Persian phonology

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The Persian language has six vowel phonemes and twenty-three consonant phonemes. It features contrastive stress and syllable-final consonant clusters.

Vowels[edit]

The vowel phonemes of Tehrani Persian.

The chart to the right reflects the vowels of many educated Persian speakers from Tehran.[1][2]

The three vowels /æ/, /e/ and /o/ are traditionally referred to as 'short' vowels and the other three (/ɒː/, // and //) as 'long' vowels. In fact the three 'short' vowels are short only when in an open syllable (i.e. a syllable ending in a vowel) that is non-final (but can be unstressed or stressed), e.g. صدا[seˈdɒː] 'sound', خدا[xoˈdɒː] 'God'. In a closed syllable (i.e. a syllable ending in a consonant) that is unstressed, they are around sixty percent as long as a long vowel; this is true for the 'long' vowel /iː/ as well. Otherwise the 'short' and 'long' vowels are all pronounced long. Example: سفتر[seˑfˈtʰæːɾ] 'firmer'.[3]

When the short vowels are in open syllables, they are also unstable and tend in informal styles to assimilate in quality to the following long vowel. Thus دویست[deˈviːst] 'two hundred' becomes [diˈviːst], شلوغ[ʃoˈluːɢ] 'crowded' becomes [ʃuˈluːɢ], رسیدن[ræsiːˈdæːn] 'to arrive' becomes [resiːˈdæːn] and so on.[3]

Word-final /o/ is rare except for تو/to/ ('you' [singular]), loanwords (mostly of Arabic origin), and proper and common nouns of foreign origin, and word-final /æ/ is very rare in Iranian Persian, an exception being نه/næ/ ('no'). The word-final /æ/ in Early New Persian mostly shifted to /e/ in contemporary Iranian Persian (often romanized as ⟨eh⟩, meaning [e] is also an allophone of /æ/ in word-final position in contemporary Iranian Persian), but is preserved in the Eastern dialects.

Diphthongs[edit]

The status of diphthongs in Persian is disputed.[4][5] Some authors list /ei̯, ou̯, ɒi̯, oi̯, ui̯/,[4] others list only /ei̯/ and /ou̯/, but some do not recognize diphthongs in Persian at all.[4][5] A major factor that complicates the matter is the change of two classical and pre-classical Persian diphthongs: /ai̯/ > /ei̯/ and /au̯/ > /ou̯/. This shift occurred in Iran but not in some modern varieties (particularly of Afghanistan).[4] Morphological analysis also supports the view that the alleged Persian diphthongs are combinations of the vowels with /j/ and /w/.[5]

The Persian orthography does not distinguish between the diphthongs and the consonants /j/ and /w/; that is, they both are written with ی and و respectively.

/ou̯/ becomes [] in the colloquial Tehran dialect but is preserved in other Western dialects and standard Iranian Persian.[citation needed]

Spelling and example words[edit]

For Western Persian:

Phoneme (in IPA) Letter Romanization Example(s)
/æ/ ـَ ,ـَه; a /næ/   نه‬   "no"
/ɒː/ ـا, آ ,ىٰ; ā /tɒː/   تا‬  "until"
// ـِ ,ـِه; e /ke/   که‬   "that"
// ـِی; ī /ʃiːr/   شیر‬   "milk"
/o/ ـُ ,ـو; o /to/   تو‬   "you" (singular)
// ـُو; ū /zuːd/   زود‬   "quick"
Phoneme (in IPA) Letter Romanization Example(s)
/ej/ ـَیْ; ey /kej/   کی‬   "when?"
/ow/ ـَوْ; ow /now/   نو‬   "new"

The variety of Afghanistan has also preserved these two Classic Persian vowels:

Phoneme (in IPA) Letter Romanization Example(s)
// ـی; ē /ʃeːr/   شیر‬   "lion"
// ـو; ō /zoːr/   زور‬   "strong"

In the modern Persian alphabet, the short vowels /e/, /o/, /æ/ are usually left unwritten, as is normally done in Arabic alphabet. (See Arabic phonology § Vowels.)

