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Belarusian phonology

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The phonological system of the modern Belarusian language consists of at least 44 phonemes: 5 vowels and 39 consonants. Consonants may also be geminated. There is not absolute agreement on the number of phonemes, so that rarer or contextually variant sounds are included by some scholars.[citation needed]

Many consonants may form pairs that differ only in palatalization (called hard vs soft consonants, the latter being represented in the IPA with the symbol ⟨ʲ⟩). In some of such pairs, the place of articulation is additionally changed (see distinctive features below). There are also unpaired consonants that have no corollary in palatalization.

Distinctive features

As an East Slavic language, Belarusian phonology is very similar to both Russian and Ukrainian phonology. The primary differences are:[1]

Note also that, unlike in Russian, Belarusian spelling closely represents surface phonology rather than the underlying morphophonology. For example, akannye, tsyekannye, dzyekannye and the [w] allophone of /v/ and /l/ are all written. The representation of akannye in particular introduces striking differences between Russian and Belarusian orthography.[example  needed]


Front Central Back
Close i [ɨ] u
Mid e ə ɔ
Open a
Belarusian Cyrillic script Belarusian Latin script IPA Description Belarusian example
i i /i/ close front unrounded лiст ('leaf')
э ĕ /ə/ [ə] mid-central гэты ('this one')
е e /e/ mid front unrounded стагоддзе
ы y [ɨ] close central unrounded мыш ('mouse')
a a /a/ open central unrounded кат ('executioner')
у u /u/ close back rounded шум ('noise')
о o /o/ [ɔ] open-mid back rounded кот ('cat')

As with Russian, [ɨ] is not a separate phoneme, but an allophone of /i/ occurring after non-palatalized consonants.[5]


The consonants of Belarusian are as follows:[6]

Labial Alveolar,
Retroflex Dorsal
plain pal. plain pal. plain pal.
Nasal m n̪ʲ
Stop p


Affricate ts̪
Fricative f



(w) l̪ʲ (j) j
Trill r

As in Dutch, the rare phonemes /ɡ/ and /ɡʲ/ are present only in several borrowed words: ганак [ˈɡanak], гузік [ˈɡuzik], гандаль [ˈɡandalʲ]. Other borrowed words have the fricative pronunciation: геаграфія [ɣʲeaˈɣrafʲija] ('geography'). In addition, [ɡ] and [ɡʲ] are allophones of /k/ and /kʲ/ respectively, when voiced by regressive assimilation, as in вакзал [vaɡˈzal] 'train station'.

In the syllable coda, /v/ is pronounced [w] or [u̯], forming diphthongs, and is spelled ⟨ў⟩.[7] [w] sometimes derives etymologically from /l/, as with воўк [vɔwk] ('wolf'), which comes from Proto-Slavic *vьlkъ (as with Dutch goud 'gold'). Similar to Ukrainian, there are also alternations between /w/ and /l/ in the past tense of verbs:[8] for example, ду́маў /ˈdumaw/ "(he) thought" versus ду́мала /ˈdumala/ "(she) thought". This evolved historically from a spelling with -л (ду́мал) which delingualized like the Ł in Polish (cognate dumał, "he mused").

The geminated variations are transcribed as follows:

  • падарожжа [padaˈroʒʒa]
  • ззяць [zʲzʲatsʲ]
  • стагоддзе [staˈɣoddzʲe]
  • каханне [kaˈxanʲnʲe]
  • рассячы [rasʲˈsʲatʃɨ]
  • ліхалецце [lʲixaˈlʲettsʲe]
  • сярэднявечча [sʲarɛdnʲaˈvʲettʃa].


  1. ^ Sussex & Cubberly (2006:53)
  2. ^ Padluzhny (1989:53)
  3. ^ "Stronger than in Russian, weaker than in Polish", per Беларуская мова...
  4. ^ Padluzhny (1989:54)
  5. ^ Mayo (2002:890)
  6. ^ Mayo (2002:891)
  7. ^ Young, S. (2006). "Belorussian". Encyclopedia of language and linguistics (2nd ed.).
  8. ^ Mayo (2002:899)


Further reading

This page was last edited on 27 December 2018, at 12:36
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