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To my comrades of the Vitebskaya Banda - Fundamentals of Modern Belarusian

To my comrades of the Vitebskaya Banda



Copyright (c) 2004 Christian Cardell Marchant.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

Chapter 1



Spelling Rules
It is important to understand Belarusian spelling, which can be quite complex and more difficult than Russian. Most of the complexity of Belarusian morphology is a result of spelling rules. This problem is aggravated by the competition between two existing orthographies, or sets of spelling rules, called Tarashkevitsa and Narkamouka. Tarashkevitsa is older and more phonetically descriptive. Narkamouka was instituted by the Soviets and is more modern. I will refer to them simply as the “Classical” and “Modern” orthographies. I have chosen to use the Modern orthography throughout this work. I have noted in this chapter those ways in which the two differ.

1.1 Vowels

Belarusian has 10 letters representing vowel sounds. They can be divided into two categories, non-iotized vowels and their iotized counterparts. The letters in the second column represent the same sounds as the vowels in the first, but with an initial “y” sound. When a consonant precedes a vowel of the second column, it is palatized.

а я



о ё



у ю



ы і



э е



1.2 Invariably Non-palatized Consonants

The letters

д

,

ж

,

р

,

т

,

ч

, and

ш

are never palatized, they cannot be followed by any letter from the second column. In a situation where a word’s morphology would normally place an iotized vowel after a

д

or a

т

, those consonants are changed to

дз

or

ц

respectively. In a situation where an iotized vowel would normally follow a

ж

,

р

,

ч

, or

ш

, that vowel is changed to its non-iotized counterpart. The consonants

г

,

к

,

х

are never followed by the letter

ы

. In a situation where an

ы

would normally occur, it is changed to an

і

if following one of these three letters.

бяда misery у бядзе in misery

гара mountain на гары on the mountain

мяжа boundary на мяжы on the boundary

пірог pastry пірагі pastries

растуць they grow расце it grows

1.3 Stress and the vowels

о

,

э

, and

ё



The letters

о

,

э

, and

ё

normally only exist when stressed. When unstressed, the letters

о

and

э

change to

а

. The letter

ё

usually changes to a

е

, but sometimes it also changes to a

я

. See

1.4

for more details on spelling rules that effect

е

. Care must be taken when stress shifts to a different syllable.

Sing. Pl.

вол валы ox

сасна сосны pine tree

стол сталы table

There are exceptions, all of which are loan words.

радыё radio

тэлевізар television

эканоміка economy

1.4 Conversion of

е

to other vowels

Any

е

or

ё

, which immediately precedes the accent, is changed to

я

.
адзець to dress(per.) адзяваць to dress(imp.)

вецер wind вятры winds

Exceptions to this include семнаццаць, seventeen, as well as many loan words from other languages.

семнаццаць seventeen

бензін gasoline

сезон season

электрон electron
1.5 Conversion of

о

to

ы



In words with the accent on the last syllable, it is common for a preceding syllable –

ро

- to change to –

ры

-.

бровы eyebrows брыво eyebrow

гром thunder грымець to rumble

кроў blood крыві of blood

1.6 The apostrophe

In Belarusian, this letter fills the function of the Russian letter

ъ

. It only occurs following a consonant, and preceding an iotized vowel. Having no sound of its own, its function is to separate the sound of the vowel following it from the consonant preceding it. This is either to prevent the consonant from being palatized, or to conform to spelling rules because the preceding consonant is invariably non-palatized.

аб'явіць to declare

п'яны intoxicated

сур'ёзны serious

1.7 Assimilation

Belarusian, like Russian, de-voices its consonants. Voiced consonants followed by unvoiced consonants are pronounced as unvoiced. Unvoiced consonants followed by voiced consonants are pronounced voiced. Consonants at the end of words are pronounced as unvoiced.

Belarusian has assimilation with respect to palatization. If a consonant is palatized, an immediately preceding consonant is also palatized, provided it is one of the eligible consonants. Only the consonants

дз

,

з

,

л

,

н

,

с

, and

ц

are eligible to be palatized in this way. The Classical orthography represents this palatization by placing a

ь

between the two palatized consonants. For the purposes of both assimilation and pronunciation, the letter combination

дз

is treated as a single letter. The consonants

б

,

в

,

м

, and

ф

are not palatized this way, but if they are followed by an iotized vowel, consonants that precede one of these letters can be palatized by assimilation. The invariably non-palatized consonants cannot be palatized, and will prevent those consonants preceding them from being palatized by assimilation. See section

1.2

for more on invariably non-palatized consonants. The pronunciation of a word does not change depending on which orthography is used to write it. Both the Modern and the Classical forms of a word are pronounced exactly the same.

Modern Classical

дзверы дзьверы door

ёсць ёсьць there is

песня песьня song

1.8 Rules for

в

,

у

, and

ў



If the letter

у

occurs after a vowel, even if the vowel ends the previous word, it is written as an

ў

. This letter is pronounced like the English ‘w’.

Пайшла ў хлеў. She went into the shed.

Стаіць у хляве. She is standing in the shed.

Гэты хлеб увесь. This is all the bread.

Гэта ўсё, што ёсць. That’s all there is.

Увайшлі яны ў хату. They went into the house.

Я ўвайшоў у хату. I went into the house.

The letter

в

cannot occur, unless it is immediately followed by a vowel, otherwise, it must change to a 

ў

. The letter

ў

can precede iotized vowels, but is changed to a

в

if it precedes a non-iotized vowel. When preceding an iotized vowel, it is not always clear whether the consonant should be a

в

or an

ў

.

любоў love любоўю with love

справа affair спраў of the affairs

хлеў shed за хлявом behind the shed

хлеў shed у хляве in the shed

Belarusian words cannot normally begin with an

о

. Many words which would otherwise begin with an

о

instead have the letter

в

added to the beginning. If the

о

changes to an

а

due to an accent shift, the initial

в

often drops off.

возера lake азёры lakes

вокны windows акно window

There are exceptions to this rule, but they are all loan words.

одум profound thought ордэн ceremonial order

опера opera ордер warrant

орган organ

Chapter 2

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