj]  'narrowed' (a participle from сузить 'to narrow', with prefix с- and root -уз-, cf. узкий 'narrow') vs суженый About this sound [ˈsuʐɨnɨj]  'betrothed' (originally a participle from судить 'to judge', now an adjective; the root is суд 'court') and с Аней About this sound [ˈsʔanʲɪj]  'with Ann' vs Саней About this sound [ˈsanʲɪj]  '(by) Alex'.4748

There is some dispute over the phonemicity of soft velar consonants. Typically, the soft–hard distinction is allophonic for velar consonants: they become soft before front vowels, as in короткий About this sound [kɐˈrotkʲɪj]  ('short'), unless there is a word boundary, in which case they are hard (e.g. к Ивану About this sound [k ‿ɨvanu]  'to Ivan').49 Hard variants occur everywhere else. Exceptions are represented mostly by:

  • Loanwords:
    • Soft: гёзы, гюрза, гяур, секьюрити, кюре, кяриз, санкхья, хянга;
    • Hard: кок-сагыз, гэльский, акын, кеб, хэппенинг.
  • Proper nouns of foreign origin:
    • Soft: Алигьери, Гёте, Гюнтер, Гянджа, Джокьякарта, Кёнигсберг, Кюрасао, Кяхта, Хьюстон, Хёндэ, Хюбнер, Пюхяярви;
    • Hard: Мангышлак, Гэри, Кызылкум, Кэмп-Дэвид, Архыз, Хуанхэ.

The rare native examples are fairly new, as most them were coined in the last century:

  • Soft: forms of the verb ткать 'weave' (ткёшь, ткёт etc., and derivatives like соткёшься); догёнок/догята, герцогёнок/герцогята; and adverbial participles of the type берегя, стерегя, стригя, жгя, пекя, секя, ткя (it is disputed whether these are part of the standard language or just informal colloquialisms)citation needed;
  • Hard: the name гэ of letter г, acronyms and derived words (кагебешник, днепрогэсовский), a few interjections (гы, кыш, хэй), some onomatopoeic words (гыгыкать), and colloquial forms of certain patronyms: Олегыч, Маркыч, Аристархыч (where -ыч is a contraction of standard language's patronymical suffix -ович rather than a continuation of ancient -ич).

In the mid-twentieth century, a small number of reductionist approaches made by structuralists50 put forth that palatalized consonants occur as the result of a phonological processes involving /j/ (or palatalization as a phoneme in itself), so that there were no underlying palatalized consonants.51 Despite such proposals, linguists have long agreed that the underlying structure of Russian is closer to that of its acoustic properties, namely that soft consonants are separate phonemes in their own right.52

Phonological processes

Voiced consonants (/b/, /bʲ/, /d/, /dʲ/ /ɡ/, /v/, /vʲ/, /z/, /zʲ/, /ʐ/, and /ʑː/) are devoiced word-finally unless the next word begins with a voiced obstruent.53 /ɡ/, in addition to becoming voiceless, also lenites to [x] in some words, such as бог [ˈbox].citation needed

Russian features a general retrograde assimilation of voicing and palatalization.54 In longer clusters, this means that multiple consonants may be soft despite their underlyingly (and orthographically) being hard.55 The process of voicing assimilation applies across word-boundaries when there is no pause between words.56

Voicing

Within a morpheme, voicing is not distinctive before obstruents (except for /v/, and /vʲ/ when followed by a vowel or sonorant). The voicing or devoicing is determined by that of the final obstruent in the sequence:57 просьба About this sound [ˈprozʲbə]  ('request'), водка About this sound [ˈvotkə]  ('vodka'). In foreign borrowings, this isn't always the case for /f(ʲ)/, as in Адольф Гитлер About this sound [ɐˈdolʲf ˈɡʲitlʲɪr]  ('Adolf Hitler') and граф болеет ('the count is ill'). /v/ and /vʲ/ are unusual in that they seem transparent to voicing assimilation; in the syllable onset, both voiced and voiceless consonants may appear before /v(ʲ)/:

