Ukrainian phonology

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This article deals with the phonology of the standard Ukrainian language.


Ukrainian vowel chart, from Pompino-Marschall, Steriopolo & Żygis (2016:?)

Ukrainian has six vowel phonemes: /i, u, ɪ, ɛ, ɔ, ɑ/. /ɪ/ may be classified as a retracted high-mid front vowel,[1] transcribed in narrow IPA as [e̠], [ë], [ɪ̞] or [ɘ̟].

Ukrainian has no phonemic distinction between long and short vowels; however, unstressed vowels are somewhat reduced in time, and as a result, in quality.[2]

  • In unstressed position /ɑ/ has an allophone [ɐ].[3]
  • Unstressed /ɔ/ has an allophone [o] that slightly approaches /u/ if followed by a syllable containing /u/ or /i/.[3]
  • Unstressed /u/ has an allophone [ʊ].[3]
  • Unstressed /ɛ/ and /ɪ/ approach [e] that may or may not be a common allophone for the two phonemes.[3]
  • /i/ has no notable variation in unstressed position.[3]


Labial Dental/Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Hard Soft
Nasal m n
Stop pb td kɡ
Affricate t͡sd͡z t͡sʲd͡zʲ t͡ʃd͡ʒ
Fricative f sz ʃʒ x ɦ
Approximant w l j
Trill r

(In the table above, where there are two consonants in a row, the one to the right is voiced and the other one is voiceless)

Phonetic details:

  • There is no complete agreement about the phonetic nature of /ɦ/. According to some linguists it is pharyngeal [ʕ][4] ([ħ] [or sometimes [x] in weak positions] when devoiced).[4] According to others it is glottal [ɦ].[5][6][7]
  • Word-finally, /m/, /l/, /r/ are voiceless [], [], [] after voiceless consonants.[8] In case of /r/, it only happens after /t/.[9]
  • /w/ is most commonly bilabial [β̞] before vowels, but can alternate with labiodental [ʋ] (most commonly before /i/),[10] and can be a true labiovelar [w] before /ɔ/ or /u/.[3] It is also vocalized to [u̯] before a consonant at the beginning of a word, after a vowel before a consonant and after a vowel at the end of a word.[10][11] If /w/ occurs before a voiceless consonant and not after a vowel, the voiceless articulation [ʍ] is also possible.[3]
  • /r/ often becomes a single tap [ɾ] in the spoken language;
  • /t, d, dʲ, n, nʲ, s, sʲ, z, zʲ, t͡s, t͡sʲ, d͡z, d͡zʲ/ are dental [, , d̪ʲ, , n̪ʲ, , s̪ʲ, , z̪ʲ, t̪͡s̪, t̪͡s̪ʲ, d̪͡z̪, d̪͡z̪ʲ],[12] while /tʲ, l, lʲ, r, rʲ/ are alveolar [, l, , r, ].[13]
  • The group of palatalized consonants consists of 10 phonemes: /j, dʲ, zʲ, lʲ, nʲ, rʲ, sʲ, tʲ, t͡sʲ, d͡zʲ/ all of which except /j/ have a soft and a hard variant. There is no complete agreement about the nature of the palatalization of /rʲ/; sometimes it is considered as a semi-palatalized[clarification needed] consonant.[14] Labial consonants /p, b, m, f/ have just semi-palatalized versions, and /w/ has only the hard variant.[15] The palatalization of the consonants /ɦ, ɡ, ʒ, k, x, t͡ʃ, ʃ, d͡ʒ/ is weak; they are usually treated rather as the allophones of the respective 'hard' consonants, not as separate phonemes.[16]
  • Unlike Russian and several other Slavic languages, Ukrainian does not have final devoicing for most obstruents, as can be seen, for example, in віз "cart", which is pronounced About this sound [ˈʋiz] , not *[ˈʋis].[3]
  • The fricative articulations [v, ɣ] are voiced allophones of /f, x/ respectively when they are voiced before other voiced consonants. (See #Consonant assimilation.) /x, ɦ/ do not form a perfect voiceless-voiced phoneme pair, but their allophones may overlap if /ɦ/ is devoiced to [x] (rather than [h]). In the standard language, /f, w/ do not form a voiceless-voiced phoneme pair at all, as [v] does not phonemically overlap with /w/, and [ʍ] (voiceless allophone of /w/) does not phonemically overlap with /f/.[3]

When two or more consonants occur word-finally, then a vowel is epenthesized under the following conditions.[17] 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:

  1. If C1 is either /w/, /ɦ/, /k/, or /x/, then the epenthisized vowel is always [o]
    1. No vowel is epenthesized if the /w/ is derived from a Common Slavic vocalic *l, for example, /wɔwk/ (see below)
  2. If C2 is /l/, /m/, /r/, or /ts/, then the vowel is /ɛ/.
  3. The combinations, /-stw/ /-sk/ are not broken up
  4. If the C1 is /j/ (й), then the above rules can apply. However, both forms (with and without the fill vowel) often exist

Alternation of vowels and semivowels[edit]

Ukrainian also has a non-syllabic [u̯] as an allophone of /w/. The semivowels /j/ and /w/ alternate with the vowels /i/ and /u/ respectively. The semivowels are used in syllable codas: that is, when after a vowel and before a consonant, either within a word or across a word boundary:[citation needed]

він іде́ /ˈwin iˈdɛ/ ('he's coming')
вона́ йде /wɔˈnɑ ˈjdɛ/ ('she's coming')
він і вона́ /ˈwin i wɔˈnɑ/ ('he and she')
вона́ й він /wɔˈnɑ j ˈwin/ ('she and he');
Утоми́вся вже /utɔˈmɪwsʲɑ ˈwʒɛ/ ('already gotten tired')
Уже́ втоми́вся /uˈʒɛ wtɔˈmɪwsʲɑ/ ('already gotten tired')
Він утоми́вся. /ˈwin utɔmɪwsʲɑ/ ('He's gotten tired.')
Він у ха́ті. /ˈwin u ˈxɑtʲi/ ('He's inside the house.')
Вона́ в ха́ті. /wɔˈnɑ w ˈxɑtʲi/ ('She's inside the house.')
підучи́ти /piduˈt͡ʃɪtɪ/ ('to learn')[clarification needed]
вивчи́ти /wɪwˈt͡ʃɪtɪ/ ('to learn')

This feature distinguishes Ukrainian phonology remarkably from Russian and Polish, two related languages with many cognates.

Consonant assimilation[edit]

Voiceless obstruents are voiced when preceding voiced ones, but the reverse is not true.[18]

The exceptions are the words легко, вогко, нігті, кігті, дьогтю, дігтяр, and derivatives where /ɦ/ may be devoiced to [h], or even merge with the phoneme /x/.[3]

Unpalatalized dental consonants /n, t, d, t͡s, d͡z, s, z, r, l/ become palatalized if followed by other palatalized dental consonants /nʲ, tʲ, dʲ, t͡sʲ, d͡zʲ, sʲ, zʲ, rʲ, lʲ/. They are also typically palatalized before the vowel /i/. Historically, contrasting unpalatalized and palatalized articulations of consonants before /i/ were possible and more common, with the absence of palatalization usually reflecting that, through regular sound changes in the language, an /i/ vowel actually evolved from an older non-palatalizing /ɔ/ vowel. Ukrainian grammar still allows for /i/ to alternate with either /ɛ/ or /ɔ/ in the regular inflection of certain words. But today, the absence of consonant palatalization before /i/ has become rare, though it is not considered wrong.[3]

While the labial consonants /m, p, b, f, w/ cannot be phonemically palatalized, they can still precede one of the iotating vowels є і ьо ю я, in which circumstance many speakers replace the would-be sequences *|mʲ, pʲ, bʲ, fʲ, wʲ| with the consonant clusters /mj, pj, bj, fj, wj/, a habit also common in neighboring Polish.[3] The separation of labial consonant from /j/ is already hard-coded in many Ukrainian words (and spelt as such with an apostrophe), such as in В'ячеслав /wjɑt͡ʃɛˈslɑw/ "Vyacheslav", ім'я /iˈmjɑ/ "name" and п'ять /pjɑtʲ/ "five".[citation needed]

Dental sibilant consonants /t͡s, d͡z, s, z/ become palatalized before any of the labial consonants /m, p, b, f, w/ followed by one of the iotating vowels є і ьо ю я, though the labial consonants themselves cannot retain phonemic palatalization. Thus, words like свят /sʲw(j)ɑt/ "holiday" and сват /swɑt/ "matchmaker" retain separate pronunciations (whether or not an actual /j/ is articulated).[3]

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/.[3]

