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Mute letters, are they like mute buttons?


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Hello Everyone!

Всем привет!

In one of the earlier posts I mentioned that it is so much easier to learn to read in Russian as compared to  learning to read in English or French, for example, mostly due to the fact that all of the Russian letters in a word are pronounced with a very few exceptions. There are two letters in the Russian alphabet, which are "mute" so to speak, you cannot pronounce either of them, they are needed to make other letters sound properly in a word.

Here they are, the mute stars:

Ь - Мягкий Знак = Soft sign, its function being to silent, slightly palatalize the preceding consonant (if it is phonologically possible).

Such words as Лень - pronounced "len' " = lazyness, Конь - pronounced "kon' " = horse, stallion, Весь - pronounced "ves'  " = all    are good examples of what the silent "ь" does with the consonants - hard sounds of the language.

Try thinking of your own examples, where consonants appear soft, slightly palatized and see if it is depicted with the help of "Ь"

A total opposite of a "softie" we talked above is another silent letter - "Ъ" - Твердый знак = Hard sign.

This one is not used very often, only when the word needs a way to prevent palatalization of the preceding consonant.

Good example would be the word "объект" - pronounced "ob.yekt" = object. It is interesting to mention that the "Soft sign" is mostly seen softening consonants at the very end of a given word, whereas a "Hard sign" is always somewhere inside of the word, dividing a certain consonant and a vowel.

Here is a link to a Wiki article on the Russian alphabet. It is very well written and may help you to clarify any questions you may have about the Russian alphabet.

You can even find out which letter is the most often used and which one is the least popular.


Good luck learning!


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Hello russian pianist! Very useful thread! It is very interesting that in Old Russian language there was a letter Ѣ. More information can be found here in russian Wikipedia: http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ѣ . This letter was pronounced like -ять. Surely, today we do not use this letter, but some restaurants or shops still prefer to use Ѣ on a sign board. For example ТРАКТИРѢ.

Thank you for the post!

Bye!  :laugh:

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You are absolutely right, KatrinK!

Just to note, that the letter Ѣ was not "pronounced as "-ять", but called so in an alphabet. The letter was pronounce in a number of ways (linguists have not come to a formal conclusion on what sound this letter marked)  throughout the centuries before it was "dropped" in 1918 - not too long ago.

Learning languages in perspective is a fascinating thing, don't you agree? :)



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Learning any language is always funny process, because along with rules we learn habits and history of nation.  In our days, in Old Church Slavonic language this letter is still used.

Indeed, there are many interesting facts about Russian alphabet. According to certain sources, there were 43 letters. During many centuries there were transformations with Russian alphabet.

Some letters were added and some were removed. I think that modern Russian citizens, when they see Old Slavonic letters become enormously happy to have just 33 letters.  :wink:

Actually, we have 33 letters thanks to the last reform, that was in 1918.

Have a nice day!

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