When /v(ʲ)/ precedes and follows obstruents, the voicing of the cluster is governed by that of the final segment (per the rule above) so that voiceless obstruents that precede /v(ʲ)/ are voiced if /v(ʲ)/ is followed by a voiced obstruent (e.g. к вдове ɡvdɐˈvʲɛ] 'to the widow') while a voiceless obstruent will devoice all segments (e.g. без впуска [bʲɪs ˈfpuskə] 'without an admission').58

/t͡ɕ/, /t͡s/, and /x/ have voiced allophones (d͡ʑ, d͡z and ɣ) before voiced obstruents,5359 as in дочь бы About this sound [ˈdod͡ʑ bɨ] 60 ('a daughter would') and плацдарм About this sound [plɐd͡zˈdarm]  ('bridge-head').

Other than /mʲ/ and /nʲ/, nasals and liquids devoice between voiceless consonants or a voiceless consonant and a pause: контрфорс About this sound [ˌkontr̥ˈfors] ) ('buttress').61

Palatalization

Before /j/, paired consonants are normally soft as in пью About this sound [pʲju]  'I drink' and пьеса About this sound [ˈpʲje.sə]  'theatrical play'. However the last consonant of prefixes and parts of compound words generally remains hard in the standard language: отъезд About this sound [ɐˈtjest]  'departure', Минюст About this sound [ˌmʲiˈnjust]  'Min[istry of] Just[ice]'; and only when prefix ends in /s/ or /z/, there exists an optional softening: съездить About this sound [ˈs(ʲ)je.zʲdʲɪtʲ]  ('to travel').

Paired consonants preceding /e/ are also soft; although there are exceptions from loanwords, alternations across morpheme boundaries are the norm.62 The following examples63 show some of the morphological alternations between a hard consonant and its soft pair:

Velar consonants are soft when preceding /i/; within words, this means that velar consonants are never followed by [ɨ].64

Before hard dental consonants, /r/, labial and dental consonants are hard: орла About this sound [ɐrˈla]  ('eagle' gen. sg).

Assimilative palatalization

Paired consonants preceding another consonant often inherit softness from it. This phenomenon in literary language has complicated and evolving rules with many exceptions, depending on what these consonants are, in what morphemic position they meet and to what style of speech the word belongs. In old Moscow pronunciation, softening was more widespread and regular; nowadays some cases that were once normative have become low colloquial or archaic. In fact, consonants can be softened to very different extent, become semi-hard or semi-soft.

The more similar the consonants are, the more they tend to soften each other. Also, some consonants tend to be softened less, such as labials and /r/.

Softening is stronger inside the word root and between root and suffix; it is weaker between prefix and root and weak or absent between a preposition and the word following.65

  • Before soft dental consonants, /lʲ/ and often soft labial consonants, dental consonants (other than /t͡s/) are soft.
  • /x/ is assimilated to the palatalization of the following velar consonant: лёгких About this sound [ˈlʲɵxʲkʲɪx] ) ('lungs' gen. pl.).
  • Palatalization assimilation of labial consonants before labial consonants is in free variation with nonassimilation, that is бомбить ('to bomb') is either [bɐmˈbʲitʲ] or [bɐmʲˈbʲitʲ] depending on the individual speaker.
  • When hard /n/ precedes its soft equivalent, it is also soft and likely to form a single long sound (see gemination). This is slightly less common across affix boundaries.

In addition to this, dental fricatives conform to the place of articulation (not just the palatalization) of following postalveolars: с частью About this sound [ˈɕːæsʲtʲju] ) ('with a part'). In careful speech, this does not occur across word boundaries.

Russian has the rare feature of nasals not typically being assimilated in place of articulation. Both /n/ and /nʲ/ appear before retroflex consonants: деньжонки About this sound [dʲɪnʲˈʐonkʲɪ] ) ('money' (scornful)) and ханжой About this sound [xɐnˈʐoj] ) ('hypocrite' instr.). In the same context, other coronal consonants are always hard. A partial exception to this is the velar nasal, which occurs as an allophone before velar consonants in some words (функция About this sound [ˈfuŋk.t͡sɨjə] ) 'function'), but not in most other words like банк [bank] ('bank')citation needed.

