Ukrainian/Alphabet

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Ukrainian Alphabet

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Ukrainian Alphabet
Letter Pronunciation Name
A a [ɑ] (a) a
Б б [b] (b) бе
В в [v] (v) ве
Г г [h] (h) ге
Ґ ґ [g] (g) ґе
Д д [d] (d) де
Е е [ɛ] (e) е
Є є [ë] (ye) є
Ж ж [ʒ], [ʐ] (s, zh) see text же
З з [z] (z) зе
И и [ɪ] (y, i) и
І і [i] (e, i) і
Ї ї [ji] (yee) ї
Й й [j] (j) йот
К к [k] (k, c) ка
Л л [l] (l) ел
М м [m] (m) ем
Н н [n] (n) ен
О о [o] (о) о
П п [p] (p) пе
Р р [r] (r) ер
С с [s] (s) ес
Т т [t] (t) те
У у [u] (oo) у
Ф ф [f] (f) еф
Х х [x] (ch, h) ха
Ц ц [t͡s] (и, й) це
Ч ч [t͡ʃ] (ch) ча
Ш ш [ʃ] (sh) ша
Щ щ [ʃt͡ʃ] (shch) ща
Ь ь see text м'який знак
Ю ю [u̟] (yu) ю
Я я [ä] (ya) я

The Ukrainian language, like Russian and Belorussian, uses the Cyrillic writing system, but Ukrainian alphabet has quite many differences from the aforementioned languages. Cyrillic alphabet is the modification of Greek alphabet which was used by saint fathers Cyril and Methodius to write sacred texts translated in Old Slavonic language. That is why many letters of the Ukrainian alphabet are similar to the Latin letters (because the Latin alphabet was also based on the Greek one).

There is a special sign in Ukrainian language, the apostrophe (апостроф), that used prior to я, ю, є, ї (ya, yu, ye, yi). For example, подвір'я (paw-dveer-ya), в'юн (v-yun), об'єкт (ob-yekt), під'їзд (pid-yizd). Unlike the hard sign in Russian, it is used much more often in Ukrainian.

Pronunciation[edit]

Almost always Ukrainian words are pronounced literally i.e., each letter has fixed pronunciation and is pronounced only in one way, separately from the others. There are a few minimal exceptions, however, - they will be described also.

So the Ukrainian letters are pronounced:

  • Consonants:
    • Б - like b in big
    • В - like v in vote
    • Г - like h in hood, also like h in Hamlet. This h is soft. It is also voiced, unlike in English.

Sometimes pronounced like a "g" as in "gate"

    • Ґ - like g in go, goose
    • Д - like d in door, but without aspiration
    • Ж - like s in measure, pleasure
    • З - like z in zoo
    • Й - like y in play, joy
    • К - like k in keen
    • Л - like l in love
    • М - like m in month
    • Н - like n in night but the tongue touches the teeth, and not the alveoles
    • П - like p in pig
    • Р - like r in rabbit, but it's actually a trilled like the Spanish rr in perro
    • С - like s in sing
    • Т - like t in table, but without aspiration
    • Ф - like f in fair
    • Х - like h but not soft; it is pronounced with the back of the throat and tongue. Often transliterated as 'kh' or 'ch', it's like the "ch" in "Bach". (But not the 'ch' in German "ich", which is pronounced further forward in the mouth.) Pronounced like j in Spanish in "mojado".
    • Ц - is pronounced like ts in bits
    • Ч - like ch in chess
    • Ш - like sh in shore, shook
    • Щ - is pronounced like two separate sounds: ШЧ. Consider the sounds the letters 'shch' make in these phrases: "Cash cheque", "fish chowder", "reddish cherry".

There are two sounds in Ukrainian that are represented by two letters:

    • дз - like ds in goods, bids
    • дж - like dg in hedge or the j in jam

They are pronounced differently from coincidental combinations of the letters д and з or д and ж. (cf. дзвеніти and підземний, бджола and піджарити)

Also there is a soft form of most consonants: mild Л sounds like l in leap, mild Р sounds like the second r in carry or r in the Spanish arriba and so on. Ч is not always mild like it is in Russian or always hard like in Belorussian, it can be both mild and hard as in течія or чотири respectively.

