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/ɪ/ may be classified as a retracted high-mid front vowel, transcribed in narrow IPA as [e̠], [ë], [ɪ̞] or [ɘ̟].
Ukrainian has no phonemic distinction between long and short vowels; however, unstressed vowels are somewhat reduced in time and, as a result, in quality.
- In unstressed position /ɑ/ has an allophone [ɐ].
- Unstressed /ɔ/ has an allophone [o] that slightly approaches /u/ if it is followed by a syllable with /u/ or /i/.
- Unstressed /u/ has an allophone [ʊ].
- Unstressed /ɛ/ and /ɪ/ approach [e] that may or may not be a common allophone for the two phonemes.
- /i/ has no notable variation in unstressed position.
|Stop||p b||t d||tʲ dʲ||k ɡ|
|Affricate||t͡s d͡z||t͡sʲ d͡zʲ||t͡ʃ d͡ʒ|
|Fricative||f||s z||sʲ zʲ||ʃ ʒ||x||ɦ|
In the table above, if there are two consonants in a row, the one to the right is voiced, and the one to the left is voiceless.
- There is no complete agreement about the phonetic nature of /ɦ/. According to some linguists, it is pharyngeal [ʕ] ([ħ] [or sometimes [x] in weak positions] when devoiced). According to others, it is glottal [ɦ].
- Word-finally, /m/, /l/, /r/ are voiceless [m̥], [l̥], [r̥] after voiceless consonants. In case of /r/, it only happens after /t/.
- /w/ is most commonly bilabial [β̞] before vowels but can alternate with labiodental [ʋ] (most commonly before /i/), and can be a true labiovelar [w] before /ɔ/ or /u/. It is also vocalized to [u̯] before a consonant at the beginning of a word, after a vowel before a consonant or after a vowel at the end of a word. If /w/ occurs before a voiceless consonant and not after a vowel, the voiceless articulation [ʍ] is also possible.
- /r/ often becomes a single tap [ɾ] in the spoken language.
- /t, d, dʲ, n, nʲ, s, sʲ, z, zʲ, t͡s, t͡sʲ, d͡z, d͡zʲ/ are dental [t̪, d̪, d̪ʲ, n̪, n̪ʲ, s̪, s̪ʲ, z̪, z̪ʲ, t̪͡s̪, t̪͡s̪ʲ, d̪͡z̪, d̪͡z̪ʲ], while /tʲ, l, lʲ, r, rʲ/ are alveolar [tʲ, l, lʲ, r, rʲ].
- The group of palatalized consonants consists of 10 phonemes: /j, dʲ, zʲ, lʲ, nʲ, rʲ, sʲ, tʲ, t͡sʲ, d͡zʲ/. All except /j/ have a soft and a hard variant. There is no agreement about the nature of the palatalization of /rʲ/; sometimes, it is considered as a semi-palatalized[clarification needed] consonant. Labial consonants /p, b, m, f/ have just semi-palatalized versions, and /w/ has only the hard variant. The palatalization of the consonants /ɦ, ɡ, ʒ, k, x, t͡ʃ, ʃ, d͡ʒ/ is weak; they are usually treated rather as the allophones of the respective hard consonants, not as separate phonemes.
- Unlike Russian and several other Slavic languages, Ukrainian does not have final devoicing for most obstruents, as can be seen, for example, in віз "cart", which is pronounced [ˈʋiz] (help·info), not *[ˈʋis].
- The fricative articulations [v, ɣ] are voiced allophones of /f, x/ respectively if they are voiced before other voiced consonants. (See #Consonant assimilation.) /x, ɦ/ do not form a perfect voiceless-voiced phoneme pair, but their allophones may overlap if /ɦ/ is devoiced to [x] (rather than [h]). In the standard language, /f, w/ do not form a voiceless-voiced phoneme pair at all, as [v] does not phonemically overlap with /w/, and [ʍ] (voiceless allophone of /w/) does not phonemically overlap with /f/.
When two or more consonants occur word-finally, a vowel is epenthesized under the following conditions: Given a consonantal grouping C1(ь)C2(ь), C being any consonant. The vowel is inserted between the two consonants and after the ь. A vowel is not inserted unless C2 is either /k/, /w/, /l/, /m/, /r/, or /t͡s/. Then:
- If C1 is /w/, /ɦ/, /k/, or /x/, the epenthisized vowel is always [o]
- No vowel is epenthesized if the /w/ is derived from a Common Slavic vocalic *l, for example, /wɔwk/ (see below)
- If C2 is /l/, /m/, /r/, or /t͡s/, then the vowel is /ɛ/.