Consonant clusters

As a Slavic language, Russian has fewer phonotactic restrictions on consonants than many other languages,66 allowing for clusters that would be difficult for English speakers; this is especially so at the beginning of a syllable, where Russian speakers make no sonority distinctions between fricatives and stops.67 These reduced restrictions begin at the morphological level; outside of two morphemes that contain clusters of four consonants: встрет-/встреч- 'meet' ([ˈfstretʲi]), and чёрств-/черств- 'stale' ([ˈt͡ɕɵrstv]), native Russian morphemes have a maximum consonant cluster size of three:68

3-Segment clusters
Russian IPA Translation
CCL скрип [skrʲip] squeak
CCC* ствол [stvol] 'tree trunk'
LCL верблюд About this sound [vʲɪrˈblʲʉt] ) 'camel'
LCC толстый [ˈtolstɨj] 'thick'

For speakers who pronounce [ɕt͡ɕ] instead of [ɕː], words like общий ('common') also constitute clusters of this type.

2-Segment clusters
Russian IPA Translation
CC кость [kosʲtʲ] 'bone'
LC ртуть [rtutʲ] 'mercury'
CL слепой [slʲɪˈpoj] 'blind'
LL горло [ˈɡorlə] 'throat'
CJ дьяк [dʲjak] 'dyak'
LJ рьяный About this sound [ˈrʲjanɨj] ) 'zealous'

If /j/ is considered a consonant in the coda position, then words like айва ('quince') contain semivowel+consonant clusters.

Affixation also creates consonant clusters. Some prefixes, the best known being вз-/вс- ([vz-]/[fs-]), produce long word-initial clusters when they attach to a morpheme beginning with multiple consonants (e.g. |vz| + |blʲesk| → взблеск [ˈvzblʲesk] 'flash'). However, the four-consonant limitation persists in the syllable onset.6970

Clusters of three or more consonants are frequently simplified, usually through syncope of one of them,71 especially in casual pronunciation.72

All word-initial four-consonant clusters begin with [vz] or [fs], followed by a stop (or, in the case of [x], a fricative), and a liquid:

4-Segment clusters
Russian IPA Translation
взблеск [ˈvzblʲesk] 'flash'
(ему) взбрело (в голову) [vzbrʲɪˈlo] '(he) took it (into his head)'
взгляд [ˈvzɡlʲæt] 'gaze'
взгромоздиться About this sound [vzɡrəmɐˈzʲdʲitsə] ) 'to perch'
вздлить [ˈvzdlʲitʲ] 'to prolong'
вздрогнуть [ˈvzdroɡnʊtʲ] 'to flinch'
всклокоченный About this sound [fsklɐˈkot͡ɕɪnɨj] ) 'disheveled'
вскрыть [ˈfskrɨtʲ] 'to open'
всплеск [ˈfsplʲesk] 'splash'
вспрыгнуть About this sound [ˈfsprɨɡnʊtʲ] ) 'to jump up'
встлеть [ˈfstlʲetʲ] 'to begin to smolder'
встречать About this sound [fstrʲɪˈt͡ɕætʲ] ) 'to meet'
всхлип [ˈfsxlʲip] 'whimper'
всхрапывать About this sound [ˈfsxrapɨvətʲ] ) 'to snort'

Because prepositions in Russian act like clitics,73 the syntactic phrase composed of a preposition (most notably, the three that consist of just a single consonant: к, с, and в) and a following word constitutes a phonological word that acts like a single grammatical word.74 For example, the phrase с друзья́ми ('with friends') is pronounced [zdrʊˈzʲjæmʲɪ]. In the syllable coda, suffixes that contain no vowels may increase the final consonant cluster of a syllable (e.g. Ноябрьск 'city of Noyabrsk' |noˈjabrʲ| + |sk| → [nɐˈjabrʲsk]), theoretically up to seven consonants: *монстрств [ˈmonstrstf] ('of monsterships').75 There is usually an audible release between these consecutive consonants at word boundaries, the major exception being clusters of homorganic consonants.76

