See Russian phonology at Wikipedia for a thorough look at the sounds of Russian.
Basic consonants as in the alphabet:
Palatalised ("soft") consonants: bʲ, pʲ, vʲ, fʲ, gʲ, kʲ dʲ, tʲ, zʲ, sʲ, lʲ, mʲ, nʲ, rʲ, xʲ, (t͡sʲ). [j], [t͡ɕ] and [ɕː] are always palatalised ("soft"), [ʐ] and [ʂ] are almost always unpalatalised ("hard").
Palatalisation for other consonants typically occurs:
- In front of vowels: "е", "ё", "и", "ю", "я" and in front of "ь" ("soft sign"), see also note on "ь" as a "separation sign".
- E.g.: вре́мя [ˈvrʲemʲə], ребёнок [rʲɪˈbʲɵnək], пита́ние [pʲɪˈtanʲɪjə], колю́чка [kɐˈlʲʉt͡ɕkə], пря́ник [ˈprʲænʲɪk], день [dʲenʲ]
- "ц" is only palatalised (t͡sʲ) in some loanwords, only in front of "ё", "ю", "я" and "ь" to imitate some foreign sound. It's not palatalised in front of "е" and "и" - це=цэ, ци=цы.
- Many loanwords are NOT palatalised in front of "е" (=э), e.g. "тест" (=тэст) is pronounced [tɛst]. ("е" is then pronounced [ɛ] in stressed positions, [ɨ] in unstressed positions)
Basic vowels as in the alphabet:
|Non-palatal letter||Palatal letter|
|IPA (when stressed)||a||ɛ||ɨ||o||u||ʲa, ʲæ||ʲe||ʲi||ʲɵ||ʲu, ʲʉ|
|IPA (directly before the stress)||ɐ||ɨ||ɨ||ɐ||ʊ||ʲɪ||ʲɪ||ʲɪ||ʲɪ||ʲʊ, ʲʉ|
|IPA (other unstressed positions)||ə||ə|
- The difference between "palatal" and "non-palatal" vowels is actually their effect on a preceding consonant. Palatal vowels palatalize a preceding consonant, while non-palatal vowels don't. If no consonant directly precedes (i.e. either at the beginning of a word, following a vowel or following a soft or hard sign), a /j/ is pronounced before the palatal vowels, e.g. вое́нный (vojénnyj, “military, martial”) is pronounced [vɐˈjenːɨj]. This /j/, however, is omitted in some situations: (1) with palatal и (stressed or unstressed), except when following the soft sign ь (hence игра́ (igrá, “game”) is pronounced [ɪˈɡra], and во́ин (vóin, “soldier”) is pronounced [ˈvoɪn]); (2) optionally with other palatal vowels when unstressed and following a vowel (hence по́яс (pójas, “belt”) is pronounced [ˈpo(j)ɪs]).
- The two pronunciations of я and ю are related to what follows: If a palatalized consonant follows, the second-listed, more-fronted pronunciations [ʲæ, ʲʉ] are used; otherwise, the first-listed, less-fronted pronunciations [ʲa, ʲu] are used. When я is unstressed, no such difference exists but it still does with unstressed ю.
- Unstressed о and а are always pronounced [ɐ] when word-initial and when directly following another unstressed о or а, regardless of the position of the stress.
- Unstressed э when word-initial and when following a vowel is pronounced [ɪ], exactly as for и in the same position.