Historical shifts[edit]

Early New Persian inherited from Middle Persian eight vowels: three short i, a, u and five long ī, ē, ā, ō, ū (in IPA: /i a u/ and /iː eː aː oː uː/). It is likely that this system passed into the common Persian era from a purely quantitative system into one where the short vowels differed from their long counterparts also in quality: i > [ɪ]; u > [ʊ]; ā > [ɑː]. These quality contrasts have in modern Persian varieties become the main distinction between the two sets of vowels.[6]

The inherited eight-vowel inventory is retained without major upheaval in Dari, which also preserves quantitative distinctions.[7]

In Western Persian, two of the vowel contrasts have been lost: those between the tense mid and close vowels. Thus ē, ī have merged as [i], while ō, ū have merged as [u]. In addition, the lax close vowels have been lowered: i > [e], u > [o]. The lax open vowel has become fronted: a > [æ], and in word-final position further raised to [e]. Modern Iranian Persian does not feature distinctive vowel length.[8]

In both varieties ā is more or less labialized, as well as raised in Dari. Dari ō is also somewhat fronted.[7]

Tajiki has also lost two of the vowel contrasts, but differently from Western Persian: here the tense/lax contrast among the close vowels has been eliminated. That is, i, ī have merged as /ɪ/, and u, ū have merged as /ʊ/. The other tense back vowels have shifted as well. Mid ō has shifted front: /ɵ/ or /ʉ/, a vowel usually romanized as ů. Open ā has been labialized and raised to an open-mid vowel /ɔ/.

Loanwords from Arabic generally undergo these changes as well.

The following chart summarizes the later shifts into modern Tajik, Dari, and Western Persian.[7][9]

Early New Persian Dari Tajiki Western Persian Tajik Examples
/a/ /a/ /a/ /æ/ шаб شب‬   "night"
// /ɒ̝ː/ /ɔ/ /ɒ/ бод باد‬   "wind"
/i/ /ɪ/ /ɪ/ /e/ дил دل‬   "heart"
// // /i/ шир شیر‬   "milk"
// /e̞ː/ // шер شیر‬   "lion"
/aj/ /aj/ /aj/ /ej/ кай کی‬   "when?"
/u/ /ʊ/ /ʊ/ /o/ гул گل‬   "flower"
// // /u/ нур نور‬   "light"
// /ö̞ː/ /ɵ/ рӯз روز‬   "day"
/aw/ /aw/ /av/ /ow/ нав نو‬   "fresh"

Consonants[edit]

Labial Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n
Stop p b t d k ɡ (q) ʔ
Affricate t͡ʃ d͡ʒ
Fricative f v s z ʃ ʒ x~χ ɣ~ʁ h
Flap ɾ
Approximant l j

Notes:

Allophonic variation[edit]

Alveolar stops /t/ and /d/ are either apical alveolar or laminal denti-alveolar. The voiceless obstruents /p, t, t͡ʃ, k/ are aspirated much like their English counterparts: they become aspirated when they begin a syllable, though aspiration is not contrastive.[13] The Persian language does not have syllable-initial consonant clusters (see below), so unlike in English, /p, t, k/ are aspirated even following /s/, as in هستم/ˈhæstæm/ ('I exist').[14] They are also aspirated at the end of syllables, although not as strongly.

The velar stops /k, ɡ/ are palatalized before front vowels or at the end of a syllable.

In Classical Persian, the uvular consonants غ‬ and ق‬ denoted the original Arabic phonemes, the fricative [ɣ] and the plosive [q], respectively. In modern Tehrani Persian (which is used in the Iranian mass media, both colloquial and standard), there is no difference in the pronunciation of غ‬ and ق‬, and they are both normally pronounced as a voiced stop [ɣ]. The classic pronunciations of غ‬ and ق‬ are preserved in the eastern varieties, Dari and Tajiki, as well as in the southern varieties (e.g. Zoroastrian Dari language and other Central / Central Plateau or Kermanic languages).