Consonant cluster simplification in Russian includes degemination, syncope, dissimilation, and weak vowel insertion. For example, /sɕː/ is pronounced [ɕː], as in расщелина ('cleft'). There are also a few isolated patterns of apparent cluster reduction (as evidenced by the mismatch between pronunciation and orthography) arguably the result of historical simplifications.77 For example, dental stops are dropped between a dental continuant and a dental nasal or lateral: лестный [ˈlʲesnɨj] 'flattering'.78 Other examples include:

  • /vstv/ > [stv]: чувство 'feeling' [ˈtɕʉstvə], not [ˈtɕʉfstvə].77
  • /lnt͡s/ > [nt͡s]: солнце 'sun' About this sound [ˈsont͡sə] ), not [ˈsolnt͡sə].77
  • /rdt͡s/ > [rt͡s]: сердце 'heart' [ˈsʲert͡sə], not [ˈsʲertt͡sə].
  • /rdt͡ɕ/ > [rt͡ɕ]: сердчишко 'heart (diminutive)' [sʲɪrˈt͡ɕiʂkə], not [sʲɪrtt͡ɕiʂkə].
  • /ndsk/ > [nsk]: шотландский ('Scottish') About this sound [ʂɐtˈlanskʲɪj] ) not [ʂɐtˈlantskʲɪj].77
  • /stsk/ > [sk]: марксистский ('Marxist') [mɐrkˈsʲiskʲɪj] not [mɐrkˈsʲistskʲɪj].77

The simplifications of consonant clusters are done selectively; bookish-style words and proper nouns are typically pronounced with all consonants even if they fit the pattern. For example, the word голландка is pronounced in a simplified manner [ɡɐˈlankə] for the meaning of 'Dutch oven' (a popular type of oven in Russia) and in a full form [ɡɐˈlantkə] for 'Dutch woman' (a more exotic meaning).

In certain cases, this syncope produces homophones, e.g. костный ('bone') and косный ('rigid'), both are pronounced [ˈkosnɨj].

Another method of dealing with consonant clusters is inserting an epenthetic vowel (both in spelling and in pronunciation), о, after most prepositions and prefixes that normally end in a consonant. This includes both historically motivated usage and cases of its modern extrapolations. There are no strict limits when the epenthetic о is obligatory, optional, or prohibited. One of the most typical cases of the epenthetic о is between a morpheme-final consonant and a cluster starting with the same or similar consonant (e.g. со среды 'from Wednesday' |s| + |srʲɪˈdɨ| → [səsrʲɪˈdɨ], not *с среды; ототру 'I'll scrub' |ot| + |ˈtru| → [ɐtɐˈtru], not *оттру).

Supplementary notes

There are numerous ways in which Russian spelling does not match pronunciation. The historical transformation of /ɡ/ into /v/ in genitive case endings and the word for 'him' is not reflected in the modern Russian orthography: the pronoun его [jɪˈvo] 'his/him', and the adjectival declension suffixes -ого and -его. Orthographic г represents /x/ in a handful of word roots: легк-/лёгк-/легч- 'easy' and мягк-/мягч- 'soft'. There are a handful of words in which consonants which have long since ceased to be pronounced even in careful pronunciation are still spelled, e.g., the 'l' in солнце [ˈso.nt͡sə] ('sun').

/n/ and /nʲ/ are the only consonants that can be geminated within morpheme boundaries. Such gemination does not occur in loanwords.

Between any vowel and /i/ (excluding instances across affix boundaries but including unstressed vowels that have merged with /i/), /j/ may be dropped: аист [ˈa.ɪst] ('stork') and делает [ˈdʲɛləɪt] ('does').79 (Halle (1959) cites заезжать and other instances of intervening prefix and preposition boundaries as exceptions to this tendency.)