Dental plosives /t, tʲ, d, dʲ/ assimilate to affricate articulations before coronal affricates or fricatives /t͡s, d͡z, s, z, t͡sʲ, d͡zʲ, sʲ, zʲ, t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ, ʃ, ʒ/, assuming the latter consonant's place of articulation and palatalization. Where the sequences |t.t͡s, d.d͡z, t.t͡sʲ, d.d͡zʲ, t.t͡ʃ, d.d͡ʒ| regressively assimilate to /t͡s.t͡s, d͡z.d͡z, t͡sʲ.t͡sʲ, d͡zʲ.d͡zʲ, t͡ʃ.t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ.d͡ʒ/, they gain geminate articulations [t͡sː d͡zː t͡sʲː d͡zʲː t͡ʃː d͡ʒː].[3]

Deviations of spoken language[edit]

There are some typical deviations which may appear in spoken language (often under the influence of Russian);[19] usually they are considered as phonetic errors by linguists.[20]

  • [ɨ] for /ɪ/
  • [t͡ɕ] for /t͡ʃ/ and [ɕt͡ɕ] or even [ɕː] for [ʃt͡ʃ]
  • [rʲ] for /r/, [bʲ] for /b/, [vʲ] for /w/ (e.g. in words Ха́рків, Об, любо́в'ю)
  • [v] or [f] (the latter in syllable-final position) for [w ~ u̯ ~ β̞ ~ ʋ ~ ʍ] (e.g. in words любо́в, роби́в, вари́ти, вода́)[10], in effect also turning /f, w/ into a true voiceless-voiced phoneme pair which is not the case in the standard language
  • Final-obstruent devoicing

Historical phonology[edit]

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:

  1. 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 (*ŭ or *ĭ).[citation needed]
  2. Pleophony: The Common Slavic combinations, *CoRC and *CeRC, where R is either *r or *l, become in Ukrainian:
    1. CorC gives CoroC (Common Slavic *borda gives Ukrainian boroda, борода́)
    2. ColC gives ColoC (Common Slavic *bolto gives Ukrainian boloto, боло́то)
    3. CerC gives CereC (Common Slavic *berza gives Ukrainian bereza, бере́за)
    4. CelC gives ColoC (Common Slavic *melko gives Ukrainian moloko, молоко́)
  3. The Common Slavic nasal vowel *ę is reflected as /jä/; a preceding labial consonant generally was not palatalized after this, and after a postalveolar it became /ä/. Examples: Common Slavic *pętĭ became Ukrainian /pjätʲ/ (п’ять); Common Slavic *telę became Ukrainian [tɛˈlʲæ] (теля́); and Common Slavic *kurĭčę became Ukrainian /kurˈt͡ʃä/ (курча́).[citation needed]
  4. Common Slavic *ě (Cyrillic ѣ), generally became Ukrainian /i/ except:[citation needed]
    1. word-initially, where it became /ji/: Common Slavic *(j)ěsti became Ukrainian ї́сти /ˈjistɪ/
    2. after the postalveolar sibilants where it became /ä/: Common Slavic *ležěti became Ukrainian /lɛˈʒätɪ/ (лежа́ти)
  5. Common Slavic *i and *y are both reflected in Ukrainian as /ɪ/[citation needed]
  6. The Common Slavic combination -CĭjV, where V is any vowel, became -CʲːV, except:[citation needed]
    1. if C is labial or /r/ where it became -CjV
    2. if V is the Common Slavic *e, then the vowel in Ukrainian mutated to /ä/, e.g., Common Slavic *žitĭje became Ukrainian [ʒɪtʲːæ] (життя́)
    3. if V is Common Slavic *ĭ, then the combination became /ɛj/, e.g., genitive plural in Common Slavic *myšĭjĭ became Ukrainian /mɪ̞ˈʃɛj/ (мише́й)
    4. if one or more consonants precede C then there is no doubling of the consonants in Ukrainian
  7. Sometime around the early thirteenth century, the voiced velar stop lenited to [ɣ] (except in the cluster *zg).[21] Within a century, /ɡ/ was reintroduced from Western European loanwords and, around the sixteenth century, [ɣ] debuccalized to [ɦ].[22]
  8. Common Slavic combinations *dl and *tl were simplified to /l/, for example, Common Slavic *mydlo became Ukrainian /ˈmɪlɔ/ (ми́ло).[citation needed]
  9. Common Slavic *ǔl and *ĭl became /ɔw/. For example, Common Slavic *vĭlkǔ became /wɔwk/ (вовк) in Ukrainian.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Rusanivs’kyj, Taranenko & Zjabljuk (2004:104)
  2. ^ Rusanivs’kyj, Taranenko & Zjabljuk (2004:407)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Buk, Mačutek & Rovenchak (2008)
  4. ^ a b Danyenko & Vakulenko (1995:12)
  5. ^ Pugh & Press (2005:23)
  6. ^ The sound is described as "laryngeal fricative consonant" (гортанний щілинний приголосний) in the official orthography: '§ 14. Letter H' in Український правопис, Kyiv: Naukova dumka, 2012, p. 19 (see e-text)
  7. ^ Українська мова: енциклопедія, Kyiv, 2000, p. 85.
  8. ^ Danyenko & Vakulenko (1995:6, 8)
  9. ^ Danyenko & Vakulenko (1995:8)
  10. ^ a b c Žovtobrjux & Kulyk (1965:121–122)
  11. ^ Rusanivs’kyj, Taranenko & Zjabljuk (2004:522–523)
  12. ^ Danyenko & Vakulenko (1995:8–10)
  13. ^ Danyenko & Vakulenko (1995:8 and 10)
  14. ^ Ponomariv (2001:16, 20)
  15. ^ Ponomariv (2001:14-15)
  16. ^ Buk, Mačutek & Rovenchak (2008)
  17. ^ Carlton (1972:?)
  18. ^ Mascaró & Wetzels (2001:209)
  19. ^ Oleksandr Ponomariv. Культура слова: мовностилістичні поради
  20. ^ Vitalij Marhalyk. Проблеми орфоепії в молодіжних телепрограмах
  21. ^ Shevelov (1977:145)
  22. ^ Shevelov (1977:148)