The alveolar flap /ɾ/ has a trilled allophonic variant [r] at the beginning of a word (it is sometimes a free variation between a trill [r] and a flap [ɾ]);[13] the trill [r] as a separate phoneme occurs word-medially especially in loanwords of Arabic origin as a result of gemination of [ɾ]. An approximant [ɹ] also occurs as an allophone of /ɾ/ before /t, d, s, z, ʃ, l, ʒ/; [ɹ] is sometimes in free variation with [ɾ] in these and other positions, such that فارسی‬ ('Persian') is pronounced [fɒːɹˈsiː] or [fɒːɾˈsiː] and سقرلات ('scarlet') [sæɣeɹˈlɒːt] or [sæɣeɾˈlɒːt]. /r/ is sometimes realized as a long approximant [ɹː].

The velar nasal [ŋ] is an allophone of /n/ before /k, ɡ/

/f, k, s, ʃ, x/ may be voiced to, respectively, [v, ɡ, z, ʒ, ɣ] before voiced consonants; /n/ may be bilabial [m] before bilabial consonants. Also /b/ may in some cases change into [β], or even [v]; for example باز‬ ('open') may be pronounced [bɒːz] as well as [βɒːz] or [vɒːz] and/or [vɒː], colloquially.

Dialectal variation[edit]

The pronunciation of و[w] in Classical Persian shifted to [v] in Iranian Persian and Tajik, but is retained in Dari. In modern Persian [w] may be lost if preceded by a consonant and followed by a vowel in one whole syllable, e.g. خواب/xwɒb/ > [xɒb] 'sleep', as Persian has no syllable-initial consonant clusters (see below).

Spelling and example words[edit]

Phoneme Persian alphabet Tajik alphabet Example
/p/ پ п /peˈdæɾ/   پدر падар 'father'
/b/ ب б /bærɒːˈdær/   برادر бародар 'brother'
/t/ ت, ط т /tɒː/   تا то 'until'
/d/ د д /duːst/   دوست дӯст 'friend'
/k/ ک к /keʃˈvæɾ/   کشور кишвар 'country'
/ɡ/ گ г /ɡoˈruːh/   گروه гурӯҳ 'group'
/ʔ/ ع, ء ъ /mæʔˈnɒː/   معنا маъно 'meaning'
/t͡ʃ/ چ ч /t͡ʃuːb/   چوب чӯб 'wood'
/d͡ʒ/ ج ҷ /d͡ʒæˈvɒːn/   جوان ҷавон 'young'
/f/ ف ф /feˈʃɒːɾ/   فشار фишор 'pressure'
/v/ و в /viːˈʒe/   ویژه вижа 'special'
/s/ س , ص , ث с /sɒːˈje/   سایه соя 'shadow'
/z/ ز , ذ , ض , ظ з /ɒːˈzɒːd/   آزاد озод 'free'
/ʃ/ ش ш /ʃɒːh/   شاه шоҳ 'king'
/ʒ/ ژ ж /ʒɒːˈle/   ژاله жола 'dew'
/χ/ خ х /χɒːˈne/   خانه хона 'house'
/ʁ/ غ ғ /ʁærb/   غرب ғарб 'west'
/ɢ/ ق қ /ɢæˈlæm/   قلم қалам 'pen'
/h/ ه , ح ҳ /hæft/   هفت ҳафт 'seven'
/m/ م м /mɒːˈdær/   مادر модар 'mother'
/n/ ن н /nɒːn/   نان нон 'bread'
/l/ ل л /læb/   لب лаб 'lip'
/ɾ/ ر р /iːˈɾɒːn/   ایران Эрон 'Iran'
/j/ ی й /jɒː/   یا ё 'or'

In standard Iranian Persian, the consonants /ʁ/ and /ɢ/ are pronounced identically.