Stress in Russian may fall on any syllable and words can contrast based just on stress (e.g. мука [ˈmukə] 'ordeal, pain, anguish' vs. [mʊˈka] 'flour, meal, farina'); stress shifts can even occur within an inflexional paradigm: до́ма [ˈdomə] ('house' gen. sg.) vs дома́ [dɐˈma] ('houses'). The place of the stress in a word is determined by the interplay between the morphemes it contains, as some morphemes have underlying stress, while others do not. However, other than some compound words, such as морозоустойчивый [mɐˌrozəʊˈstojtɕɪvɨj] ('frost-resistant') only one syllable is stressed in a word.80

Non-open back vowels velarize preceding hard consonants: ты About this sound [tˠɨ]  ('you' sing.). /o/ and /u/ labialize all consonants: бок About this sound [bʷok]  ('side'), нёс About this sound [nʲʷɵs]  ('(he) carried'). 81

Historical sound changes

The modern phonological system of Russian is inherited from Common Slavonic, but underwent considerable innovation in the early historical period, before being largely settled by about 1400.

Like all Slavic languages, Old Russian was a language of open syllables.82 All syllables ended in vowels, and consonant clusters, in far lesser variety than today, existed only in the syllable onset. However, by the time of the earliest records, Old Russian already showed characteristic divergences from Common Slavonic.

Around the tenth century, Russian may have already had paired coronal fricatives and sonorants so that /s/ /z/ /n/ /l/ /r/ could have contrasted with /sʲ/ /zʲ/ /nʲ/ /lʲ/ /rʲ/, though any possible contrasts were limited to specific environments.82 Otherwise, palatalized consonants appeared allophonically before front vowels.83 When the yers were lost, the palatalization initially triggered by high vowels remained,84 creating minimal pairs like данъ /dan/ ('given') and дань /danʲ/ ('tribute'). At the same time, [ɨ], which was already a part of the vocalic system, was reanalyzed as an allophone of /i/ after hard consonants, prompting leveling that caused vowels to alternate according to the preceding consonant rather than vice versa.85

The nasal vowels (spelled in the Cyrillic alphabet with yuses), which had developed from Common Slavic *eN and *oN before a consonant, were replaced with nonnasalized vowels, possibly iotated or with softening of the preceding consonant:

Borrowings in the Uralic languages with interpolated /n/ after Common Slavonic nasal vowels have been taken to indicate that the nasal vowels did exist in East Slavic until some time possibly just before the historical period.

Simplification of Common Slavic *dl and *tl to *l:87

  • Common Slavonic: *mydlo
  • Polish: mydło
  • Russian: мыло [ˈmɨ.lə] ('soap').

A tendency for greater maintenance of intermediate ancient [-ɡ-], [-k-], etc. before frontal vowels, than in other Slavic languages, the so-called incomplete second and third palatalizations:

  • Ukrainian нозі /nozʲi/
  • Russian: ноге [nɐˈɡʲe] ('leg' dat.).

Pleophony or "full-voicing" (polnoglasie, 'полногласие' [pəlnɐˈɡlasʲɪɪ]), that is, the addition of vowels on either side of /l/ and /r/ between two consonants. Church Slavonic influence has made it less common in Russian than in modern Ukrainian and Belarusian:

  • Old Church Slavonic: vrabii *[ˈvrabii]
  • Russian: воробей [vərɐˈbʲej] ('sparrow')
  • Ukrainian: Володимир /woloˈdɪmɪr/
  • Russian: Владимир [vlɐˈdʲimʲɪr] ('Vladimir') (although the nickname form in Russian is still Володя [vɐˈlodʲə]).

Major phonological processes in the last thousand years have included the absence of the Slavonic open-syllable requirement, achieved in part through the loss of the ultra-short vowels, the so-called fall of the yers, which alternately lengthened and dropped (the yers are given conventional transcription rather than precise IPA symbols in the Old Russian pronunciations):

  • Old East Slavic: объ мьнѣ /o.bŭ mĭˈně/ > R: обо мне [ə.bɐ ˈmnʲe] ('about me')
  • OR: сънъ /ˈsŭ.nŭ/ > R: сон [son] ('sleep' nom. sg.), cognate with Lat. somnus;
  • OR: съна /sŭˈna/ > R: сна [sna] ('of sleep') (gen. sg.).

