Belarusian/Lesson 3

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Belarusian Vowel System[edit]

The vowel system of the Belarusian language is much simpler than that of English. In Belarusian, there is no distinction between long and short vowels, which exists in Germanic languages, and no diphthongs like ai in rain or oa in road. There are only six vowel sounds in Belarusian, and only one might cause problems with an English speaker, the sound ы. It is common to Slavic, Turkic, Celtic and some other languages, but is queer to Germanic and Romance languages. The English sound most similar to it is i in big, but to say ы you should move your tongue and palate still farther up and backward.

The vowel system of Belarusian and its representation in writing is shown below.

Sound (in English) Simple letter Y-letter
a а я
e э е
o о ё
u у ю
no correspondence ы -
i - і

So, most Belarusian vowels have two corresponding letters: a simple, "pure", vowel, denoting only the vowel sound, and a y-vowel, that is pronounced as й + vowel: ya, ye, yo, yu. Consequently, the й letter in Belarusian never occurs before vowels, because an appropriate y-vowel is used instead, e.g. я instead of йа etc.

The letter i is not always pronounced as a y-vowel. Being and initial letter, it is pronounced as a simple vowel, i.e. like English ee in keep.

Ірла́ндыя "Irlandiya" - Ireland

But after a vowel it is pronounced as yi, with a й sound.

Украіна "Ukrayina" - Ukraine

In several cases, initial і is also pronounced as yi. We shall deal these cases later.

Personal Pronouns[edit]

Here are all Belarusian personal pronouns, arranged by person and number.

Singular Plural
1st person я мы
2nd person ты вы
3rd person ён (masculine)
яно́ (neuter)
яна́ (feminine)
яны́

Ён студэ́нт. "Yon student" - He is a student.

Яна́ студэ́нтка. "Yana studentka" - She is a student.

Я туры́ст. "Ya turyst" - I am a tourist (male).

Я туры́стка. "Ya turystka" - I am a tourist (female).

Ты тут. "Ty tut" - You are here (singular familiar).

Вы тут. "Vy tut" - You are here (plural or singular formal).

Яны́ там. "Yany tam" - They are there.

You may have noticed that the suffix ка is used to get female nouns from male ones.

Who And What[edit]

Хто and што are the Belarusian for who and what. Хто is used in asking about animate things, i.e. people and animals, whereas што applies to inanimate objects.

Remember that no linking verb is required in Belarusian.

Што гэ́та? - Гэ́та трамва́й. "Shto heta? Heta tramvay" - What is this? This is a tram.

Хто гэ́та? - Гэ́та каро́ва. "Khto heta? Heta karova" - Who is this? This is a cow.

Гэ́та што? - Гэ́та даро́га. "Heta shto? Heta darogha" - What is this? This is a road.

Гэ́та хто? - Гэ́та сакрата́рка. "Khto heta? Heta sakratarka" - Who is this? This is a secretary (female).

Note that word order is not so critical in Belarusian as it is in English. However, што гэта? is more natural than гэта што?

Exercises[edit]

1. Ы practice[edit]

Pronounce these words paying special attention to ы sound.

мы - we

вы - you

Рым - Rome

Ры́га - Riga

А́фрыка - Africa

дырэ́ктар - a manager

партыза́н - a guerrilla

2. Е Ё І Ю Я practice[edit]

Pronounce these words. Be sure to pronounce е, ё, ю, я like ye, yo, yu, ya. Remember that і is pronounced like i at the beginning of the word, and yi after vowels.

яны́ - they

Ёрк - York

стадыён - a stadium

краіна - a country

е́лка - a fur tree

юна́цтва - youth

Іра́н - Iran

3. Хто or Што?[edit]

Build questions and answers with the given words, using хто or што.

Sample: Гара: Што гэта? Гэта гара.

елка

сакратар

слон

Украіна

Clue: Што гэта? Гэта елка. Хто гэта? Гэта сакратар. Хто гэта? Гэта слон. Што гэта? Гэта Украіна.

4. Translation[edit]

Translate into Belarusian.

1. We are here.

2. Who is this? This is a cat.

3. What is this? This is a tree.

4. He is a tourist.

5. She is a secretary.

6. He is there.

Clue: (1) Мы тут. (2) Хто гэта? Гэта кот. (3) Што гэта? Гэта дрэва. (4) Ён турыст. (5) Яна сакратарка. (6) Ён там.