Kurdish phonology is the sound system of the Kurdish language continuum. This article includes the phonology of the three Kurdish dialects in their standard form respectively. Phonological features include the distinction between aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stops and the presence of facultative phonemes.
- /n, t, d/ are laminal denti-alveolar [n̪, t̪, d̪], while /s, z/ are dentalized laminal alveolar [s̪, z̪], pronounced with the blade of the tongue very close to the back of the upper front teeth, with the tip resting behind lower front teeth.
- Kurdish contrasts plain alveolar /l/ and velarized postalveolar /ɫ/ lateral approximants. Unlike in English, the sounds are separate phonemes rather than allophones.
- Postvocalic /d/ is lenited to an approximant [ð̞]. This is a regional feature occurring in other Iranian languages as well and called by Windfuhr the "Zagros d".
- Kurdish has two rhotic sounds; the alveolar flap (/ɾ/) and the alveolar trill (/r/). While the former is alveolar, the latter has an alveo-palatal articulation.
- According to Hamid (2015), /x, xʷ, ɣ, ɣʷ/ are uvular [χ, χʷ, ʁ, ʁʷ] in Central Kurdish.
- Northern Kurdish distinguishes between aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stops, which can be aspirated in all positions. Thus /p/ contrasts with /pʰ/, /t/ with /tʰ/, /k/ with /kʰ/, /q/ with /qʰ/, and the affricate /t͡ʃ/ with /t͡ʃʰ/.
- Although [ɥ] is considered an allophone of /w/, some phonologists argue that it should be considered a phoneme.
- Kurdish distinguishes between the plain /s/ and /z/ and the velarized /sˠ/ and /zˠ/. These velarized counterparts are less emphatic than the Semitic emphatic consonants.
- [ɲ] is an allophone of /n/ in Southern Kurdish, occurring in the about 11 to 19 words that have the consonant group ⟨nz⟩. The word yânza is pronounced as [jɑːɲzˠa].
- Kurdish has labialized counterparts to the velar plosives, the voiceless velar fricative and the uvular stop. Thus /k/ contrasts with /kʷ/, /ɡ/ with /ɡʷ/, /x/ with /xʷ/, and /q/ with /qʷ/. These labialized counterparts do not have any distinct letters or digraph. Examples are the word xulam ('servant') which is pronounced as [xʷɪˈlɑːm], and qoç ('horn') is pronounced as [qʷɨnd͡ʒ].
- After /ɫ/, /t/ is palatalized to [tʲ]. An example is the Central Kurdish word gâlta ('joke'), which is pronounced as [gɑːɫˈtʲæ].
- /k/ and /ɡ/ are strongly palatalized before the front vowels /i/ and /e/ as well as [ɥ], becoming acoustically similar to /t͡ʃ/ and /d͡ʒ/.
- When preceding /ŋ/, /s, z/ are palatalized to /ʒ/. In the same environment, /ʃ/ also becomes /ʒ/.
- In some cases, /p, t, k, s, z/ are pharyngealized to [pˤ, tˤ, kˤ, sˤ, zˤ]. For example, the word sed/ṣed is pronounced as [ˈsˤɛd]
- Furthermore, while [fˤ] and [ɡˤ] are unique to Central Kurdish, Northern Kurdish has [t͡ʃˤ].
- /ħ/ and /ɣ/ are non-native phonemes that are mostly present in words of Arabic origin. Even though they are usually replaced by /h/ and /x/ respectively, they are facultative. Thus the word heft/ḧeft ('seven' /ˈħɛft/) can be pronounced as either [ˈhɛft] or [ˈħɛft], and xerîb/ẍerîb ('stranger', /ɣɛˈriːb/) as either [xɛˈriːb] or [ɣɛˈriːb].
- /ʕ/ is only present in words of Arabic and Persian origin and is only present in initial position. An Arabic loanword like "Hasan" would thus be pronounced as /ʕɛˈsɛn/. The phoneme is absent in some Northern and Southern Kurdish dialects.
The vowel inventory differs by dialect, some dialect having more vowel phonemes than others. /iː, ʊ, uː, ɛ, eː, oː, ɑː/ are the only vowel phonemes present in all three Kurdish dialects.
- In Central Kurdish, /a/ is realized as [æ], except before /w/ where it becomes mid-centralized to [ə]. For example, the word gawra ('big') is pronounced as [ɡəwˈɾæ].
- /ɪ/ is realized as [ɨ] in certain environments.
- In some words, /ɪ/ and /u/ are realized as [ɨ]. This allophone occurs when ⟨i⟩ is present in a closed syllable that ends with /m/ and in some certain words like dims ('molasses'). The word vedixwim ('I am drinking') is thus pronounced as [vɛdɪˈxʷɨm], while dims is pronounced as [dɨms].
- /øː/ only exists in Southern Kurdish, represented by ⟨ö⟩. In Northern Kurdish, it is only present facultatively in loan words from Turkish, as it mostly merges with /oː/. The word öks (from Turkish ökse meaning 'clayish mud') is pronounced as either [øːks] or [oːks].
- 'Short o' ([o]) is not common in Kurdish and exists mostly in loanwords from Turkish like komite, which is pronounced as [komiːˈtɛ].
Glides and diphthongs
The glides [w], [j], and [ɥ] appear in syllable onsets immediately followed by a full vowel. All combinations except the last three are present in all three Kurdish dialects. If the word used as an example is unique to a dialect, the dialect is mentioned.
|IPA||Spelling||Example Word||Dialect Group|
|[əw]||aw||şaw||[ˈʃəw]||'night' (Central Kurdish)|
|[ɑːw]||âw||çaw||[ˈt͡ʃɑːw]||'eye' (Central Kurdish)|
|[oːj]||oy||birôyn||[bɪˈɾoːjn]||'let's go' (Central Kurdish)|
|[uːj]||ûy||çûy||[ˈt͡ʃuːj]||'went' (Central Kurdish)|
|[ɑːɥ]||a||da||[ˈdɑːɥ]||'ogre' (Southern Kurdish)|
|[ʉːɥ]||ü||küa||[ˈkʉːɥɑː]||'mountain' (Southern Kurdish)|
|[ɛɥ]||e||tela||[tɛɥˈlɑː]||'stable' (Southern Kurdish)|
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- Haig & Matras (2002), p. 5.
- The map shown is based on a map published by Le Monde Diplomatique in 2007.
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- Fattah describes the sound as a voyelle longue postérieure, d'aperture maximale, légèrement nasalisée. (p. 110)
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- Fattah describes the sound as being the voyelle postérieure arrondie (p. 111).
- Fattah describes the sound as being voyelle longue centrale arrondie (p. 116).
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