The loss of the yers has led to geminated consonants and a much greater variety of consonant clusters, with attendant voicing and/or devoicing in the assimilation:

  • OR: къдѣ /kŭˈdě/ > R: где [ɡdʲe] ('where').

Consonant clusters thus created were often simplified:

  • здравствуйте [ˈzdra.stvuj.tʲə] ('hello'), (first 'v' rarely pronounced; such a pronunciation could be affected in the archaic meaning be healthy)
  • сердце [ˈsʲe.rt͡sə] ('heart') ('d' not pronounced)
  • солнце [ˈso.nt͡sə] ('sun') ('l' not pronounced).

The development of OR ѣ /ě/ (conventional transcription) into /(j)e/, as seen above. This development has caused by far the greatest of all Russian spelling controversies. The timeline of the development of /ě/ into /e/ or /je/ has also been debated.

Sometime between the twelfth and fourteenth century, the allophone of /i/ before velar consonants changed from [ɨ] to [i] with subsequent palatalization of the velars.64

The retroflexing of postalveolars: /ʒ/ became [ʐ] and /ʃ/ become [ʂ]. This is considered a "hardening" since retroflex sounds are difficult to palatalize. At some point, /t͡s/ resisted palatalization, which is why it is also "hard" although phonetically it is no different from before. The sound represented by щ was much more commonly pronounced /ɕt͡ɕ/ than it is today. Today's common and standard pronunciation of щ is /ɕː/.

The development of stressed /e/ into /o/ when between a (historically) soft consonant and a hard one.1788

  • OR о чемъ /o ˈt͡ʃe.mŭ/ ('about which' loc. sg.) > R о чём [ɐ ˈt͡ɕɵm].

This has led to a number of alternations:89

Word Gloss Word Gloss
весе́лье merriment весёлый merry
вле́чь to attract влёк he attracted
деше́вле cheaper дешёвый cheap
е́ль fir-tree ёлка Christmas tree
жечь to burn жёг he burned
коле́сник wheel-wright колёса wheels
лечь to lie down лёг he lay down
Пе́тя Pete Пётр Peter
поме́лья brooms мёл he swept
сельский rural сёла villages
се́стрин sister's сёстры sisters
смерть death мёртвый dead
шесть six сам-шёст six-fold; with five others

Note that the /e/ that derives from the long obsolete vowel, yat (ѣ) did not undergo this change except for a short list of words as of about a century ago. Nowadays, the change has been reverted in two of those exceptional words.

  • вдёжка 'threading needle, bodkin'
  • гнёзда 'nests'
  • желёзка 'glandule' (however желе́зка 'piece of iron')
  • запечатлён '[he/it is] depicted; [he/it is] imprinted (in the mind)'
  • звёзды 'stars'
  • зёвывал '[he] used to yawn'
  • издёвка 'jibe'
  • (ни разу не) надёван '[it is] (never) worn'
  • обрёл '[he] found'
  • сёдла 'saddles'
  • смётка 'apprehension'
  • цвёл '[he] flowered, flourished'
  • надёвывал '[he] used to put on' (this word has fallen into disuse in the standard language)
  • подгнёта 'fuel, chips; instigation; firebrand' (this word has fallen into disuse in the standard language)
  • вёшка 'way-mark' (now ве́шка)
  • медвёдка 'mole cricket', 'mole rat' (now медве́дка)

Loanwords from Church Slavonic reintroduced /e/ between a (historically) soft consonant and a hard one, creating a few new minimal pairs:90

  • не́бо 'sky' vs. нёбо 'roof of the mouth'
  • паде́ж 'case (grammatical)' vs. падёж 'murrain, epizooty'
  • вселе́нная 'universe' vs. вселённая 'settled' (f.)
  • соверше́нный 'perfect' vs. совершённый 'completed, committed, performed, achieved'

A number of the phonological features of Russian are attributable to the introduction of loanwords (especially from non-Slavic languages), including:

