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The letter "Ъ" ("ъ") of the Cyrillic alphabet is known as hard sign (твёрдый знак) in the modern Russian alphabet and as er golyam (ер голям, "big yer") in the Bulgarian alphabet. The letter is called yer in the pre-reform Russian orthography, in Old Russian and in Old Church Slavonic.

Table of contents
1 Original use
2 Russian language
3 Bulgarian language
4 Belarussian language
5 Ukrainian language

Original use

In the Old Church Slavonic language, yer was a vowel letter, indicating the so-called "reduced vowel" [ъ]. This vowel did stem from the Indo-European short [u] (compare Latin angŭlŭs and Old Church Slavonic ѪГЪЛЪ).

Russian language

From the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries, the original [ъ] sound became extinct in all Slavic languages; this so-called fall of the yers is typically considered as marking the final disintegration of Common Slavonic. In Russian, the (hard) yer was dropped entirely when unstressed, and was replaced with [o] when stressed. As a result, inflection is at times complicated by the so-called "transitive" (lit. "fugitive") vowels (e.g. сон — сна, угол — угла etc.).

In modern Russian the letter "ъ" is called the hard sign. Its function is to indicate that the following iotated vowel letter (letter whose name begins with the sound [j], i.e. е ё ю я) is read as if in the beginning of a word. In this function (being placed between a consonant and a vowel letter), the hard sign does not differ from the soft sign (ь). However, "hard sign" in written only after prefixes (exceptions may be found only in transcriptions of foreign words).

Bulgarian language

In Bulgarian, the er golyam is used for a vowel, [ə] (Schwa).

Belarussian language

The letter is absent in the alphabets of the Belarussian. In the Cyrillic Belarussian alphabet its functions are performed by the apostrophe mark. In the Latin Belarussian alphabet (lacinka) functions of soft and hard signs are performed by other means.

Ukrainian language

In Ukrainian, the hard sign is not used. Its purpose (insertion of the [j] sound) is served by an apostrophe.