Why is the letter В sometimes pronounced as Ф?

Natalya - Tutor September 23, 2015, 1:22 am
Although Russian is generally very phonetic, letters in a word sometimes appear to be pronounced not as they are written. This is all due to a few pronunciation rules. Once you know them, you will be able to read and say anything without fear of mispronouncing the words.

One rule that we are going to discuss now is “consonant devoicing”. Technically speaking, ‘devoicing’ means that a voiced consonant ‘loses’ its voice and becomes voiceless. For instance, the voiced В [v] is pronounced like Ф [f].

However, it only happens when:

1. the voiced consonant occurs at the end of a word, e.g. часов

           you see: часов         you say: чисоф
     

2.  when different consonants come together (forming a voiced + voiceless cluster) they tend to assimilate, i.e. become similar in sound. The preceding consonant changes to accommodate the next sound. For instance, in the phrase в пять, the voiced в [v] precedes the voiceless п [p] and thus changes to a voiceless consonant. 

         you see: в пять           you say:     ф пять
                        повторите                      пафтарити


This rule applies to all other voiced consonants, not just В. Here is the complete list of all voiced consonants with their voiceless pairs:

Voiced        Voiceless         You see:            You say:

Б                 П                        хлеб                 хлеп
В                 Ф                       вчера                фчира
Г                  К                       маг                    мак
Д                 Т                       год                     гот
Ж               Ш                       муж                   муш
З                С                        узкий                уский
 
Why is the letter В sometimes pronounced as Ф?
MDL February 12, 2016, 4:15 pm
Hi Natalya,

Thank you for explaining this.  What happens when the two rules are in conflict with each other? Does one have preference over the other? In other words, let's say you have a voiced consonant at the end of a word so according to rule, you should make that consonant voiceless.  However, what if the next word begins with a voiced consonant? Does the last letter become voiceless since it's at the end of a word following rule #1 or does it stay as voiced since the next letter/consonant of the following word begins with a voiced consonant.  I hope this makes sense.  I wish I could give you an example but barely knowing any Russian still I would be hard pressed at the moment.  Lastly, I'm really enjoying this Rocket Russian so far...Read More
Hi Natalya,

Thank you for explaining this.  What happens when the two rules are in conflict with each other? Does one have preference over the other? In other words, let's say you have a voiced consonant at the end of a word so according to rule, you should make that consonant voiceless.  However, what if the next word begins with a voiced consonant? Does the last letter become voiceless since it's at the end of a word following rule #1 or does it stay as voiced since the next letter/consonant of the following word begins with a voiced consonant.  I hope this makes sense.  I wish I could give you an example but barely knowing any Russian still I would be hard pressed at the moment.  Lastly, I'm really enjoying this Rocket Russian so far.  Do you know if there are any plans to expand the Russian program all the way to Level 3 and if so when? Thank you in advance.
Why is the letter В sometimes pronounced as Ф?
MDL February 12, 2016, 4:42 pm

Also, a word like двенадцать.  Is the letter ц also voiceless since д sounds like a т? In other words, is that another pair?
 
Why is the letter В sometimes pronounced as Ф?
Natalya - Tutor February 13, 2016, 11:17 pm
Здравствуйте, MDL!

The ‘devoicing rule’ works when a word with a voiced consonant is the last one in a phrase. If such a word is part of a phrase, for instance, ‘под окном’, Д will still be pronounced as Д, because it joins with the next word, so sounds like: [падакном] (“under the window”)
However, whenever different consonants come together (which we call ”a cluster”) they tend to assimilate. Then the preceding consonant will always change to accommodate the next sound. 

In the phrase ‘под столом’ Д precedes С, which is voiceless. So Д becomes voiceless as well and turns into T: [патсталом] (“under the table”).

A similar thing happens in your example with двенадцать (’12’)...Read More
Здравствуйте, MDL!

The ‘devoicing rule’ works when a word with a voiced consonant is the last one in a phrase. If such a word is part of a phrase, for instance, ‘под окном’, Д will still be pronounced as Д, because it joins with the next word, so sounds like: [падакном] (“under the window”)
However, whenever different consonants come together (which we call ”a cluster”) they tend to assimilate. Then the preceding consonant will always change to accommodate the next sound. 

In the phrase ‘под столом’ Д precedes С, which is voiceless. So Д becomes voiceless as well and turns into T: [патсталом] (“under the table”).

A similar thing happens in your example with двенадцать (’12’). There we have a cluster ДЦ, where the preceding consonant Д changes to Т, because the following consonant Ц is voiceless. So, basically you should say [двинатцать].
 
The assimilation rule applies whenever two words come together and there is a cluster of consonants between them. For instance in the phrase ‘двадцать два’ (’22’) a soft T precedes Д, which is voiced, so T becomes voiced as well and turns into Д: [дватцад’ два].  

I hope you will be pleased to know that our Russian Writing course is going to be added to the Premium Russian course in about a month’s time. There you will also find more on Russian pronunciation.

There will be Russian Travelogue lessons available in a couple of months as well.
Why is the letter В sometimes pronounced as Ф?

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