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For the convergence of certain vowels in Greek language, see iotacism.

Iotation is a linguistic phenomenon very characteristic of the Slavic languages. It should not be confused with palatalization, which is an entirely different process, although in many cases they appear simultaneously.

Iotation is an appearance of palatal approximant /j/ before a vowel at the beginning of a word or between two vowels in the middle of a word, creating a diphthongoid (a partial diphthong).[1] In the Greek alphabet this consonant is represented by iota (ι), hence the name. For example, the English apple is cognate to Russian яблоко (jabloko); they both come from an Indo-European stem *ābol-. As a result of this phenomenon, no native Slavic root starts with an [e] or an [a], but only with a [je] and [ja], although other vowels are possible. This process is still partially productive in some rural areas.

As it was invented for the writing of Slavic languages, the original Cyrillic script has relatively complex ways for representing iotation, devoting an entire class of letters to deal with the issue; there are letters which represent iotified vowels; these same letters also palatalize preceding consonants, which is why iotation and palatalization are often mixed up. There are also two special letters (Ь and Ъ) that prevent that palatalization, but the first one itself palatalizes the consonant again, thus allowing combinations of both palatalized and non-palatalized consonants with [j]. Originally they were super-short vowels [i] and [u] themselves. The exact use depends on the language.

The adjective for a phone which undergoes iotation is iotated. The adjective for a letter formed as a ligature of the Early Cyrillic I (І) and another letter (which is used to represent iotation) is iotified[citation needed]. Note that the use of an iotified letter does not necessarily denote iotation. Even an iotified letter which follows a consonant letter is not iotated in most orthographies, although iotified letters imply iotated pronunciation after vowels, soft and hard signs, as well as in isolation.

Iotified Cyrillic letters[edit]

In the Cyrillic script, some letter forms are iotified, that is, formed as a ligature of Early Cyrillic I (І) and a vowel.

Normal Iotified Comment
Name Shape Sound Name Shape Sound
A А /a/ Iotified A /ja/ Now supplanted by Ya (Я). Often substituted and confused with Ѧ in East Slavic texts.
E Е /e/ Iotified E Ѥ /je/ Superseded by Є in Church Slavonic and Ukrainian.
Uk Ѹ /u/ Iotified Uk, evolved to modern Yu Ю /ju/ Uk is an archaic form of U (У)
Little Yus Ѧ /ẽ/ Iotified Little Yus Ѩ /jẽ/ No longer used
Big Yus Ѫ /õ/ Iotified Big Yus Ѭ /jõ/ No longer used

In old inscriptions, other iotified letters, even consonants, could be found, but these are not parts of a regular alphabet:

Normal Iotified Comment
Name Shape Sound Name Shape Sound
Yat Ѣ /æ/ Iotified Yat /jæ/ iotified form is very rare even in manuscripts

There are more letters which serve the same function, but their glyphs are not made in the same way.

Normal Iotified Comment
Name Shape Sound Name Shape Sound
A А /a/ Ya Я /ja/ Used in Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian
E Э /e/ Ye Е /je/ Used in Belarusian and Russian
E Е /e/ Ye Є /je/ Used in Ukrainian and Rusyn
I І /i/ Yi Ї /ji/ Used in Ukrainian and Rusyn
O О /o/ Yo Ё /jo/ Used in Belarusian, Russian and several others Cyrillic-based alphabets

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Йотация // Словарь литературных терминов. Т. 1. — 1925 (текст)". Retrieved 2011-09-17.