The soft form is called palatalization where the tongue is moved from its original position. Consider the difference in pronunciation of key and cool. In key the /k/ (precided by closed front vowel, the tongue moves up and forward) is palatalized and in cool the /k/ (labialized, and oral cavity is increased by this) is not. Same thing with tea and tool. When we talk about soft or mild consonants we are talking about palatalization. Palatized consonants are called soft in Ukrainian.

A pair of identical consonants pronounsed not as a simple consonant and not as two separate sounds, but as long consonant.

  • Vowels:
    • Simple Vowels:
      • А - like a in father or the second a in apart
      • E - like e in echo, edit, also like a in at
      • І - like ee" in "meet" and softens the previous consonant
      • И - like y in myth or 'i' in 'big' (near to the Russian sound Ы), it is almost the same as І but should never be after a soft consonant
      • О - like o in "more", "lore", "fore". NOT like "o" in obey, and but never spoken as ou.
      • У - like oo in "moon".
    • Complex Vowels - have their analogs among simple vowels; if a complex vowel follows an hard (not mild) consonant, the consonant becomes mild and the vowel is pronounced as the simple; else first Й is pronounced, followed by the corresponding simple vowel:
      • Я - ЙА pronounced "ya" a 'y' in front of an 'a' as in yard
      • Є - ЙЕ pronounced "ye" as in yes
      • Ї - ЙІ pronounced "yi" it is never placed after a consonant because І already palatalizes the consonant automatically
      • Ю - ЙУ pronounced like as in "you"

Ь is not pronounced, it is called м’який знак (soft sign) or знак м’якшeння (sign of softening) and is used to make preceding consonant palatized. For example, in замість (instead of) the т is softened. In fact, the м is also softened by the і and the с is also softened by being in front of the soft т

Keep in mind that there is no complex vowel that corresponds to О. Instead, Й and Ь are used together with О letter: його, льодом.

Also the apostrophe sign is used after a consonant and before a complex vowel to prevent the consonant from becoming mild. The complex vowel is therefore pronounced like й and corresponding simple vowel. For example, в'язати (to tie up) is pronounced like вйазати.

  • Some cases of discrepancies between spelling and pronunciation:
    • unvoiced consonant + voiced consonant = voiced pair (боротьба is pronounced like бородьба); but voiced consonant + unvoiced consonant or unvoiced consonant + approximant consonant do not change, except:
      • З + unvoiced consonant = С (розпис is pronounced like роспис);
      • Г + К or Т = Х (нігті is pronounced like ніхті);
    • a pair of sibilants converges (зшити is pronounced like шшити; стежцістезці; дочцідоцці).

Try to Pronounce[edit]

Here are some Ukrainian words. Try to pronounce them keeping in mind the bolded vowels are stressed:

  • Рак (rak; crayfish) - Pronounce "rruk", not "rzake".
  • Юрба (yurba; crowd)
  • Їжа (yizha; food)
  • Ранок (ranok; morning)
  • Колиебудь (koly-nebud' ; somewhen)
  • Ядро (yadro; kernel)
  • Словa (slova; word)
  • Ґедзь (ged'z'; gadfly) - "Ґ" is pronounced like "g" in "get". In this word "дз" is palatalized. Touch your tongue to the palate and say "z".
  • Прохання (prokhannya; request, wish) - Long and soft "ннь" [-ɲːɑ].
  • Бути (buty; to be) - Do not pronounce it "beauty" and "и" doesn't sound like [i], slide back a bit.

Ukrainian is written as pronounced just like the other Slavs, but, like Russian and Bulgarian, the stress is very unpredictable and stressing the wrong syllable can lead to misunderstandings. Virtually every textbook and dictionary will write these words with an acute accent (ˊ) on the stressed syllable: юрба́, кість, ра́нок, коли́-небудь, ядро́, слі́дувати, ґедзь, бу́ти. Watch out for words that are written the same, but stressed in a different syllable, such as замок (castle) — замок (lock).

Ukrainian Alphabet

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