  • Sequences of two vowels within a morpheme.91 Only a handful of such words, like паук 'spider' and оплеуха 'slap in the face' are native.
    • поэт [pɐˈɛt] 'poet'. From French poète.
    • траур [ˈtraur] 'mourning'. From German Trauer.
  • Word-initial /e/, except for the root эт-.91
    • эра [ˈɛrə] 'era'. From German Ära
  • Word-initial /a/.91
    • авеню [ɐvʲɪˈnʲʉ] 'avenue. From French avenue.
    • афера [ɐˈfʲerə] 'swindle'. From French affaire.
    • агнец 'lamb'. From Church Slavonic
  • The phoneme /f/ (see Ef (Cyrillic) for more information).9191
    • фонема [fɐˈnɛmə] 'phoneme'. From Greek φώνημα.
    • эфир [eˈfʲir] 'ether'. From Greek αἰθήρ.
    • фиаско [fʲɪˈaskə] 'fiasco. From Italian fiasco.
  • The occurrence of non-palatalized consonants before /e/ within roots.91 (The initial /e/ of a suffix or flexion invariably triggers palatalization of an immediately preceding consonant, as in брат / братец / о брате.)92
  • The sequence /dʐ/ within a morpheme.93

Many double consonants have become degeminated, though they are still written with two letters in the orthography. (In a 1968 study, long [tː] remains long in only half of the words that it appears written in, while long [fː] only a sixth of the time. The study, however, did not distinguish spelling from actual historical pronunciation, since it included loanwords in which consonants were written doubled but never pronounced long in Russian.)94

