The phonological system of the modern Belarusian language consists of at least 44 phonemes: 5 vowels and 39 consonants. Consonants may also be geminated. There is no absolute agreement on the number of phonemes; rarer or contextually variant sounds are included by some scholars.[citation needed]

Many consonants may form pairs that differ only in palatalization (called hard vs soft consonants, the latter being represented in the IPA with the symbol ⟨ʲ⟩). In some of such pairs, the place of articulation is additionally changed (see distinctive features below). There are also unpaired consonants that have no corollary in palatalization. Allophonies are rare to non-existent.

Distinctive features

As an East Slavic language, Belarusian phonology is very similar to both Russian and Ukrainian phonology. The primary differences are:[1]

Unlike in Russian but like in Ukrainian, Belarusian spelling closely represents surface phonology rather than the underlying morphophonology. For example, akannye, tsyekannye, dzyekannye and the [w] allophone of /v/ and /l/[example needed] are all written. The representation of akannye in particular introduces striking differences between Russian and Belarusian orthography.


Front Central Back
Close i ɨ u
Mid ɛ[4] ɔ
Open a
Belarusian Cyrillic script Belarusian Latin script IPA Description Belarusian example
i i /i/ close front unrounded лiст ('leaf')
э[5] e /ɛ/ mid-central (unstressed), open-mid front unrounded (stressed) гэты ('this one')
е ie, je [ʲe̞] Palatalises preceding consonant followed by mid front unrounded vowel белы ('white')
ы y [ɨ] close central unrounded мыш ('mouse')
a, я a /a/ open central unrounded кат ('executioner')
у, ю u /u/ close back rounded шум ('noise')
о, ё o /o/ [ɔ] open-mid back rounded кот ('cat')

As with Russian, [ɨ] is not a separate phoneme, but an allophone of /i/ occurring after non-palatalized consonants.[6]


The consonants of Belarusian are as follows:[7]

Labial Alveolar/Dental Retroflex Dorsal
plain pal. plain pal. plain pal.
Nasal m n̪ʲ
Stop voiceless p k
voiced b (ɡ) (ɡʲ)
Affricate voiceless ts̪ ts̪ʲ ʈʂ
voiced dz̪ dz̪ʲ ɖʐ
Fricative voiceless f s ʂ x
voiced v z ʐ ɣ ɣʲ
Approximant (w) l̪ʲ j
Trill r
This section needs expansion with: consonant allophonies. You can help by adding to it. (December 2018)

The rare phonemes /ɡ/ and /ɡʲ/ are present only in several borrowed words: ганак [ˈɡanak], гузік [ˈɡuzik]. Other borrowed words have the fricative pronunciation: геаграфія [ɣʲeaˈɣrafʲija] ('geography'). In addition, [ɡ] and [ɡʲ] are allophones of /k/ and /kʲ/ respectively, when voiced by regressive assimilation, as in вакзал [vaɡˈzal] 'train station'.

In the syllable coda, /v/ is pronounced [w] or [u̯], forming diphthongs, and is spelled ў.[8] [w] sometimes derives etymologically from /l/, as with воўк [vɔwk] ('wolf'), which comes from Proto-Slavic *vьlkъ. Similar to Ukrainian, there are also alternations between [w] and /l/ in the past tense of verbs:[9] for example, ду́маў /ˈdumaw/ "(he) thought" versus ду́мала /ˈdumala/ "(she) thought". This evolved historically from a form with /l/ (as in Russian: ду́мал) which vocalized like the Ł in Polish (cognate dumał, "he mused").

The geminated variations are transcribed as follows:


  1. ^ Sussex & Cubberly (2006:53)
  2. ^ "Stronger than in Russian, weaker than in Polish", per Беларуская мова...
  3. ^ Padluzhny (1989:54)
  4. ^ Blinava (1991)
  5. ^ Blinava (1991)
  6. ^ Mayo (2002:890)
  7. ^ Mayo (2002:891)
  8. ^ Young, S. (2006). "Belorussian". Encyclopedia of language and linguistics (2nd ed.).
  9. ^ Mayo (2002:899)


  • Mayo, Peter (2002), "Belorussian", in Comrie, Bernard; Corbett, G. G. (eds.), The Slavonic Languages, London: Routledge, pp. 887–946, ISBN 0-415-28078-8
  • Padluzhny, Ped (1989), Fanetyka belaruskai litaraturnai movy, p. 335, ISBN 5-343-00292-7
  • Sussex, Roland; Cubberly, Paul (2006), The Slavic Languages, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-22315-6
  • Blinava (Блінава); Haŭroš; Kavaliova (1991), Bielaruskaja mova (Беларуская мова: Практычны дапаможнiк для абiтурыентаў), Minsk: Vyšejšaja škola (Вышэйшая школа), ISBN 5-339-00539-9

Further reading