Vowel Reduction in Israeli Heritage Russian

Daniel Asherov, Alon Fishman, Evan-Gary Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examines vowel reduction patterns of Israeli Heritage Russian speakers (IHRs). Contemporary Standard Russian is well documented as having a complex system of vowel reduction (e.g., Barnes, 2002; Crosswhite, 1999; Jakobson, 1929; Padgett, 2004): specifically, underlying /o/ surfaces as [o] in stressed syllables, as [ɐ] in the first pretonic syllable, and as [ə] in other unstressed syllables. In Modern Hebrew, on the other hand, stressed and unstressed vowels differ in duration, but not in quality (Cohen, Silber-Varod, & Amir, in preparation; Maymon, 2001). We conducted a production experiment to determine the patterns of vowel reduction in the Russian of IHRs. Sixteen IHRs were exposed to audio-based forms of real and nonce words with stressed /o/ and were required to produce the forms with and without stressed suffixes. Thus, underlying /o/ was produced in three distinct prosodic positions: stressed (e.g., /nos/ ‘nose sg.’), pretonic (e.g., /nos- ̍ɨ/ ‘nose pl.’), and antepretonic (e.g., /nos-o ̍voj/ ‘nasal.’). The quantity (duration) and quality (F1, F2) of /o/ were acoustically analyzed and compared to a control group of five Russian-speaking adult immigrants to Israel. The results showed that IHRs reduced unstressed /o/ in both real and nonce words, but in producing nonce words they did not display the height contrast that is expected between pretonic and antepretonic vowels. We argue that IHRs’ productions of real words may be rote-learnt, whereas their treatment of nonce words better reflects their productive grammar. We propose that IHRs’ productive system of vowel reduction is a mixed system, combining aspects of their heritage language (i.e., Russian) and dominant language (i.e., Hebrew).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-134
Number of pages22
JournalHeritage Language Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2016


  • Hebrew language
  • Heritage language
  • Immigrants
  • Language dominance
  • Prosody
  • Reduction (Phonological or Phonetic)
  • Russian language
  • Sound duration (Phonetics)
  • Stress
  • Syllables
  • Vowels


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