When Consonants Influence Vowels

when consonants

Have your Russian courses given much time to pronunciation?

In my experience, beginning Russian courses spend some time on the basics like hard vs. soft consonants, reduction of unstressed vowels, and voicing. After that, it's all we can do to manage case endings, aspect, verbs of motion, and more...

Yet developing a natural pronunciation does require more than what you get in those first weeks. As a 3rd-year student in St. Petersburg, and later as a graduate student at the Pushkin Institute in Moscow, I had the opportunity to take phonetics classes where we did finally have time to work on some important nuances.

I've just released a new pronunciation video on Youtube that touches on one of those nuances: how a consonant can influence the sound of a following vowel. 

That may seem counterintuitive, since we're used to looking at vowel letters to tell whether a preceding consonant is hard or soft. But in terms of sounds, we see that consonants can indeed influence how a vowel is pronounced! And that explains why the letter и will sometimes be pronounced as if it were ы.

To keep things from getting too dry, I've included examples from poems by Хармс and Ахмадулина. You can find the video here.



2 thoughts on “When Consonants Influence Vowels”

  1. So impressed with your instructional videos! I took up Russian 2-3 years back in part to be able to read the OBERIU poets in the original, since I know, from many years engaged with German and French, that English versions frequently say more about the translator than the original work. My question: Regarding the brief clip of Kharms’ own voice in one of your pronunciation videos, can you *please* direct me to the source? I am hopeful, though dubious, that there are other clips as well. Many thanks for these extraordinarily useful learning tools.

    1. Hi Alan,

      Thanks for your interest and kind words!

      The recording of Хармс reading Иван Иваныч Самовар is at

      Happily, there are many more clips of Хармс in this playlist:

      You might take a look at the Аудиокниги channel on Youtube:


      … which has many more clips of Russian poetry read aloud, in some cases (Ахматова, Хармс, Есенин) read by the author.

      Northwestern University also has a nice anthology of Russian verse with an extensive listening gallery, with some pieces read by the authors (Ахматова, Маяковский, Пастернак, Есенин, Мандельштам):


      Come to think of it, I should include a link to the source for Хармс on that blog post, and it occurs to me that it’s worth writing a new blog post on the resources I’ve mentioned here; I do think there are others who’d be interested, so thanks for the idea.


      All best,


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