- The combinations, /-stw/ /-sk/ are not broken up.
- If the C1 is /j/ (й), the above rules may apply. However, both forms (with and without the fill vowel) often exist.
Alternation of vowels and semivowels
The semivowels /j/ and /w/ alternate with the vowels /i/ and /u/ respectively. The semivowels are used in syllable codas: after a vowel and before a consonant, either within a word or between words:
- він іде́ /ˈwin iˈdɛ/ ('he's coming')
- вона́ йде /wɔˈnɑ ˈjdɛ/ ('she's coming')
- він і вона́ /ˈwin i wɔˈnɑ/ ('he and she')
- вона́ й він /wɔˈnɑ j ˈwin/ ('she and he');
- Утоми́вся вже /utɔˈmɪwsʲɑ ˈwʒɛ/ ('already gotten tired')
- Уже́ втоми́вся /uˈʒɛ wtɔˈmɪwsʲɑ/ ('already gotten tired')
- Він утоми́вся. /ˈwin utɔmɪwsʲɑ/ ('He's gotten tired.')
- Він у ха́ті. /ˈwin u ˈxɑt⁽ʲ⁾i/ ('He's inside the house.')
- Вона́ в ха́ті. /wɔˈnɑ w ˈxɑt⁽ʲ⁾i/ ('She's inside the house.')
- підучи́ти /piduˈt͡ʃɪtɪ/ ('to learn/teach (a little more)')
- ви́вчити /ˈwɪwt͡ʃɪtɪ/ ('to have learnt')
That feature distinguishes Ukrainian phonology remarkably from Russian and Polish, two related languages with many cognates.
There is no word-final or assimilatory devoicing in Ukrainian. There is, however, assimilatory voicing: voiceless obstruents are voiced when preceding voiced obstruents. (But the reverse is not true, and sonorants do not trigger voicing.)
- наш [nɑʃ] ('our')
- наш дід [nɑʒ ˈd⁽ʲ⁾id] ('our grandfather')
- бере́за [bɛˈrɛzɑ] ('birch')
- бері́зка [bɛˈr⁽ʲ⁾izkɑ] ('small birch')
Unpalatalized dental consonants /n, t, d, t͡s, d͡z, s, z, r, l/ become palatalized if they are followed by other palatalized dental consonants /nʲ, tʲ, dʲ, t͡sʲ, d͡zʲ, sʲ, zʲ, rʲ, lʲ/. They are also typically palatalized before the vowel /i/. Historically, contrasting unpalatalized and palatalized articulations of consonants before /i/ were possible and more common, with the absence of palatalization usually reflecting that regular sound changes in the language made an /i/ vowel actually evolve from an older, non-palatalizing /ɔ/ vowel. Ukrainian grammar still allows for /i/ to alternate with either /ɛ/ or /ɔ/ in the regular inflection of certain words. The absence of consonant palatalization before /i/ has become rare, however, but is still allowed.
While the labial consonants /m, p, b, f, w/ cannot be phonemically palatalized, they can still precede one of the iotating vowels є і ьо ю я, when many speakers replace the would-be sequences *|mʲ, pʲ, bʲ, fʲ, wʲ| with the consonant clusters /mj, pj, bj, fj, wj/, a habit also common in nearby Polish. The separation of labial consonant from /j/ is already hard-coded in many Ukrainian words (and written as such with an apostrophe), such as in В'ячеслав /wjɑt͡ʃɛˈslɑw/ "Vyacheslav", ім'я /iˈmjɑ/ "name" and п'ять /pjɑtʲ/ "five". The combinations of labials with iotating vowels are written without the apostrophe after consonants in the same morpheme, e. g. свято /ˈsʲw(j)ɑto/ "holiday", цвях "nail" (but зв'язок "union", where з- is a prefix), and in some loanwords, e. g. бюро "bureau".
Dental sibilant consonants /t͡s, d͡z, s, z/ become palatalized before any of the labial consonants /m, p, b, f, w/ followed by one of the iotating vowels є і ьо ю я, but the labial consonants themselves cannot retain phonemic palatalization. Thus, words like свято /ˈsʲw(j)ɑto/ "holiday" and сват /swɑt/ "matchmaker" retain their separate pronunciations (whether or not an actual /j/ is articulated).
