Ukrainian Alphabet: characteristics, letters, pronunciation

Alphabet is a set of letters in a definite order, which are used for writing and speaking different languages.

Ukrainian alphabet consists of 33 letters borrowed from the Cyrillic script and, together with Russian and Belarusian, forms the eastern group of Slavic languages.

In Ukraine the alphabet has three different names. The first one is “Алфавіт”(Alfavit), that is similar to the English “Alphabet”. This word origins from the names of “alfa” and “beta” Greek letters. The second one is “Абетка” (Abetka) named after first two letters “а”and “б” of the Ukrainian alphabet. The third name “Азбука” (Azbuka) is not popular nowadays. It reflects Old Church Slavonic “az” and “buki” letters.

The history of Ukrainian Cyrillic alphabet

Cyrillic is one of the most ancient alphabets that became the basis of 108 languages including Ukrainian, Russian, Belarusian, Bulgarian etc. This system of signs was founded in 863 by two brothers Cyril and Methodius. It was created in order to translate Greek religious texts into Slavic language. That`s why there is a certain similarity between Ukrainian letters and letters in Greek.

During 10th – 18th centuries Cyrillic alphabet was changed and adapted to sound compositions of different cultures.

Russian scripture reform of 1708-1710 played a significant role in the development of Ukrainian alphabet letters.



Some letters such as “ω”, “z”, “ψ”, “ξ” were totally removed, and letters “e” and “я” took their place.

In the first half of 20th century there were different attempts to find a compromise between soviet authorities and Galician linguists concerning Ukrainian alphabet. As a result in 1927 the first set of Ukrainian orthography rules, called Skrypnykivka, was adopted. Later in 1990 a new letter “ґ” was introduced and it was the final amendment to the Ukrainian alphabet.

Letters etymology

Ukrainian alphabet  

Transliteration

Cyrillic

equivalent

 

Number

 

 

Pronouncing

 

Etymology

 

А а

 

A a 1 1 [ɑ] From Greek letter “alfa”(ἄλφα)
Б б B b  2
[b] From Greek letter “beta”(Βήτα)
В в V v, W w  3 2 [w] From Greek letter “beta”(Βήτα)
Г г H h  4 3 [ɦ] From Greek letter “gamma”(γάμμα)
Ґ ґ G g From italic form of Greek letter “gamma”(γάμμα)
Д д D d  5 4 [d] From Greek letter “delta” (Δέλτα)
Е е E e  6 5 [ɛ] From Greek letter “epsilon” (Έψιλον)
Є є Ye ye, Je je, Ie ie    — [jɛ] One of the variants of Cyrillic letter “e/є”
Ж ж Zh, zh,

Ž ž

7 [ʒ] From Glagolitic letter “zhyvite”
З з Z z  8 7 [z] From Greek letter “dzeta” (Ζήτα)
И и Y y  9 8 [ɪ] From Greek letter “eta/ita” (ἦτα)
І і I i  10 10 [ɪ] From Greek letter “jota” (Ιώτα)
Ї ї Yi yi, Ji ji One of Cyrillic “i” variants
Й й Y y, J j From Greek  letter “и” and a “brevis” sign
К к K k  11 20 [k] From Greek letter “kappa” (Κάππα)
Л л L l  12 30 [ł] From Greek letter “lambda” (Λάμδα)
М м M m  13 40 [m] From Greek letter “mu” (Μι)
Н н N n  14 50 [n] From Greek letter “nu” (Νι)
О о O o  15 70 [ɔ] From Greek letter “o” (o mikron)
П п P p  16 80 [p] From Greek letter “pi” (Π π)
Р р R r  17 100 [r] From Greek letter  “ro” (Ρ ϱ)
С с S s  18 200 [s] From Greek letter “sigma” (Σ σ)
Т т T t  19 300 [t] From Greek letter “tau” (Ταυ)
У у U u  20 [u] From two Cyrillic letters “О” and “Ѵ”
Ф ф F f  21 500 [f] From Greek letter “fi” (Φ φ)
Х х Kh kh, Ch ch,

X x

 22 600 [x] Frm Greek letter “khi” (Χι)
Ц ц Ts ts, C c  23 900 [t͡s] No definite information. Similar to Ethiopian letter “ሃ” and Coptic “ϥ”
Ч ч Ch ch, Č č  24 90 [t͡ʃ] No definite information. Similar to Ethiopian letter “ሃ” and Coptic “ϥ”
Ш ш Sh sh, Š š  25 [ʃ] Similar to Ethiopian letter “ሠ”
Щ щ Shch shch,

Sch sch, Šč šč

 26 [ʃt͡ʃ] A ligature of “ш” and “т” letters
Ь  27 A modification of Cyrillic letters “o” or “і,ї”
Ю ю Yu yu, Iu iu, Ju ju  28 [ju] From Greek phonemes “o micron” and “jota”
Я я Ya ya, Ia ia, Ja ja  29 [ɛ̃] > [ʲɑ] / [jɑ] From Glagolitic letter “yus”

Letterforms

There are five letters in Ukrainian alphabet that have some differences in their cursive and block-letter forms, such as “г, д, и, й, м, т, ц”. Other letters are very similar.

ukrainian letterforms

Ukrainian alphabet pronunciation

All Ukrainian letters are divided into three groups: consonants, vowels and a soft sign.

There are 22 consonants and 10 vowels in the Ukrainian alphabet.

Ukrainian consonants

The consonants have mostly fixed Ukrainian pronunciation that means they are pronounced literary. For example, consonant “б” is pronounced like “b” in “bed”, “в” like “v” in “voice”, “г” like “h” in “hat”, except two letters “дж” and “дз” that have two sounds, like “dg” in “hedgehog” and “ds” in “birds”. The consonants can be also soft (palatalized) or hard. Consequently one letter can be pronounced in two ways, for example, “к” in “kitten” is palatalized and “к” in “cat” is hard.

Ukrainian vowels

There are two types of vowels, simple and complex, in Ukrainian alphabet. Simple vowels are pronounced only in one way, like “a” in “father”, “е” in “letter”, “у” in “look”. Complex vowels consist of two Ukrainian alphabet sounds, the first one is “й” and the second one is a simple vowel. For example, “я” is pronounced as “ya” in “yacht”, “e” is as “ye” in “yet”, “ю” is in “youth”.

A soft sign and an apostrophe

A soft sign plays special role in Ukrainian pronunciation. It makes the previous consonant palatized. In the word “тінь” (a shadow) it softens the letter “н”, in “міць” (a power) letter “ц” is palatized. A soft sign is also used with a simple vowel “o” to create the special sound, i.e. in “льон” (flax) it is pronounced as “learn”.

There is also a separating sign in Ukrainian language, the apostrophe that is opposite to a soft sign. Apostrophe prevents the consonants from being soft. It always stands before vowels and makes them complex. For example, in “подвір’я” (a yard) the apostrophe makes a consonant “р” hard and the vowel “я” is pronounced as “ya” in yard.

Learning alphabet in Ukraine

In Ukraine children start learning Ukrainian alphabet in their early childhood. They sing Ukrainian alphabet songs, play with special alphabet cubes or cards in the kindergarten or at home with their parents. There are also special interactive tables with Ukrainian letters, where each letter can be pronounced if you press it. Later when children enter the primary school, they start writing and pronouncing letters, reading by syllables and the whole words.


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