Consonants can be geminated, often in words from Arabic. This is represented in the IPA either by doubling the consonant, سیّدсаййид [sejˈjed], or with the length marker ⟨ː⟩, [seˈjːed].[15]

Phonotactics[edit]

Syllable structure[edit]

Syllables may be structured as (C)(S)V(S)(C(C)).[13][16]

Persian syllable structure consists of an optional syllable onset, consisting of one consonant; an obligatory syllable nucleus, consisting of a vowel optionally preceded by and/or followed by a semivowel; and an optional syllable coda, consisting of one or two consonants. The following restrictions apply:

  • Onset
    • Consonant (C): Can be any consonant. (Onset is composed only of one consonant; consonant clusters are only found in loanwords, sometimes an epenthetic /æ/ is inserted between consonants.)
  • Nucleus
    • Semivowel (S)
    • Vowel (V)
    • Semivowel (S)
  • Coda
    • First consonant (C): Can be any consonant.
    • Second consonant (C): Can also be any consonant (mostly /d/, /k/, /s/, /t/, & /z/).

Word accent[edit]

The Persian word-accent has been described as a stress accent by some,[17] and as a pitch accent by others.[18] In fact the accented syllables in Persian are generally pronounced with a raised pitch as well as stress; but in certain contexts words may become deaccented and lose their high pitch.[19][20]

From an intonational point of view, Persian words (or accentual phrases) usually have the intonation (L +) H* (where L is low and H* is a high-toned stressed syllable), e.g. کتاب/keˈtɒ́b/ 'book'; unless there is a suffix, in which case the intonation is (L +) H* + L, e.g. کتابم/keˈtɒ́b-æm/ 'my book'. The last accent of a sentence is usually accompanied by a low boundary tone, which produces a falling pitch on the last accented syllable, e.g. کتاب بود/keˈtɒ̂b buːd/ 'it was a book'.[19][20]

When two words are joined in an اضافهezafe construction, they can either be pronounced accentually as two separate words, e.g. مردم اینجا/mærˈdóm-e inˈd͡ʒɒ́/ 'the people (of) here', or else the first word loses its high tone and the two words are pronounced as a single accentual phrase: /mærˈdom-e inˈd͡ʒɒ́/. Words also become deaccented following a focused word; for example, in the sentence نامۀ مامانم بود رو میز/nɒˈme-ye mɒˈmɒn-æm bud ru miz/ 'it was my mom's letter on the table' all the syllables following the word مامان/mɒˈmɒn/ 'mom' are pronounced with a low pitch.[19]

Knowing the rules for the correct placement of the accent is essential for proper pronunciation.[21]

  1. Accent is heard on the last stem-syllable of most words.
  2. Accent is heard on the first syllable of interjections, conjunctions and vocatives. E.g. بله/ˈbæle/ ('yes'), نخیر/ˈnæxeir/ ('no, indeed'), ولی/ˈvæli/ ('but'), چرا/ˈtʃeɾɒ ('why'), اگر/ˈæɡæɾ/ ('if'), مرسی/ˈmeɾsi/ ('thanks'), خانم/ˈxɒnom/ ('Ma'am'), آقا/ˈɒɢɒ/ ('Sir'); cf. 4-4 below.
  3. Never accented are:
    1. personal suffixes on verbs (/-æm/ ('I do..'), /-i/ ('you do..'), .., /-ænd/ ('they do..') (with two exceptions, cf. 4-1 and 5 below);
    2. the possessive and pronoun-object suffixes, /-æm/, /-et/, /-eʃ/, &c.
    3. a small set of very common noun enclitics: the /ezɒfe/ اضافه‬ (/-e/, /-je) ('of'), /-ɾɒ/ a definite direct object marker, /-i/ ('a'), /-o/ ('and');
  4. Always accented are:
    1. the personal suffixes on the positive future auxiliary verb (exception to 3-1 above);
    2. the negative verb prefix /næ-/, /ne-/, if present;
    3. if /næ-/, /ne-/ is not present, then the first non-negative verb prefix (e.g. /mi-/ ('-ing'), /be-/ ('do!') or the prefix noun in compound verbs (e.g. کار/kɒr/ in کار می‌کردم/ˈkɒr mi-kærdæm/);
    4. the last syllable of all other words, including the infinitive ending /-æn/ and the participial ending /-te/, /-de/ in verbal derivatives, noun suffixes like /-i/ ('-ish') and /-eɡi/, all plural suffixes (/-hɒ/, /-ɒn/), adjective comparative suffixes (/-tæɾ/, /-tæɾin/), and ordinal-number suffixes (/-om/). Nouns not in the vocative are stressed on the final syllable: خانم/xɒˈnom/ ('lady'), آقا/ɒˈɢɒ/ ('gentleman'); cf. 2 above.
  5. In the informal language, the present perfect tense is pronounced like the simple past tense. Only the word-accent distinguishes between these tenses: the accented personal suffix indicates the present perfect and the unstressed one the simple past tense (exception to 3-1 above):
Formal Informal Meaning
/diːˈde.æm/ دیده ام /diːˈdæm/ 'I have seen'
/ˈdiːdæm/ دیدم /ˈdiːdæm/ 'I saw'

