What's the etymological explanation for the apostrophe in the word ім'я? In English, an apostrophe usually stands for one letter that's dropped. (i.g. I'm= I Am, didn't = did nOt, etc.)
I think, you might rely on the wrong assumption that the apostrophe always (and in every language) means contraction (like let us → let's).
But in Ukrainian the apostrophe usually means that a letter following it should be read as in the beginning of the word ('though sometimes it can be used by other means).
There is a set of Ukrainian letters — я, є, ю — which are read differently depending on their position:
- after a consonant, я, є, ю are read similarly to (Ukrainian) а, е, у but with palatalizing or semipalatalizing the consonant (i.e. /
- in the beginning of the word or after a vowel, я, є, ю are read in the way as the letter combinations йа, йе, йу would be read, i.e. with explicit iotation (/
ju/; like in yard, Yates, Eugene).
The apostrophe in ім'я makes the я letter to sound as in the beginning of the word (/
jɑ/), not as usually after a consonant (/
In standard Ukrainian, м is never palatalized (except semipalatalization in мі). So, one may argue that there's no ambiguity — as we almost never pronounce /
mʲɑ/ and almost always pronounce /
mjɑ/, we could "imply" apostrophe between м and я. Still, in practice we prefer to explicitly put the apostrophe there. Especially that such untypical for standard Ukrainian sound combinations like /
mʲɑ/ may appear in untypical cases like abbreviations, barbarisms, foreign word transcriptions, etc.