Devocalization and Vocalization
An important feature of the Russian phonetic system is the opposition of voiced consonants vs. unvoiced consonants. Voiced consonants are pronounced with vibration of vocal cords, while unvoiced consonants are pronounced with little or no vibration of vocal cords. There are 11 pairs of voiced vs. unvoiced consonants: [b - p, b' - p', v - f, v' - f', z - s, z' - s', d- t, d' - t', g - k, g' - k', j - sh]. Other consonants do not have pairs, these are voiced consonants [m, m', n, n', l, l', r, r', y] and unvoiced consonants [ts, ch, h, sch].
Russian letters б, в, г, д, ж, з, the basic meanings of which are voiced consonants, can designate unvoiced consonant sounds (hard and soft). Such cases are called devoicing (devocalization). Devoicing takes place when these letters are found before letters denoting unvoiced sounds, at the end of a word or before the final soft sign ь.
The following highlighted letters denote devoiced sounds:
зуб [zoop] tooth
автобус [aftoboos] bus
нерв [n'erf] nerve
обувь [oboof'] shoes
Vocalization is an opposite process compared to devoicing. It means that letters п, ф, с, т, ш and к, the basic meanings of which are unvoiced consonants, may designate voiced sounds (hard and soft). Vocalization occurs in cases when these letters are found before letters б, г, д, ж, з denoting voiced sounds. Note that if п, ф, с, т, ш and к are found before в, vocalization does not occur.
The following highlighted letters denote voiced sounds:
вокзал [vagzal] railway station
футболка [foodbolka] T-shirt
квартал [kvartal] quarter, block - there is no vocalization before [v]
- Before unvoiced consonants, at the end of the word and before final ь letters б, в, г, д, ж, з denote unvoiced sounds
- When found before letters б, г, д, ж, з, letters п, ф, с, т, ш and к denote voiced consonants