All you ever wanted to know about Russian palatalization. . .

Mutant Ninja Consonants (Palatalization)

As you might have expected, since stem consonants and ending consonants don't get along together, when when they appear at the edges of stems and endings, mutations are likely to occur. With the exception of the four wimps, й в м and н, that simply disappear when an ending begins with consonant, most consonants hold their ground but suffer various mutations when assailed by an unfriendly consonant in an ending. The most common type of mutation a stem consonant suffers is called palatalization.

Palatalization is actually the results of the historical development of the language. It represents the same kind of substitutions as those found in English pairs such as those in Table 1, except the Russian spell them out while we don't.

Table 1: English Palatalization
divide : divisiond : zh
fuse : fusionz : zh
submit : submissiont : sh
oppress: oppressions : sh

Russian palatalization is not only similar to this change in English pronunciation, several of the specific changes in Russian are identical to those in English.

Ф What Palatalizes in Russian? Ф

Table 2 identifies the consonants which undergo palatalization in Russian today. Once you have mastered the alternations caused by palatalization, you will need to learn where these changes take place. The sounds to the left of the angle bracket ">" are replaced by those to the right of it when palatalization occurs.

Table 2: Russian Palatalization
Labials Dentals Velars Palatals Examples Glosses

п > пль ступи+у > ступлю I step
б > бль люби+у > люблюI love
ф > фль графи+у > графлю I graph
в > вль стави+у > ставлю I put
м > мльгреме+у > гремлюI roar
тк > чпрята+у > прячуI hide
дзг > жвиде+у > вижу I see
сх > шноси+у > ношуI carry
стск > щ (шч)иска+у > ищуI look-for

The mutant consonants (ш ж ч щ) are easy to spot because they are unlike any Latin or Greek consonants and larger than other Russian consonants. They are sometimes called 'hushes' because of the sounds they represent. Historically, all were once soft, hence the rule which forces us to write и and never ы after them. However, now ш and ж are hard and so any и following them are pronounced exactly like ы even though it is not written. Щ is now pronounced like a soft ш in Moscow but it and ч are always pronounced soft everywhere.

Ф Where Does Palatalization Occur? Ф

Now that you are familiar with the sounds that palatalize and how they palatalize, you need to know in which environments these sounds palatalize. Palatalization is not triggered by other sounds alone but specific sounds in specific morphological contexts. Here are the contexts.

The Present-Future Conjugations

1. Palatalization applies throughout the present-future of the first conjugation verbs ending on a:

писа- write
пишу пишем
пишешь пишете
пишет пишут

2. First conjugation stems ending on the velars к, г, х undergo palatalization before е only, i. e. everywhere except in the 1st person singular and 3rd person plural:

мог- may, can
могу можем
можешь можете
может могут

3. Second conjugation stems (those ending on и and е) palatalize in the 1st person singular only:

виде- see

The Imperative.

Only vowel stems on -a palatalize in the Imperative:

 Table 3:
 Palatalization in the Imperative
писа- Пиши!
показа- Покажи!
BUT!  остави- Оставь!
пёк- Пеки!

Palatalization and the Past Passive Participles.

Palatalization applies only before the Past Passive Participle ending -ен as illustrated in the following Table 4.

 Table 4:
 Palatalization in the PPP
остави- оставлен
BUT!  показа- показан
испёк- испечён
BUT!  написа- написан

Ф Palatalization Exercises Ф

In the blanks below, write in the correct form of the verb based on the stem given to the left and the person-number of the pronoun before the blank. Then push the button to see if your answer is correct. Sorry, no prizes this week.

Learner's Keyboard Standard  keyboard Standard KeyboardLearner's keyboard

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The Stem Gloss Type your answer here Push Are you right?
носи- "carry Я тяжелое бремя.

носи- 'carry' Ты зонтик?
писа- 'write' Что вы ?
виде- 'see' Я биг-мак!
мог- 'can' Я не съесть его.
плака- 'cry' Почему ты ?
люби- 'love' Я не очень его.
вед- 'take' Я не тебя туда.
вози- 'drive' Я его на работу.
стави- 'put' Я его на стол.
спроси- 'ask' Я его завтра.
Russian verbal accent The alphaDictioanry The top of this page On-line Grammar Table of Contents Verbal Aspect
©1996 Robert Beard