Colloquial Iranian Persian[edit]

When spoken formally, Iranian Persian is pronounced as written. But colloquial pronunciation as used by all classes makes a number of very common substitutions. Note that Iranians can interchange colloquial and formal sociolects in conversational speech. They include:[21][22]

  • In the Tehran accent and also most of the accents in Central and Southern Iran, the sequence /ɒn/ in the colloquial language is nearly always pronounced [un]. The only common exceptions are high prestige words, such as قرآن[ɢoɾˈʔɒn] ('Qur'an'), and ایران[ʔiˈɾɒn] ('Iran'), and foreign nouns (both common and proper), like the Spanish surname بلترانBeltran [belˈtɾɒn], which are pronounced as written. A few words written as /ɒm/ are pronounced [um], especially forms of the verb آمدن/ɒmæˈdæn/ ('to come').
  • In the Tehran accent, the unstressed direct object suffix marker را/ɾɒ/ is pronounced /ɾo/ after a vowel, and /o/ after a consonant.
  • The 2nd and 3rd person plural verb subject suffixes, written /-id/ and /-ænd/ respectively, are pronounced [-in] and [-æn].
  • The stems of many frequently-occurring verbs have a short colloquial form, especially است/æst/ ('he/she is'), which is colloquially shortened to /e/ after a consonant or /s/ after a vowel. Also, the stems of verbs which end in /h/, /v/ or a vowel are shortened; e.g. می‌خواهم/ˈmixɒːhæm/ ('I want') → [ˈmixɒːm], and می‌روم/ˈmiɾævæm/ ('I go' → [ˈmiɾæm].

Example[edit]

