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The title says it all really. A friend of mine who's also learning Ukrainian says she hears жінка as starting with a softened sound; I always assumed it was a hard sound but now I'm having doubts. Which is it?

If anyone knows Polish, my question is whether it's a ż or a ź. Or which one of ʒ, ʐ, or possibly ʑ it is in the IPA chart.

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Just in case, I write about only standard orthoepy here, because in other case itʼd be a pretty big article, because i came1 from some different sounds, mostly и (migrated), ѣ and o.

Is ж softened when followed by i?

Yes, but itʼs half-softened2 which means barely softened. So Polish language canʼt help here. The situation is almost the same with IPA because:

«Ukrainian. Illustrations of the IPA» by Bernd Pompino-Marschall, Elena Steriopolo, Marzena Zygis

Adhering to the IPA conventions, here the superscript [ʲ] is used for both palatalized and semi-palatalized consonants.

By the way, ж is [ʒ].

There are no standard of Ukrainian transcription but the language usually differentiates semi- and hard-palatalization by two types of apostrophes or something like this. I use бідність where two different type of consonants before i, and a softening sign:

  • [б’і́д`н`іс`т`] — Горох;
  • [б’і́д´н´іс´т´] — Погрібний, where at the beginning of the book you can also read most rules of orthoepy;
  • [б"і́д'н'іс'т'] — you may also notice something like this.

E.g. are the two ж's in жінка, жне different?

Therefore we know thatʼre: [ж"інка] and [жне].


But, I guess, it isnʼt enough because we need some rules for this:

  • д, т, з, с, дз, ц, л, н before i are always hard-softened;
  • й always stays the same because the sound is soft itself;
  • the rest are semi-softened; р is debatable, but usually itʼs here;

Thereʼs also an assimilation by palatalization, where usually (which means not always) are:

  • a hard-soft group + hard-soft = hard-soft + hard-soft: дня → [д'н'а]
  • a hard-soft group + semi-soft = hard-soft + semi-soft: світ → [с'в"іт] (not necessary).

Notes

  1. If youʼre interested in linguistic [history] then you may read about icavism.
  2. In Ukrainian itʼs usually called напівмʼякий or напівпомʼякшений, sometimes частково мʼякий. Maybe thereʼre other variations. And for English itʼs usually semi- or half- + -palatalized or -softened.

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