Kyrgyz phonology

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

This article is about the phonology and phonetics of the Kyrgyz language.


A formant chart showing the stem vowel space of Kyrgyz. From Washington (2007:10).
Kyrgyz vowel phonemes[1]
Front Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close i y ɯ u
Open e, (a) ø ɑ o
  • Notes on vowel quality:
    • Kyrgyz vowel space is different in affixes and stems. Washington (2007) describes the former as more typical and more condensed.[2]
    • In stem vowel space, the main difference between /e/ and /i/ is that the latter is more back. In affix vowel space, they can have the same backness, and differ by height.[2]
  • /a/ appears only in borrowings from Persian and is excluded from normal vowel harmony rules. In most dialects, its status as a vowel distinct from /ɑ/ is questionable. There is also a phonetic [a] which appears as a result of regressive assimilation of /ɑ/ before syllables with phonological front vowels, e.g. [ajdøʃ] 'sloping'.[3][4]
  • /i, y, u, e, ø, o/ are sometimes transcribed /ɪ, ʏ, ʊ, ɛ, œ, ɔ/.[5]
  • The sequence of any vowel and the consonant /z/ is pronounced as a long vowel with falling pitch.[6]
  • In colloquial speech, word-final vowels are dropped when the next word begins with a vowel.[7]
  • All vowels but /i/ may be both short and long. Long vowels are the result of historical elisions and contractions. For example, jaa "rain" < *yağ; bee "mare" (cf. Kazakh biye); too "mountain" < *tağ; döölöt "wealth" < Arabic daulat; uluu "great" < *uluğ; elüü "fifty" < *elliğ.


Kyrgyz consonant phonemes[8]
Labial Dental/
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless (t͡s) t͡ʃ
voiced d͡ʒ
Fricative voiceless (f) s ʃ (x)
voiced (v) z
Approximant l j
Trill r
  • /n, l, r/ are alveolar, whereas /t, d, t͡s, s, z/ are dental.[8]
    • the liquid /l/ is velarized [ɫ] in back vowel contexts.
  • /ŋ, k, ɡ, x/ are velar, whereas /j/ is palatal.[8]
    • /k, ɡ/ are palatal [c, ɟ] in words with front vowels, and uvular [q, ʁ] in words with back vowels.[9]
      • Word-initial [c] is often voiced [ɟ].[10]
      • In loanwords from Persian and Arabic, palatal [c, ɟ] are always followed by front vowels, whereas velar [k, ɡ] are always followed by back vowels, regardless of the vowel harmony.[9]
      • Word-final and word-initial /k/ is voiced to [ɡ] when it is surrounded by vowels or the consonants /m, n, ŋ, l, r, j/.[7]
  • /f, v, t͡s, x/ occur only in foreign borrowings.[8]
  • In colloquial speech:
    • /b/ is lenited to [w] after /l, r, j/ or between vowels.[7]
    • /t͡ʃ/ is deaffricated to [ʃ] before voiceless consonants.[7]
    • Intervocalic /s/ can be voiced to [z].[7]
    • Word-final /z/ is often devoiced to [s].[7]


Recent loanwords often retain their original stress.[11]

Desonorisation and devoicing[edit]

In Kyrgyz, suffixes beginning with /n/ show desonorisation of the /n/ to [d] after consonants (including /j/), and devoicing to [t] after voiceless consonants; e.g. the definite accusative suffix -NI patterns like this: кемени ('the boat'), айды ('the month'), торду ('the net'), колду ('the hand'), таңды ('the dawn'), көздү ('the eye'), башты ('the head').

Suffixes beginning with /l/ also show desonorisation and devoicing, though only after consonants of equal or lower sonority than /l/, e.g. the plural suffix -LAr patterns like this: кемелер ('boats'), айлар ('months'), торлор ('nets'), колдор ('hands'), таңдар ('dawns'), көздөр ('eyes'), баштар ('heads'). Other /l/-initial suffixes, such as -LA, a denominal verbal suffix, and -LUU, a denominal adjectival suffix, may surface either with /l/ or /d/ after /r/; e.g. тордо-/торло- ('to net/weave'), түрдүү/түрлүү ('various').

See Kyrgyz language#Case for more examples.


  1. ^ Kara (2003), p. 10.
  2. ^ a b Washington (2007), p. 10.
  3. ^ Washington (2006b), p. 2.
  4. ^ Washington (2007), p. 11.
  5. ^ For example by Washington (2006a)
  6. ^ Washington (2007), p. 12.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Kara (2003), p. 16.
  8. ^ a b c d Kara (2003), p. 11.
  9. ^ a b Kara (2003), p. 14.
  10. ^ Kara (2003), pp. 14, 16.
  11. ^ Washington (2006c), pp. 2–3.


  • Kara, Dávid Somfai (2003), Kyrgyz, Lincom Europa, ISBN 3895868434
  • Washington, Jonathan North (2006a), An Investigation of Kyrgyz Rounding Harmony (PDF)
  • Washington, Jonathan North (2006b), Root Vowels and Affix Vowels: Height Effects in Kyrgyz Vowel Harmony (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-01-13, retrieved 2015-04-06
  • Washington, Jonathan North (2006c), Where Turkic stress falls: Challenging final-stress analyses in Kazakh and Kyrgyz (PDF)
  • Washington, Jonathan North (2007), Phonetic and Phonological Problems in Kyrgyz: A Fulbrighter's plans for gathering data in the field (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-01-13, retrieved 2015-04-06

Further reading[edit]