How Do You Pronounce “lupi”(wolves) in Romanian?

Although the Romanian language is one of the most phonetic Indo-European ones, the sound /ʲ/ is one of the unique exceptions from this general rule and it has managed to appear in many contexts, one being the indefinite plural for nouns ending in consonants such as lup – lupi.

In most cases in Romanian there is only one corresponding sound(phoneme) to each written letter (grapheme). For example, when we spell <a> we always pronounce /a/, like the a in father, and only like that, never /ə/ like the a in about– English has both those sounds and happens to note them the same way, with an <a>; Romanian too has both of them, but in order to differentiate, that /ə/ would be noted by using a diacritical sign over a, like <ă>.

That is not the case anymore with <i> in Romanian. Nowadays one types <i> but must figure out from context whether it ought to be pronounced /i//j/ or /ʲ/, although there was a time when /j/ and /ʲ/ were noted as ĭ. While /j/, a semivowel is arguably simpler to pronounce and it may only be found before or after vowels, such as the <i> in miel (lamb) or pai (straw), /ʲ/ is a palatalized consonant (or asyllabic vowel), found after consonants and is harder to detect by non-native speakers.

This sound /ʲ/ is usually found at the end of words (even occasionally in singular Nominative nouns, cârmaci – helmsman) and it marks four grammatical categories:

  • The indefinite plural of nouns(Nom-Acc-Gen-Dat) and adjectives, and it can occur for most consonants in the Romanian language:
    1. /pʲ/ – popi = priests
    2. /tʲ/ – cuști = cages
    3. /kʲ/ – ochi = eyes
    4. /t͡sʲ/ – sorți = fates
    5. /t͡ʃʲ/ – teci = sheaths
    6. /fʲ/ – califi = caliphs
    7. /ʃʲ/ – botoși = slippers
    8. /hʲ/ – cehi = Czechs
    9. /bʲ/ – robi = serfs
    10. /dʲ/ – nădejdi = hopes
    11. /gʲ/ – pezevenghi = charlatans
    12. /d͡ʒʲ/ – blugi = jeans
    13. /mʲ/ – pomi = trees
    14. /nʲ/ – ani = years
    15. /vʲ/ – tăvi = platters
    16. /zʲ/ – cozi = tails, queues
    17. /ʒʲ/ – vrăji = spells
    18. /lʲ/ – soli = emissaries
    19. /rʲ/ – pari = pales

The Genitive/Dative indefinite singular forms for feminine nouns are identical to the plural indefinite forms (al unei cozi/unei cozi – of a tail/ to a tail), therefore the sound can be found there as well.

  • Certain pronouns
    1. îmi, îți, își – to me, to you, to him, unstressed personal pronoun, dative, singular;
    2. același – the same, demonstrative pronoun (identity);
    3. oricum – anyhow, indefinite pronoun, here /ʲ/ occurs inside the word, as oricum is composed of two words, the particle ori – any and cum – how;
  • Certain adverbs
    1. iarăși  again;
    2. aici – here;
  • Second person singular verbs, indicative mood
    1. tu ești – you are;
    2. tu faci – you do.

PS: Do not think that all plurals of nouns ending in consonants+<i> will be pronounced with a final /ʲ/ and likewise for all second perso singular verbs. There are exceptions, such as words ending in bl, cl, cr, dr, fl, ștr, tr, such as: aștri – celestial bodies, stars; litri – liters; magiștri – teachers; metri – meters; miniștri – ministers; sufli – you blow; umbli – you wander; umpli – you fill.

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