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I have just started an Intensivkurs of Russian. What really struck me is the ubiquitous palatalization, but what I find most difficult is wrapping my head around the sound represented by ы. To me it sounds almost like a pharyngealized [ɪ] (in words such as вы or ты), but I am not sure about how to articulate it. I have been trying the whole day and sometimes it comes out, but not in a controlled manner.

What are, then, the articulatory phonetic properties of ы?

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    A linguistic question would be "what are the acoustic or articulatory properties of Russian ы", or "what is the correct phonological analysis of 'ы'". We can't teach you how to learn a language. – user6726 Aug 9 '17 at 21:26
  • If the question is about the phonology of the Russian language, there is a language-specific site Russian Language. If it is about learning methodology, there is yet another SE site Language Learning. Voting for close. – bytebuster Aug 9 '17 at 22:19
  • What I meant was an articulatory description of the production of the sound. I am sorry if the question was not clear; the phrasing was indeed quite wrong. I have now edited it, in the hope it conforms better with the standards of this site. – eslukas Aug 9 '17 at 23:07
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Russian ⟨ы⟩ can be a little difficult to master, especially if one wishes for a native-like pronunciation. When stressed, the vowel in question is a close central unrounded vowel: IPA /ɨ/. But, as with all "hard vowels" in Russian, it strongly velarizes any preceding consonant, which manifests as a noticeable glide after the consonant and before ⟨ы⟩. So, ты comes out phonetically as [t̻ˠɰɨ], where ɰ is the IPA symbol for the velar approximant – a ⟨w⟩ (as in water) without rounding the lips. This gives ⟨ы⟩ a diphthong-like quality distinct from /ɨ/ in many other languages. One thing to note is that Russian speakers maintain the velar approximant before [ɨ] even when pronouncing ⟨ы⟩ in isolation (without any consonant before it to velarize), e.g., when reciting the alphabet.

To make /ɨ/, try following the instructions in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9hogVBFECQ. For an English speaker, one way may be to start with something like 'woo', and get rid of the lip-rounding.

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  • I do not understand what this speaks about, sorry, -1. – Anixx Aug 15 '17 at 0:49
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    @Anixx Don't understand what? Perhaps I can clarify... – sami.spricht.sprache Aug 15 '17 at 21:17
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The simplest way is probably this: pronounce the [u] sound (as in ’soon’, for example) and then try to unround your lips, without changing the position of the tongue.

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I have seen palatal sounds described as raising the middle of the tongue, which has the effect of pulling the tongue root to the front and consequently enlarging the pharyngeal cavity. There is a nice X-ray of an [i] articulation at the back of Preliminaries to Speech Analysis by Jakobson, Fant, and Halle. And what is more or less the opposite tongue movement is used for ы -- the tongue root is retracted so as to shrink the pharyngeal cavity and, as a consequence, lowering the middle of the tongue. See the discussion of the feature "+/- advanced tongue root" in The Sound Pattern of English.

This description gives a way of discussing the ы articulation that relates your own remark about associated pharyngealization and descriptions that make ы the back counterpart of [i], and parhaps also those that mention some sort of diphthong involving movement of the back of the tongue. The middle of the tongue and the root are connected, so moving one of them has consequences for the other.

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I also want to add that Russian speakers in Ukraine often substitute [ɨ] with [ɪ], so if you can't master [ɨ], you can still use [ɪ] as well, you won't sound like a Russian from Russia, and you don't have to.

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  • This would sound totally incorrect and would create ambiguities in speech. – Anixx Aug 15 '17 at 0:47
  • It wouldn't create ambiguities. You never heard Ukrainians speak? Some of them use [mɪ] instead of [mɨ] (for мы), and it's different from [mʲi]. [mʲi] has a palatalized consonant and a closed vowel (vs. non-palatalized + open). No ambiguity and it's not "incorrect" as a regional accent. The only real difference is that there's no velerazation and no glide, which are secondary anyway. If you're incompetent in the area, why do you downvote? People on this site love to downvote things they have no idea about. – Constantine Geist Aug 18 '17 at 14:06
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Assuming you know German, Russian ы is to и as German o is to ö and u is to ü.

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    I am a native speaker of German, but this kind of relation does not really help me in getting the pronunciation of the Russian ы. From a linguistic background, the description is sensible (a contrast of back and front vowels), it is just not helful. (BTW, I didn't cast the downvote, but maybe the downvoter feels the same). – jk - Reinstate Monica Aug 16 '17 at 16:50
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"ы" is a compound sound. It is made of two sounds. The first one is [ʌ] or [ə] in the English word "jump". The second one is [ɪ] in "way" or "day". So it makes [əɪ]

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    The palatality of the vowel at the right edge is a noteworthy feature; but that doesn't make it two sounds. Instead, it's one sound, with velar articulation overshadowing the vowel at the left. – user6726 Aug 10 '17 at 14:18
  • I mean it is the same principle like "ю" [ju] and "я" [ja]. In this case [əj]. And I do not find any difference when I hear it. The Russians just pronounce it very fast. – Banish Aug 10 '17 at 15:36
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    This is completely wrong. – Anixx Aug 15 '17 at 0:45
  • @Anixx Are you Russian? :) – Banish Oct 8 '17 at 21:25
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    @Banish yes.... – Anixx Oct 9 '17 at 22:54

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