Consonant assimilation

  1. Consonants in Russian (and in all other languages) are either voiced or voiceless.
  2. Consonants that make your vocal cords vibrate when you pronounce them are voiced.
  3. Consonants that you pronounce without the vibration of your vocal cords are voiceless.
  4. Most consonants in Russian are paired for voicing. That means each voiced consonant is paired with a voiceless one.
  5. The consonants in each pair below are pronounced in exactly the same manner, the only difference being in the presence or absence of vibration in the vocal cords:
  6. VoicedVoiceless
    вф
    гк
    зс
    бп
    дт
    жш
  7. In Russian pronunciation, all voiced consonants at the end of the word are pronounced like their voiceless counterparts. This phenomenon is also called consonant assimilation, or devoicing of consonants.
  8. Devoicing also occurs when a voiced consonant is in front of a voiceless consonant. The voiced consonant in this position will be pronounced like its voiceless counterpart.
  9. For example, in the word завтракать the voiced consonant -в- is in front of the voiceless consonant -т-. The pronunciation of -в- will assimilate with the pronunciation of -т-; both will be pronounced voiceless. Since the voiceless counterpart of в is ф, that is how the в will be pronounced.
  10. Always keep in mind that when you have a pair of consonants, it is the second consonant that determines how the first will be pronounced.
  11. In addition to devoicing in Russian pronunciation, we also have the reverse phenomenon - voicing.
  12. Voicing occurs when a voiceless consonant is in front of a voiced consonant. In this position the voiceless consonant will be pronounced like its voiced counterpart. Let us look at an example.
  13. In the word отдых the letter -т- is voiceless, and the letter -д- is voiced. Since the -т- is in front of a voiced consonant, it will assimilate with the pronunciation of the -д-; that is, it will be pronounced like its voiced counterpart. The voiced counterpart of т is д. This word will be pronounced as if it were written as [оддых].
  14. There are some voiced consonants in Russian that don't have voiceless counterparts. These are р, л, м, н, й.
  15. When one of these consonants is preceded by a voiceless consonant, the voiceless consonant is not affected. That is, the voiceless consonant in front of one of these voiced consonants will be pronounced as voiceless, when we would expect it to be pronounced voiced:
    сестра, книга, слушать
  16. The pronunciation of the voiceless т, к, ц is not affected by the voiced consonants that follow them.
  17. The letter в also does not affect the pronunciation of a preceding voiceless consonant.
    For example, the letter к- in the word квартира is pronounced as voiceless.
  18. The pronunciation of the voiceless к is not affected by the following voiced consonant в.