Belarusian phonology

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The phonological system of the modern Belarusian language consists of at least 44 phonemes: 5 vowels and 39 consonants. Consonants may also be geminated. There is not absolute agreement on the number of phonemes, so that rarer or contextually variant sounds are included by some scholars.[citation needed]

Many consonants may form pairs that differ only in palatalization (called hard vs soft consonants, the latter being represented in the IPA with the symbol ⟨ʲ⟩). In some of such pairs, the place of articulation is additionally changed (see distinctive features below). There are also unpaired consonants that have no corollary in palatalization.

Distinctive features[edit]

As an East Slavic language, Belarusian phonology is very similar to Russian phonology, and also rather similar to Ukrainian phonology. The primary differences are:[1]

  • Akannye (Belarusian: аканне) – the merger of unstressed /o/ into /a/. Unlike in standard Russian (akanye), the pronunciation of the merged vowel is a clear open front unrounded vowel [a], including after soft consonants and /j/. (Ukrainian does not have this merger at all.)
  • Lack of ikanye. Unlike in Russian (but as in Ukrainian), there is no merger of unstressed /e/ and /i/, and no merger of unstressed /a ~ o/ with /i/ after soft consonants.
  • Unlike in Russian, there is no emphasized separation after the /j/ in the pronunciation of the iotified /ja/, /jo/, /je/ and /ji/.[2][clarification needed]
  • Tsyekannye (Belarusian: цеканне) and dzyekannye (Belarusian: дзеканне) – the pronunciation of Old East Slavic /tʲ/,/dʲ/ as soft affricates [tsʲ], [dzʲ]. (Note that many Russian speakers similarly affricate phonemic /tʲ/,/dʲ/, but this is not universal and not written.)
  • Relatively stronger palatalization of /sʲ/ and /zʲ/.[3]
  • Postalveolar consonants are all hard (laminal retroflex) while Russian and Ukrainian have both hard and soft postalveolars.
  • /rʲ/ has hardened and merged with /r/.
  • Unlike in standard Russian, phonemic /v/ and /l/ merge as [w] syllable-finally. This is reflected in the spelling, which uses a special symbol known as "non-syllabic u" (Belarusian: у нескладовae),[4] written as an ‹u› with a breve diacritic on top of it: ‹ў›,? ‹ŭ›.?

Note also that, unlike in Russian, Belarusian spelling closely represents surface phonology rather than the underlying morphophonology. For example, akannye, tsyekannye, dzyekannye and the [w] allophone of /v/ and /l/ are all written. The representation of akannye in particular introduces striking differences between Russian and Belarusian orthography.[examples needed]


Belarusian script IPA Description Belarusian example
i /i/ close front unrounded лiст ('leaf')
э /ɛ/ open-mid front unrounded гэты ('this one')
ы [ɨ] close central unrounded мыш ('mouse')
a /a/ open central unrounded кат ('executioner')
у /u/ close back rounded шум ('noise')
о /ɔ/ open-mid back rounded кот ('cat')

As with Russian, [ɨ] is not a separate phoneme, but an allophone of /i/ occurring after non-palatalized consonants.[5]


The consonants of Belarusian are as follows:[6]

Labial Alveolar,
Retroflex Dorsal
plain pal. plain pal. plain pal.
Nasal m n̪ʲ
Stop p


Affricate ts̪
Fricative f



(w) l̪ʲ j
Trill r

As in Dutch, the rare phonemes /ɡ/ and /ɡʲ/ are present only in several borrowed words: ганак [ˈɡanak], гузік [ˈɡuzik], гандаль [ˈɡandalʲ]. Other borrowed words have the fricative pronunciation: геаграфія [ɣʲeaˈɣrafʲija] ('geography'). In addition, [ɡ] and [ɡʲ] are allophones of /k/ and /kʲ/ respectively, when voiced by regressive assimilation, as in вакзал [vaɡˈzal] 'train station'.

In the syllable coda, /v/ is pronounced [w] or [u̯], forming diphthongs, and is spelled ⟨ў⟩.[7] There are also alternations between /l/ and this post-vocalic /v/; though restricted to the past tense of verbs,[8] [w] sometimes derives etymologically from /l/, as with воўк [vɔwk] ('wolf'), which comes from Proto-Slavic *vьlkъ (as with Dutch goud 'gold').

The geminated variations are transcribed as follows:

  • падарожжа [padaˈroʒʒa]
  • ззяць [zʲzʲatsʲ]
  • стагоддзе [staˈɣoddzʲe]
  • каханне [kaˈxanʲnʲe]
  • рассячы [rasʲˈsʲatʃɨ]
  • ліхалецце [lʲixaˈlʲettsʲe]
  • сярэднявечча [sʲarɛdnʲaˈvʲettʃa].


  1. ^ Sussex & Cubberly (2006:53)
  2. ^ Padluzhny (1989:53)
  3. ^ "Stronger than in Russian, weaker than in Polish", per Беларуская мова...
  4. ^ Padluzhny (1989:54)
  5. ^ Mayo (2002:890)
  6. ^ Mayo (2002:891)
  7. ^ Young, S. (2006). "Belorussian". Encyclopedia of language and linguistics (2nd ed.). 
  8. ^ Mayo (2002:899)


Further reading[edit]