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Ukrainian has six vowel phonemes: /ɛ ɪ i ɑ ɔ u/. /ɪ/ may be classified as retracted high-mid front vowel or lowered retracted high front vowel; /ɔ/ is a middle vowel [ɔ̝], /ɑ/ is classified as advanced back.
Ukrainian has no phonemic distinction between long and short vowels, however unstressed vowels are somewhat reduced in time, and as a result, in quality. Changes to /i u ɑ/ are considered not perceptible.
|Place of articulation →||Labial||Coronal||Dorsal||(none)|
|Manner of articulation ↓||Bilabial||Labio-
|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|
When consonants appear in pairs, the one to the left is voiceless and the one to the right voiced. Although /x/ and /ɦ/ do not share a place of articulation, phonologically they are a voiceless–voiced pair.
- /w/ is most commonly bilabial [β̞] before vowels  but can alternate with labio-dental [ʋ] (most commonly before /i/, also before /ɪ ɛ ɑ/). It is also vocalized to [u̯] before consonant at start of word, after vowel before consonant and after vowel at end of word.
- /t d n l s z t͡s d͡z/ are dental
- Alveolar sibilants are laminal.
- Postalveolar sibilants are somewhat rounded.
- /tʲ dʲ nʲ lʲ/ are soft counterparts to /t d n l/ and are noted for their high softness and have several possible realizations: laminal alveolo-palatal, apical alveolo-palatal, and laminal denti-palatal. The choice of symbols is based on phonological criteria rather than phonetic ones.
- All consonants except /j/ have a soft and hard variant, however this distinction is phonemic for only nine pairs. Soft variants are palatalized, and less rounded. In native words, those consonants that don't make a phonemic distinction are somewhat softer before /i/, softened labials also occur before /ɑ/ in special phonetic environments, while postalveolar geminates are softer than postalveolars before /i/. In loanwords, all of them are more common before /u ɑ/.
Gemination may occur:
- Between vowels for palatalized alveolar consonants (other than /rʲ/), and semi-palatalized allophones of postalveolar consonants.
- Between vowels across prefix-root or root-root boundaries for other coronal consonants as a result of their coincidence. In this case /w/+/w/ form [u̯β̞].
- At the start of the word for forms of the verb лити (ллю /lʲːu/, ллєш /lʲːɛʃ/, etc.), the verb ссати /sːɑtɪ/ and derivatives.
- In other cases for /n/.
When two or more consonants occur word-finally, then a vowel is epenthesized under the following conditions. Given a consonantal grouping C1(ь)C2(ь), where C is any consonant. The vowel is inserted between the two consonants and after the ь. A vowel is only inserted if C2 is either /k/, /w/, /l/, /m/, /r/, or /ts/. In this case:
- If C1 is either /w/, /ɦ/, /k/, or /x/, then the epenthisized vowel is always [o]
- No vowel is epenthesized if the /w/ is derived from a Common Slavic vocalic *l, for example, /wowk/ (see below)
- If C2 is /l/, /m/, /r/, or /ts/, then the vowel is /ɛ/.
- The combinations, /-stw/ /-sk/ are not broken up
- If the C1 is /j/ (й), then the above rules can apply. However, both forms (with and without the fill vowel) often exist
Ukrainian has a non-syllabic [ɪ̯] as an allophone of /j/. It also has a non-syllabic [u̯] as an allophone of /w/. Moreover, due to their semi-vocalic nature these sounds alternate with the vowel phonemes /i/ and /u/ respectively, the latter being used at the absolute beginning of a phrase, after a pause or after a consonant and the former following a vowel and preceding a consonant (cluster), either within a word or at a word boundary:
- він іде /win idɛ/ ('he's coming')
- вона йде /wɔnɑ jdɛ/ ('she's coming')
- він і вона /win i wɔnɑ/ ('he and she')
- вона й він /wɔnɑ j win/ ('she and he');
- Утомився вже /utɔmɪwsʲɑ wʒɛ/ ('already gotten tired')
- Уже втомився /uʒɛ wtɔmɪwsʲɑ/ ('already gotten tired')
- Він утомився. /win utɔmɪwsʲɑ/ ('he's gotten tired')
- Він у хаті. /win u xɑtʲi/ ('he's inside the house')
- Вона в хаті. /wɔnɑ w xɑtʲi/ ('she's inside the house')
- підучити /pidut͡ʃɪtɪ/ ('to learn')
- вивчити /wɪwt͡ʃɪtɪ/ ('to learn')
This feature distinguishes Ukrainian phonology remarkably from Russian and Polish, two related languages with many cognates.
Voiceless obstruents are voiced when preceding voiced ones, but the reverse is not true.
- [nɑʃ] ('our')
- [nɑʒ dʲid] ('our grandfather')
- [bɛrɛzɑ] ('birch')
- [bɛrɛskɑ] ('small birch')
The exceptions are the words легко, вогко, нігті, кігті, дьогтю, дігтяр, and derivatives where /ɦ/ may be devoiced to [h], or even its phonological voiceless counterpart [x]. Prefixes ending in /z/ may be devoiced before voiceless obstruents, especially in fast speech.
Affricates are not formed across prefix-root, or root-root boundaries, or across word boundaries, however they are formed across left boundaries of suffixes /sʲk/ and /stw/.
Sibilant consonants (including affricates) in clusters assimilate place of articulation and palatalization state of the last segment in a cluster. The most common case of such assimilation is verbal ending -шся where |ʃsʲɑ| assimilates into /sʲːɑ/. This assimilation is specific to morpheme boundaries because such clusters don't occur within one morpheme.
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 (*ĭ/ь or *ŭ/ъ).
- Pleophony: The Common Slavic combinations, *CoRC and *CeRC, where R is either *r or *l, become in Ukrainian:
- CorC gives CoroC (Common Slavic *borda gives Ukrainian boroda)
- ColC gives ColoC (Common Slavic *bolto gives Ukrainian boloto)
- CerC gives CereC (Common Slavic *berza gives Ukrainian bereza)
- CelC gives ColoC (Common Slavic *melko gives Ukrainian moloko)
- 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 *pętь became Ukrainian /pjɑt/ (п’ять); Common Slavic *telę became Ukrainian /tɛlʲɑ/; and Common Slavic *kurčę became Ukrainian /kurt͡ʃɑ/.
- Common Slavic *ě (Cyrillic ѣ), generally became Ukrainian /i/ except:
- word-initially, where it became /ji/: Common Slavic *(j)ěsti became Ukrainian /jistɪ/
- after the post-alveolar sibilants where it became /ɑ/: Common Slavic *ležěti became Ukrainian /lɛʒɑtɪ/
- Common Slavic *i and *y are both reflected in Ukrainian as /ɪ/
- The Common Slavic combination -CьjV, where V is any vowel, became -CʲCʲV, 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 *žitьje became Ukrainian /ʒɪtʲːɑ/
- if V is Common Slavic *ь, then the combination became /ɛj/, e.g., genitive plural in Common Slavic *myšьjь became Ukrainian /mɪʃɛj/
- 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 /mɪlɔ/
- Common Slavic *ǔl and *ьl became /ɔw/. For example, Common Slavic *vьlkъ became /wɔwk/ in Ukrainian.
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