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 Phonetic System: Word Stress

Word stress is a way of differentiating a certain syllable of the word from the others. In the Russian language, a word has one stressed syllable characterized with the following features:

  • it is pronounced with greater intensity;
  • stressed vowel is very clear and distinct;
  • stressed vowel can be a bit longer than unstressed ones. This is possible because there is no opposition between long and short vowels; the length of a vowel has no semantic value.

Now let's consider the stress placement in Russian words. The Russian stress is not fixed on a certain syllable unlike in other languages (in Polish it falls on the last but one syllable, in French it falls on the last syllable, in Finnish stress always falls on the first syllable). It is free and it can fall on any syllable of the word, but each word, of course, has its definite stressed syllable.

The stress can move from one syllable to another in different forms of the same word: e.g.

голова(head) - головы(heads)
рука (hand, arm) - руки (hands, arms)
курить(to smoke) - курит((he) smokes)
любить(to love) - любит((he) loves)

So, Russian has free and moving stress which is the most difficult to study. You just have to learn by heart and remember the way how each word is stressed, otherwise you might be not understood or misunderstood because the stress can sometimes distinguish the sense of words: e.g.

мою(I wash) - мою(my)
замок (castle) - замок (lock)
уже (narrow) - уже (already)
дома(at home) - дома(houses)

There are words which have two accepted in the literary language ways of stressing, for example творог and творог (curds) are both right.
There are also words which have one accepted in the literary language way of stressing, but can be pronounced by the Russians incorrectly, for example звонит instead of звонит ((he) phones), договор instead of договор (agreement, contract) etc. To help a native speaker and a learner of Russian to avoid common errors in stressing, there are pronunciation dictionaries usually intended not for transcribing the words but mainly for marking the stress.

In this Reference Book and Introductory Phonetic Course, we mark the stress of each word by making the stressed vowel bold, for example картина (picture), зима (winter), молоко(milk).

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