pretonic lengthening of vowels

Peter Arkadiev peterarkadiev at YANDEX.RU
Tue Feb 21 14:35:55 UTC 2012

Dear colleagues,

I suggest that Henning Andersen's description of Russian is qualified against existing published sources and judgment of the specialists in Russian phonetics. I find this description of my native language rather surprising (though I must confess that I am bad at phonetics). At least, it is incorrect to claim that pretonic vowels escape reduction, since they actually don't - only their degree of reduction is not as great as those of other unstressed syllables. For sure, the pretonic syllable can be lengthened for expressive purposes, but I am sure that normally it is shorter than the tonic one. I will forward both the initial question and Henning Andersen's answer to an expert on Russian phonetics, who will be able to give an empirically supported answer.

Best wishes,

Peter Arkadiev

21.02.2012, 12:57, "andersen at UCLA.EDU" <andersen at UCLA.EDU>:
> Kaan'echn@! Standard Russian is a language that distributes its stress
> over accented and pretonic syllable, the latter typically being as
> long or longer than the accented syllable (and often heard as the
> accented syllable by foreigners), By being long(er) pretonic vowels
> escape the vowel reduction that affects all other unaccented
> syllables—with the exception of vowels in absolute initial position.
> Hence osnova [asn'ova], osnovnoj [asnavn'oj], obosoblenie
> [ab at sablenie], etc.
> This iambic distribution of duration in feet is actually a
> commonplace. Your key word is metrical phonology.
> Good luck with your work!
> Henning Andersen
> Quoting Sergey Lyosov <sergelyosov at>:
>>  Dear typologists,
>>  could somebody answer a question related to historical phonology?
>>  The vocalism of the Hebrew Bible displays what is called
>>  “Vortondehnung,” lengthening of a short vowel in the pretonic open
>>  syllable. Admittedly, the language did so in order to “save” the
>>  respective vowel from the deletion that came about at a certain time
>>  point. Note that the pretonic [a] is usually lengthened, while the
>>  pretonic [i] and [u] are deleted. A simplified example is as
>>  follows: the Proto-Semitic *kabíd ‘heavy’ (the stress is on the last
>>  syllable) appears in Biblical Hebrew as kaabíd, while in Biblical
>>  Aramaic it is kbid.
>>       Do we know, cross-language, more cases of vowel lengthening
>>  meant to save a pretonic open-syllable short vowel from deletion?
>>       With all best wishes,
>>               Sergey Loesov
>>  Oriental Institute
>>  Russian State University for the Humanities
>>  6 Miusskaya pl. Moscow 125267, Russia.

Peter Arkadiev, PhD
Institute of Slavic Studies
Russian Academy of Sciences 
Leninsky prospekt 32-A 119334 Moscow
peterarkadiev at

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