  • Bilous, Tonia (2005), Українська мова засобами Міжнародного фонетичного алфавіту [Ukrainian in International Phonetic alphabet] (DOC) 
  • Buk, Solomija; Mačutek, Ján; Rovenchak, Andrij (2008), Some properties of the Ukrainian writing system, arXiv:0802.4198Freely accessible 
  • Carlton, T.R. (1972), A Guide to the Declension of Nouns in Ukrainian, Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta Press 
  • Danyenko, Andrii; Vakulenko, Serhii (1995), Ukrainian, Lincom Europa, ISBN 978-3-929075-08-3 
  • Mascaró, Joan; Wetzels, W. Leo (2001). "The Typology of Voicing and Devoicing". Language. 77 (2): 207–244. doi:10.1353/lan.2001.0123. 
  • Pohribnyj, M.I., ed. (1986), Орфоепічний словни, Kiev: Radjans’ka škola 
  • Pompino-Marschall, Bernd; Steriopolo, Elena; Żygis, Marzena (2016), "Ukrainian", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, doi:10.1017/S0025100316000372 
  • Ponomariv, O.D., ed. (2001), Сучасна українська мова: Підручник, Kiev: Lybid’ 
  • Pugh, Stefan; Press, Ian (2005) [First published 1999], Ukrainian: A Comprehensive Grammar, London: Routledge 
  • Rusanivs’kyj, V. M.; Taranenko, O. O.; Zjabljuk, M. P.; et al. (2004). Українська мова: Енциклопедія. ISBN 978-966-7492-19-9. 
  • Shevelov, George Y. (1977). "On the Chronology of h and the New g in Ukrainian" (PDF). Harvard Ukrainian Studies. Cambridge: Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. 1 (2): 137–152. 
  • Shevelov, George Y. (1993), "Ukrainian", in Comrie, Bernard; Corbett, Greville, The Slavonic Languages, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 947–998 
  • Žovtobrjux, M.A., ed. (1973), Українська літературна вимова і наголос: Словник - довідник, Kiev: Nakova dumka 
  • Žovtobrjux, M.A.; Kulyk, B.M. (1965). Курс сучасної української літературної мови. Частина I. Kiev: Radjans’ka škola. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bahmut, Alla Josypivna (1980). Інтонація як засіб мовної комунікації. Kiev: Naukova dumka. 
  • Toc’ka, N.I. (1973). Голосні фонеми української літературної мови. Kiev: Kyjivs’kyj universytet. 
  • Toc’ka, N.I. (1995). Сучасна українська літературна мова. Kiev: Vyšča škola. 
  • Zilyns'kyj, I. (1979). A Phonetic Description of the Ukrainian Language. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-66612-7. 
  • Zygis, Marzena (2003), "Phonetic and Phonological Aspects of Slavic Sibilant Fricatives" (PDF), ZAS Papers in Linguistics, 3: 175–213