See also

References

  1. ^ Jones, Daniel; Trofimov, M. V. The pronunciation of Russian. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1923. 54-55 pp.
  2. ^ See, for example, Ozhegov (1953:10); Barkhudarov, Protchenko & Skvortsova (1987:9); Chew (2003:61). The traditional name of ы, еры [jɪˈrɨ] yery; since 1961 this name has been replaced from the Russian school practice (compare the 7th and 8th editions of the standard textbook of Russian for 5th and 6th grades: Barkhudarov & Kryuchkov (1960:4), and Barkhudarov & Kryuchkov (1961:20).
  3. ^ a b Chew 2003, p. 61.
  4. ^ Chew 2003, p. 62.
  5. ^ See, for example, Shcherba (1950:15); Matijchenko (1950:40–41); Zemsky, Kryuchkov & Svetlayev (1971:63); Kuznetsov & Ryzhakov (2007:6)
  6. ^ something like [ɤ̯ɪ], with the first part sounding as an on-glide Padgett (2003b:321)
  7. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, pp. 37-38.
  8. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 31.
  9. ^ a b Jones & Ward 1969, p. 33.
  10. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, pp. 41-44.
  11. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 193.
  12. ^ Halle 1959, p. 63.
  13. ^ As in Igor Severyanin's poem, Сегодня не приду . . .
  14. ^ a b Jones & Ward 1969, p. 50.
  15. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 56.
  16. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 62.
  17. ^ a b Crosswhite 2000, p. 167.
  18. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, pp. 67-68.
  19. ^ Crosswhite 2000, p. 112.
  20. ^ Avanesov 1975, p. 105-106.
  21. ^ Padgett & Tabain 2005, p. 16.
  22. ^ a b Jones & Ward 1969, p. 51.
  23. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 194.
  24. ^ Avanesov 1985, p. 663.
  25. ^ Zarva 1993, p. 13.
  26. ^ Avanesov 1985, p. 663-666.
  27. ^ Zarva 1993, p. 12-17.
  28. ^ Halle 1959.
  29. ^ Avanesov 1975, p. 121-125.
  30. ^ Avanesov 1985, p. 666.
  31. ^ Zarva 1983, p. 16.
  32. ^ Wade, Terence Leslie Brian (2010). A Comprehensive Russian Grammar (3rd ed. ed.). John Wiley & Sons. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-4051-3639-6. 
  33. ^ Avanesov 1975, p. 37-40.
  34. ^ e.g. Avanesov (1975)
  35. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 37.
  36. ^ Padgett 2001, p. 7.
  37. ^ Padgett 2003b, p. 319.
  38. ^ Because of the acoustic properties of [u] and [i] that make velarization more noticeable before front vowels and palatalization before back vowels Padgett (2003b) argues that the contrast before /i/ is between velarized and plain consonants rather than plain and palatalized.
  39. ^ See dicionaries of Ageenko & Zarva (1993) and Borunova, Vorontsova & Yes'kova (1983).
  40. ^ The dictionary Агеенко & Зарва (1993) explicitly says that the nonpalatalized pronunciation /t͡s/ is an error in such cases.
  41. ^ See Avanesov's pronunciation guide in Borunova, Vorontsova & Yes'kova (1983:669)
  42. ^ Padgett 2003a, p. 42.
  43. ^ Hamann 2004, p. 64.
  44. ^ Hamann 2004, p. 56, "Summing up the articulatory criteria for retroflex fricatives, they are all articulated behind the alveolar ridge, show a sub-lingual cavity, are articulated with the tongue tip (though this is not always discernible in the x-ray tracings), and with a retracted and flat tongue body."
  45. ^ Ladefoged & Maddieson 1996.
  46. ^ Chew (2003:67)
  47. ^ Dobrodomov & Izmest'eva 2002.
  48. ^ Dobrodomov & Izmest'eva 2009.
  49. ^ Padgett 2003a, pp. 44, 47.
  50. ^ Stankiewicz 1962, p. 131.
  51. ^ see Lightner (1972) and Bidwell (1962) for two examples.
  52. ^ See Stankiewicz (1962) and Folejewski (1962) for a criticism of Bidwell's approach specifically and the reductionist approach generally.
  53. ^ a b Halle 1959, p. 22.
  54. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 156.
  55. ^ Lightner 1972, p. 377.
  56. ^ Lightner 1972, p. 73.
  57. ^ Halle 1959, p. 31.
  58. ^ Lightner 1972, p. 75.
  59. ^ Chew (2003:67 and 103)
  60. ^ Lightner 1972, p. 82.
  61. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, p. 190.
  62. ^ Padgett 2003a, p. 43.
  63. ^ Lightner 1972, pp. 9–11, 12–13.
  64. ^ a b Padgett 2003a, p. 39.
  65. ^ Аванесов, Р. И. (1984). Русское литературное произношение. М.: Просвещение. pp. 145–167. 
  66. ^ Davidson & Roon 2008, p. 138.
  67. ^ Rubach 2000, p. 53.
  68. ^ Halle 1959, p. 57.
  69. ^ Ostapenko 2005, p. 143.
  70. ^ Proctor 2006, p. 2, 126.
  71. ^ Cubberley 2002, p. 80.
  72. ^ Shapiro 1993, p. 11.
  73. ^ Rubach 2000, p. 51.
  74. ^ Bickel & Nichols 2007, p. 190.
  75. ^ Toporov 1971, p. 155.
  76. ^ Zsiga 2003, p. 403.
  77. ^ a b c d e Cubberley 2002, p. 82.
  78. ^ Halle 1959, p. 69.
  79. ^ Lightner 1972, p. 130.
  80. ^ Lightner 1972, p. 4.
  81. ^ Jones & Ward 1969, pp. 79-80.
  82. ^ a b Padgett 2003b, p. 324.
  83. ^ Padgett 2003b, p. 325.
  84. ^ Padgett 2003b, p. 307.
  85. ^ Padgett 2003b, p. 330.
  86. ^ Vinogradov.
  87. ^ Schenker 2002, p. 74.
  88. ^ Padgett (2003b) attributes this to the velarization of the hard consonant.
  89. ^ Lightner 1972, pp. 20–23.
  90. ^ Lightner 1972, pp. 75–76, 84.
  91. ^ a b c d e f Lightner 1972, p. 66.
  92. ^ Padgett 2003b.
  93. ^ Lightner 1972, pp. 67, 82.
  94. ^ Lightner 1972, p. 71.

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