Ya (Cyrillic)

Ya or Ja (Я я; italics: Я я) is a letter of the Cyrillic script, the civil script variant of Old Cyrillic Little Yus (Ѧ ѧ) or maybe even ''. Among modern Slavic languages, it is used in the East Slavic languages and Bulgarian. It is also used in the Cyrillic alphabets used by Mongolian and many Uralic, Caucasian and Turkic languages of the former Soviet Union.

Cyrillic letter Ya
Cyrillic letter Ya - uppercase and lowercase.svg
Phonetic usage:[ja] [jɐ] [jɤ]
The Cyrillic script
Slavic letters
Non-Slavic letters
Г̆Г̈ҔҒCyrillic capital letter Ghe with stroke and descender.svgӺҒ̌Ӷ
Cyrillic capital letter Ghe with hook.svgД́Д̌Д̈Д̣Д̆ӖЕ̃
Т̇Т̣ҬCyrillic capital letter Te Soft-sign.svgУ̃ӲУ̊Ӱ̄
ҶҶ̣ӴӋCyrillic capital letter Che with hook.svgҸЧ̇Ч̣
Archaic or unused letters
Cyrillic capital letter script A.svgА̨Б̀Б̣Б̱В̀Г̀Г̧
Г̄Г̓Г̆Ҕ̀Ҕ̆Cyrillic capital letter split by middle ring Ghe.svgԀД̓
Д̀Д̨Cyrillic capital letter archaic Dje.svgԂЕ̇Е̨
Ж̑Cyrillic small letter Zhe with long middle leg and stroke through descender.svgCyrillic capital letter bashkir Ie.svgCyrillic small letter Dje with high right breve serif.svgЏ̆
Cyrillic capital letter Shha with Cil top.svgCyrillic capital letter Shha with high right breve serif.svgІ̂І̣І̨Cyrillic capital letter bashkir Dha.svg
К̇К̈К̄ԞК̂Cyrillic capital letter Ka with loop.svgCyrillic small letter ka with ascender.svgЛ̀
ѺCyrillic capital letter open at bottom O.svg
Cyrillic capital letter O with left notch.svgП̓П̀П́П̧П̑ҦҀ
Ԛ̆Cyrillic capital letter Shha with hook.svgР́Р̀Р̃ԖС̀С̈
ԌҪ̓Cyrillic capital letter long Es.svgТ̓Т̀ԎТ̑
Т̧Ꚍ̆Cyrillic small letter Te El Soft-sign.svgCyrillic small letter voiceless L with comma above.svgѸCyrillic capital letter script U.svg
Х̧Х̓Cyrillic capital letter bashkir Ha.svgѠѼѾ
Ц̀Ц́Ц̓Cyrillic capital letter Tse with long left leg.svgꚎ̆Cyrillic capital letter Cil.svgCyrillic capital letter Cil with bar.svg
Ч́Ч̀Ч̑Ч̓Cyrillic capital letter Char.svgCyrillic small letter Char with high right breve serif.svgԬ
Ꚗ̆Cyrillic capital letter Che Sha.svgЫ̂Ы̃Ѣ́Ѣ̈Ѣ̆


The iotated vowel is pronounced /ja/ in initial or post-vocalic positions, like the English pronunciation of ⟨ya⟩ in "yard".

When ⟨я⟩ follows a soft consonant, no /j/ sound occurs between the consonant and the vowel.

The exact pronunciation of the vowel sound of ⟨я⟩ depends also on the following sound by allophony in the Slavic languages. Before a soft consonant, it is [æ], like in the English "cat". If a hard consonant follows ⟨я⟩ or none, the result is an open vowel, usually [a].

In non-stressed positions, the vowel reduction depends on the language and the dialect. The standard Russian language reduces the vowel to [ɪ], but yakanye dialects ⟨я⟩ undergo no reduction unlike other instances of the /a/ phoneme (represented with the letter ⟨а⟩).

In Bulgarian, the vowel sound is reduced to /ɐ/ in unstressed syllables and is pronounced /ɤ̞/ in both stressed verb and definite article endings.


Little Yus

The letter ѧ, known as little jus (yus) (Bulgarian: малък юс, Russian: юс малый) originally stood for a front nasal vowel, conventionally transcribed as ę. The history of the letter (in both Church Slavonic and vernacular texts) varies according to the development of this sound in the different areas where Cyrillic was used.

In Serbia, [ę] became [e] at a very early period and the letter ѧ ceased to be used, being replaced by e. In Bulgaria the situation is complicated by the fact that dialects differ and that there were different orthographic systems in use, but broadly speaking [ę] became [e] in most positions, but in some circumstances it merged with [ǫ], particularly in inflexional endings, e.g. the third person plural ending of the present tense of certain verbs such as правѧтъ (Modern Bulgarian правят). The letter continued to be used, but its distribution, particularly in regard to the other jusy, was governed as much by orthographical convention as by phonetic value or etymology.

