A long-standing dispute among linguists is whether Russian possesses five vowel phonemes or six; that is, scholars disagree as to whether constitutes an allophone of /i/ or if there is an independent phoneme /ɨ/. The five-vowel analysis, taken up by the Moscow school, rests on the complementary distribution of and, with the former occurring after hard (non-palatalized) consonants and elsewhere.
The six-vowel view, held by the Saint-Petersburg (Leningrad) phonology school, points to several phenomena to make its case:
- Native Russian speakers' ability to articulate in isolation (for example, in the names of respective letters, ⟨и⟩ and ⟨ы⟩),
- Rare instances of word-initial (including the minimal pair икать 'to produce the sound и' and ыкать 'to produce the sound ы'), as well as names and toponyms, like Ыб, the name of a river and several villages in the Komi Republic.
- Morphological alternations like готов ('ready' predicate, m.) and готовить ('to get ready' trans.) between palatalized and non-palatalized consonants.
The most popular view among linguists (and that taken up in this article) is that of the Moscow school, though Russian pedagogy has typically taught that there are six vowels (the term phoneme is not used).
Reconstructions of Proto-Slavic show that *i and *ɨ were clearly separate phonemes, with the former deriving from Balto-Slavic (and late PIE) /iː/ and /ei/, and the latter deriving from Balto-Slavic (and late PIE) /uː/.
Read more about this topic: Russian Phonetics
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