Pronunciation - consonants
In this lesson, we shall pay special attention to the consonant system of the Belarusian language, which is much more complex than that of English.
First of all, all consonants are divided in two major groups: voiced consonants and surd ones. Voiced consonants are pronounced with the participation of your vocal cords, while with surd consonants no voice is produced and they totally consist of the noise produced by your lips, teeth, tongue, palate et al. Most voiced consonants have their surd counterparts, and vice versa. To pronounce a surd analog of a voiced consonant you just need to "turn off" the voice.
The following chart represents the system of Belarusian consonants arranged in "voiced"-"surd" pairs.
Note that only "hard" consonants are dealt with so far, and there exist nearly as much "soft" consonant sounds.
|б||п||b in big - p in pig|
|в||ф||v in van - f in fan|
|(г)||к||g in gate - k in Kate|
|д||т||d in dime - t in time|
|дж||ч||j in joke - ch in choke|
|дз||ц||ds in fads - ts in bats|
|ж||ш||s in pleasure; sh in ship|
|з||с||z in zoo - s in Sue|
The voiced consonants й, л, м, н, р and ў have no surd pairs.
The sounds б and п, в and ф, з and с, and м are pronounced the same as English b - p, v - f, z - s and m.
Ф is a queer sound for Belarusian and its occurrence in a word almost certainly indicates a borrowing (most probalby from Greek).
The sound к is pronounced like English k. In rare occasions, letter г is pronounced like English g in garden. As was mentioned earlier, in tarashkievitsa, a special letter ґ is used to denote this sound.
The sounds ж and ш are like English s in pleasure and sh in ship, but are pronounced harder. This means that you should move your tongue a bit down and backward to pronounce Belarusian ж and ш (relative to its position while pronouncing the English sounds).
The combination дж is pronounced as a single sound, which is like j in jam. Its surd mate is ч. Again, Belarusian дж and ч are harder than English j and ch.
Note that in Belarusian, п, ф, к, т and ч before stressed vowels are pronounced with no aspiration characteristic to English surd consonants.
Also note that Belarusian sounds д, т, л and н are pronounced with your tongue tip between the teeth, just as in English th sound.
The sound ц is present in English but does not occur at the start of a word, unlike in Belarusian. In other European languages it is usually denoted by the letter z: Zeit, Zimmer, Zahn in German; zio, pazione, pranzare in Italian. The sound дз is uncommon for Belarusian and occurs in just a few Belarusian words, most of which are imitative (like jingle or clink).
Another sound pair that might cause problems to an English speaker is the г - х pair. The sound х is present in German (ch in auch, hoch or Tuch) and Spanish (j in rojo or junto). To pronounce it, try to say k as a fricative, i.e. keep saying it for a long span of time, e.g. five seconds. To do so, you will need to move your tongue a bit down to let the air out of your larynx. But it is a mistake to move your tongue too low and pronounce it like English h in hand.
The sound г is a voiced analog of х.
The sound р differs substantially from the English r sound. If you have heard the r sound in Spanish (rosa) or Italian (marrone) you know how to pronounce it. It is a rolling sound resembling a roar of a motorbike engine on the top gear. This sound is the hardest to pronounce among Belarusians themselves (as well as Russians).
The sound й corresponds to the English sound y in yes or yellow. In English, it can never be a final sound. In Belarusian, however, it is a common practice. E.g. the word май (May) is pronounced with final consonant й. It is a mistake to vocalise it, like in English my.
The sound ў is actually a semivowel. But this sound is worth a separate observation.
Grammar - This is a X
Let's translate "this is a cat" into Belarusian. The Belarusian for this is гэ́та, so the result will be
You see that in this sentence there is (1) no article and (2) no linking verb. Actually, there exists a verb corresponding to English "is", but it is in most cases omitted.
1. Р practice
Practice pronunciation of р sound saying these words. If you have problems with reading, confer the hint below. If you have severe problems with reading, go back to the previous lesson.
фа́ра - a headlight (of a car or a locomotive)
рака́ - a river
дрэ́ва - a tree
кра́ма - a (little) shop
hint: fara, raka, dreva, krama
2. Ц practice
Practice pronunciation of ц sound saying these words. If you have problems with reading, confer the hint below. If you have severe problems with reading, go back to the previous lesson.
цана́ - price
царква́ - a church
пра́ца - work (noun)
ца́цка - a toy
hint: tsana, tsarkva, pratsa, tsatska
3. Г - Х practice
Read these sentences paying special attention to г and х sounds. If you have problems with reading, confer the hint below. If you have severe problems with reading, go back to the previous lesson.
Гэ́та ха́та. - This is a house.
Гэ́та даро́га. - This is a road.
Гэ́та гара́. - This is a mountain.
hint: Heta khata. Heta daroha. Heta hara.
4. Geographical names
Read these geographical names and try to recognize them. If you have problems, confer the hint below. If you have severe problems with reading, go back to the previous lesson.
hint: Praha (Prague), Bostan (Boston), Detroyt (Detroit), Kanada (Canada), Volha (the Volga), Dunay (the Danube), Reyn (the Rhine), Temza (the Thames) Lokh Nes (Loch Ness).
5. International words
Read these words and try to guess their meanings. If you have problems, confer the hint below. If you have severe problems with reading, go back to the previous lesson.
Hint: palats - a palace; pashpart - a passport, aeraport - an airport, shkola - a school, poshta - a post office, teatr - a theatre, tramvay - a tram
6. Sound practice
(a) Practice pronouncing the words from the previous two exercises that contain the й sound. Be sure not to vocalize it.
(b) Do the same for the п and т sounds. Pronounce these words with no aspiration.
(c) The same for the р sound. Do not pronounce it like the English r sound.
(d) The same for the ц sound. Do not pronounce it as separate t and s sounds.
7. Гэта ...
Translate this sentences into Belarusian. Pay special attention to the г sound in гэта and other words.
This is a theatre.
This is Moscow.
This is a school.
This is a dog.
This is Warsaw.
This is a road.
This is a church.
Clue: Гэта тэатр. Гэта Масква. Гэта школа. Гэта сабака. Гэта Варшава. Гэта дарога. Гэта царква.