Among the Eastern Slavs, [ę] was denasalised, probably to [æ], which palatalised the preceding consonant; after palatalisation became phonemic, the /æ/ phoneme merged with /a/, and ѧ henceforth indicated /a/ after a palatalised consonant, or else, in initial or post-vocalic position, /ja/. However, Cyrillic already had a character with this function, namely , so that for the Eastern Slavs these two characters were henceforth equivalent. The alphabet in Meletij Smotrickij's grammar of 1619 accordingly lists "ꙗ и҆лѝ ѧ" ("ꙗ ili ѧ", "ꙗ or ѧ");[1] he explains that is used initially and ѧ elsewhere. (In fact he also distinguishes the feminine form of the accusative plural of the third person pronoun ѧ҆̀ from the masculine and neuter ꙗ҆̀.) This reflects the practice of earlier scribes and was further codified by the Muscovite printers of the seventeenth century (and is continued in modern Church Slavonic). However, in vernacular and informal writing of the period, the two letters may be used completely indiscriminately.

It was in Russian cursive (skoropis') writing of this time that the letter acquired its modern form: the left-hand leg of ѧ was progressively shortened, eventually disappearing altogether, while the foot of the middle leg shifted towards the left, producing the я shape.

A page with the letter forms for [ja] (first line) with Tsar Peter's choice of Я instead of Ѧ or

In the specimens of the civil script produced for Peter I, forms of ꙗ, ѧ and я were grouped together; Peter removed the first two, leaving only я in the modern alphabet, and its use in Russian remains the same to the present day. It was similarly adopted for the standardised orthographies of modern Ukrainian and Belarusian. In nineteenth-century Bulgaria, both Old Cyrillic and civil scripts were used for printing, with я in the latter corresponding to ѧ in the former, and there were various attempts to standardise the orthography, of which some, such as the Plovdiv school exemplified by Nayden Gerov, were more conservative, essentially preserving the Middle Bulgarian distribution of the letter, others attempted to rationalise spelling on more phonetic principles, and one project in 1893 proposed abolishing the letter я altogether.[2] By the early twentieth century, under Russian influence, я came to be used for /ja/ (which is not a reflex of ę in Bulgarian), retaining its use for /jɐ/ but was no longer used for other purposes; this is its function today.

Use in loanwords and transcriptionsEdit

In Russian, the letter has little use in loanwords and orthographic transcriptions of foreign words. A notable exception is the use of ⟨ля⟩ Russian pronunciation: [lʲa] to transcribe /la/, mostly from Romance languages, Polish, German and Arabic. This makes л to match [l] better than its dark l pronunciation in ⟨ла⟩. ⟨Я⟩ is also used to transcribe Romanian ⟨ea⟩, pronounced as [e̯a].

Although [æ] is a distinctive pronunciation of ⟨я⟩ in Russian, the letter is almost never used to transcribe that sound, unlike the use of ⟨ю⟩ to approximate close front and central rounded vowels. Nonetheless, ⟨я⟩ is used for Estonian and Finnish ⟨ä⟩ – for instance, Pärnu is written ⟨Пярну⟩ in Russian, although the Russian pronunciation does not match the original.

Related letters and other similar charactersEdit

Computing codesEdit

Unicode provides separate code-points for the Old Cyrillic and civil script forms of this letter. A number of Old Cyrillic fonts developed before the publication of Unicode 5.1 placed Iotified A (Ꙗ/ꙗ) at the code points for Ya (Я/я) instead of the Private Use Area,[3] but since Unicode 5.1, Iotified A has been encoded separately from Ya.

Character information
Preview Я я
Encodings decimal hex dec hex
Unicode 1071 U+042F 1103 U+044F
UTF-8 208 175 D0 AF 209 143 D1 8F
Numeric character reference Я Я я я
Named character reference Я я
KOI8-R and KOI8-U 241 F1 209 D1
Code page 855 224 E0 222 DE
Code page 866 159 9F 239 EF
Windows-1251 223 DF 255 FF
ISO-8859-5 207 CF 239 EF
Macintosh Cyrillic 159 9F 223 DF

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Грамматіки Славе́нскиѧ пра́вилное Сѵ́нтаґма, Jevje, 1619, sign.Аг҃
  2. ^ Любомир Андрейчин, Из историята на нашето езиково строителство, София, 1977, pp.151–165
  3. ^ According to the Unicode FAQ "characters that are not yet in the standard need to be represented by codepoints in the Private Use Area"

External linksEdit

  •   The dictionary definition of Я at Wiktionary
  •   The dictionary definition of я at Wiktionary