How do you pronounce and distinguish the voiced stop consonants and their unaspirated voiceless counterparts in Russian?

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Senior Member
Mandarin Chinese
How do you pronounce a voiced stop consonant in Russian?

[Note: this post is pretty long. To summarize, I have two questions.

The first is: do you specially make the primary sonorant(explanation below) when you pronounce a voiced stop consonant if it comes in an internal pisition within a word?

And the second is how you manage to acoustically distinguish a voiced stop from its unaspirated voiceless counterpart?

Please comment in English, Russian or Chinese].

● The primary sonorant

I think it is understood for the native Russian speakers that when you pronounce a voiced stop consonant of Russian( /b/Б, /d/Д , /g/ Г) at the BEGINNING of a синтагма( syntagma, intonational phrase, syntactic structure that you you say without a pause ), for example, the beginning of a sentence or an isolated word, as in Большое спасибо, Давай, Город, you make your vocal cords vibrate to give an audible sonorant BEFORE the release of the airflow[ and the sonorant is rather stronger and clearer than in English, I think, so the Russian voiced (stop) consonants are accordingly more voiced than the English ones].

Obviously, the sonorant itself is not any consonant, but is only the earlier part of a sonorant consonant. And it is not any typical vowel because there is no resonance by the resonaters( the air in the oral or nasal cavity for a particular vowel).

However, the sonorant is the fundamental element or basis for every vowel, and an essential constituent for every sonorant consonant, so I'd like to call it "the primary sonorant"(PS. If there is already an academic term for it, please tell me).

The PS can be produced with none (for /b, d, g/ Б, Д, Г) or both( for nasalized vowels) of the oral and nasal cavities open, or with either of them open( for /m, n/ М, Н, the nasal cavity open; for vowels, the oral cavity open).

Now I'd like to give some word lists and then put up my questions.

○ Word examples with the voiced stops in the internal positions:


○ Word examples with the voiceless stops in the internal positions:


○ Word examples with both voiced and voiceless stops in the internal positions:


○ Word examples with the voiced stops in the initial positions:


○ Word examples with the voiced stops in the initial positions:


● My first question is: do you specially make the primary sonorant when you pronounce a voiced stop if it does not come at the beginning of a сисинтагма, but at an internal position( thus the voiced stop is usually proceeded by a vowel or a sonorant consonant as in "Столицы [Б]ольшие и шумные" ), that is to say, in the same way as discussed above, or you do not and otherwise you just continue the airflow and the vibration of the vocal cords to produce the following voiced stop?

I ask this question because the voiced stops is a difficulty for the Russian learners who speak Chinese as the first language, for there is no this type of consonants in it. (Actually, even the sonorant consonants as /m/, /n/ and /l/ are not as voiced as those in Russian).

The learners have several problems: 1) to realize or notice (the existence of) the primary sonorant at the earlier stage of the voiced stop( I have reached this). 2) to learn to produce it( I have partly reached it, except for the ones in the internal positions within an intonational syntagma). 3) to develop the habit of not neglecting it in their Russian speech( I'm on the way). 4) to tell apart a voiced stop from its counterpart: the voiceless stop( the unaspirated one. For example, /d/Д : /t/ Т) when they come in an internal position of a intonational phrase, as in риТм: роДа)( I'm stuck).

● So my second question is how you manage to distinguish the one from the other?

If you say that after having built a bigger or rather big vocabulary you will know quite a lot of Russian words and morphemes so that you will naturally know either a voiced or a voiceless stop is there, I'd agree. But I'm still intensely curious to know wether the two ( in the internal positions) have distinct acoustic differentces to a native Russian-speaker's ears? What are they?

[By the way, does pitch play an important role in the articulation and differentiation of the pairs? i.e. a syllable in a particular environment (say, the surrounding sounds) with a voiceless stop coming before a vowel is higher in pitch than its counterpart in the same environment]?
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  • Awwal12

    Senior Member
    When you produce voiced plosives, your goal is to make voiced releases (normal or, in the case of directly following nazal consonants, nazal). That necessarily implies that in the absolute beginning you need some nazal airflow (because the vocal cords won't start vibrating without some airflow). However, it must be nearly instantaneous, otherwise the contrast between [b-] and [mb-], [d-] and [nd-] will be impossible (and it's perfectly in place). Actually its ideophonic lengthening is the reason behind the sceptical expressions "нда" and "мда" (not really contrasted to each other phonetically - basically it's "да" with the initial nazal fragment long enough to become a distinct sound; regarding the meaning cf. "да́ уж"). You basically still can pronounce the initial voiced plosives without any nazal airflow (for example, when your nose is stuffy) - as I suppose, just at the cost of the initial pressure buildup before the release, just enough for the vocal cords to start vibrating, - but it isn't the standard way to do so.

    Of course, if the plosive is surrounded by sonorants, the vocal cords just don't cease to vibrate.

    Articulating clusters of plosives is a separate topic, but it's not really relevant here, considering that all parts must have the same voicing anyway (i.e. to be either voiced or unvoiced).
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