Broad IPA Transcription Nastaʿlīq script Cyrillic script Gloss
/jek ˈɾuz ˈbɒde ʃoˈmɒlo xorˈʃid bɒhæm dæʔˈvɒ ˈmikæɾdænd ke koˈdɒm jek ɢæviˈtæɾ æst/[1] یک روز باد شمال و خورشید با هم دعوى می‌کردند که کدام یک قویتر است Як руз боди шумал у хуршед бо ҳам даъво мекарданд ки кудом як қавитар аст. [One day] the North Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b International Phonetic Association (1999). "Persian (Farsi)". Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A guide to the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 124–125. ISBN 978-0-521-63751-0.
  2. ^ Campbell, George L. (1995). "Persian". Concise compendium of the world's languages (1st publ. ed.). London: Routledge. p. 385. ISBN 0415160499.
  3. ^ a b Toosarvandani, Maziar D. 2004 "Vowel Length in Modern Farsi", JRAS, Series 3, 14, 3, pp. 241–251.
  4. ^ a b c d Windfuhr, Gernot L. (1979). Persian grammar: History and State of its Study. Mouton. p. 137. ISBN 9027977747.
  5. ^ a b c Alamolhoda, Seyyed Morleza (2000). "Phonostatistics and Phonotactics of the Syllable in Modern Persian". Studia Orientalia. 89: 14–15. ISSN 0039-3282.
  6. ^ Rees, Daniel A. (2008). "From Middle Persian to Proto-Modern Persian". Towards Proto-Persian: An Optimality Theoretic Historical Reconstruction (Ph.D.).
  7. ^ a b c Ефимов В. А.; Расторгуева B. C.; Шарова Е. Н. (1982). "Персидский, таджикский, дари". Основы иранского языкознания. 3. Новоиранские языки: западная группа, прикаспийские языки. Moscow: Наука. pp. 5–315.
  8. ^ Рубинчик Ю. А. (2001). Грамматика современного литературного персидского языка. Moscow: Восточная литература. p. 19. ISBN 5-02-018177-3.
  9. ^ Windfuhr, Gernot (1987). "Persian". In Bernard Comrie. The World's Major Languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 543. ISBN 978-0-19-506511-4.
  10. ^ International Phonetic Association (1999). Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A guide to the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 124–125. ISBN 978-0-521-63751-0.
  11. ^ Jahani, Carina (2005). "The Glottal Plosive: A Phoneme in Spoken Modern Persian or Not?". In Éva Ágnes Csató; Bo Isaksson; Carina Jahani. Linguistic Convergence and Areal Diffusion: Case studies from Iranian, Semitic and Turkic. London: RoutledgeCurzon. pp. 79–96. ISBN 0-415-30804-6.
  12. ^ Thackston, W. M. (1993-05-01). "The Phonology of Persian". An Introduction to Persian (3rd Rev ed.). Ibex Publishers. p. xvii. ISBN 0-936347-29-5.
  13. ^ a b c Mahootian, Shahrzad (1997). Persian. London: Routledge. pp. 287, 292, 303, 305. ISBN 0-415-02311-4.
  14. ^ Mace, John (March 1993). Modern Persian. Teach Yourself. ISBN 0-8442-3815-5.
  15. ^ Vrzić, Zvjezdana (2007), Farsi: A Complete Course for Beginners, Living Language, Random House, p. xxiii, ISBN 978-1-4000-2347-9
  16. ^ Jahani, Carina (2005). "The Glottal Plosive: A Phoneme in Spoken Modern Persian or Not?". In Éva Ágnes Csató; Bo Isaksson; Carina Jahani. Linguistic Convergence and Areal Diffusion: Case studies from Iranian, Semitic and Turkic. London: RoutledgeCurzon. pp. 79–96. ISBN 0-415-30804-6.
  17. ^ Windfuhr, Gernot L. 1997. [1]. In Kaye, Alan S. / Daniels, Peter T. (eds). Phonologies of Asia and Africa (including the Caucasus), I-II, pp.675-689. Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns.
  18. ^ Abolhasanizadeh, Vahideh, Mahmood Bijankhan, & Carlos Gussenhoven, 2012. "The Persian pitch accent and its retention after the focus", Lingua 122, 13.
  19. ^ a b c Sadat-Tehrani, Nima, 2007. "The Intonational Grammar of Persian". Ph.D. Thesis, University of Manitoba, pp.3, 22, 46-47, 51.
  20. ^ a b Hosseini, Seyed Ayat 2014 "The Phonology and Phonetics of Prosodic Prominence in Persian" Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Tokyo, p.22f for a review of the literature; also p.35.
  21. ^ a b Mace, John (2003). Persian Grammar: For reference and revision. London: RoutledgeCurzon. ISBN 0-7007-1695-5.
  22. ^ Thackston, W. M. (1993-05-01). "Colloquial Transformations". An Introduction to Persian (3rd Rev ed.). Ibex Publishers. pp. 205–214. ISBN 0-936347-29-5.

External links[edit]