Sibilant consonants (including affricates) in clusters assimilate with the place of articulation and palatalization state of the last segment in a cluster. The most common case of such assimilation is the verbal ending -шся in which |ʃsʲɑ| assimilates into /sʲːɑ/.
Dental plosives /t, tʲ, d, dʲ/ assimilate to affricate articulations before coronal affricates or fricatives /t͡s, d͡z, s, z, t͡sʲ, d͡zʲ, sʲ, zʲ, t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ, ʃ, ʒ/ and assume the latter consonant's place of articulation and palatalization. If the sequences |t.t͡s, d.d͡z, t.t͡sʲ, d.d͡zʲ, t.t͡ʃ, d.d͡ʒ| regressively assimilate to */t͡s.t͡s, d͡z.d͡z, t͡sʲ.t͡sʲ, d͡zʲ.d͡zʲ, t͡ʃ.t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ.d͡ʒ/, they gain geminate articulations /t͡sː, d͡zː, t͡sʲː, d͡zʲː, t͡ʃː, d͡ʒː/.
Deviations of spoken language
- [ɨ] for /ɪ/
- [t͡ɕ] for /t͡ʃ/ and [ɕt͡ɕ] or even [ɕː] for [ʃt͡ʃ]
- [rʲ] for /r/, [bʲ] for /b/, [vʲ] for /w/ (Ха́рків, Об, любо́в’ю)
- [v] or [f] (the latter in syllable-final position) for [w ~ u̯ ~ β̞ ~ ʋ ~ ʍ] (любо́в, роби́в, вари́ти, вода́), in effect also turning /f, w/ into a true voiceless-voiced phoneme pair, which is not the case in the standard language
- Final-obstruent devoicing
Modern standard Ukrainian descends from Common Slavic and is characterized by a number of sound changes and morphological developments, many of which are shared with other East Slavic languages. These include:
- In a newly closed syllable, that is, a syllable that ends in a consonant, Common Slavic *o and *e mutated into /i/ if the following vowel was one of the yers (*ŭ or *ĭ).
- Pleophony: The Common Slavic combinations, *CoRC and *CeRC, where R is either *r or *l, become in Ukrainian:
- The Common Slavic nasal vowel *ę is reflected as /jɑ/; a preceding labial consonant generally was not palatalized after this, and after a postalveolar it became /ɑ/. Examples: Common Slavic *pętĭ became Ukrainian /pjɑtʲ/ (п’ять); Common Slavic *telę became Ukrainian /tɛˈlʲɑ/ (теля́); and Common Slavic *kurĭčę became Ukrainian /kurˈt͡ʃɑ/ (курча́).
- Common Slavic *ě (Cyrillic ѣ), generally became Ukrainian /i/ except:
- word-initially, where it became /ji/: Common Slavic *(j)ěsti became Ukrainian ї́сти /ˈjistɪ/
- after the postalveolar sibilants where it became /ɑ/: Common Slavic *ležěti became Ukrainian /lɛˈʒɑtɪ/ (лежа́ти)
- Common Slavic *i and *y are both reflected in Ukrainian as /ɪ/
- The Common Slavic combination -CĭjV, where V is any vowel, became -CʲːV, except:
- if C is labial or /r/ where it became -CjV
- if V is the Common Slavic *e, then the vowel in Ukrainian mutated to /ɑ/, e.g., Common Slavic *žitĭje became Ukrainian /ʒɪˈtʲːɑ/ (життя́)
- if V is Common Slavic *ĭ, then the combination became /ɛj/, e.g., genitive plural in Common Slavic *myšĭjĭ became Ukrainian /mɪˈʃɛj/ (мише́й)
- if one or more consonants precede C then there is no doubling of the consonants in Ukrainian
- Sometime around the early thirteenth century, the voiced velar stop lenited to [ɣ] (except in the cluster *zg). Within a century, /ɡ/ was reintroduced from Western European loanwords and, around the sixteenth century, [ɣ] debuccalized to [ɦ].
- Common Slavic combinations *dl and *tl were simplified to /l/, for example, Common Slavic *mydlo became Ukrainian /ˈmɪlɔ/ (ми́ло).
- Common Slavic *ǔl and *ĭl became /ɔw/. For example, Common Slavic *vĭlkǔ became /wɔwk/ (вовк) in Ukrainian.
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