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In the phonology of the Romanian language, the phoneme inventory consists of seven vowels, two or four semivowels (different views exist), and twenty consonants. In addition, as with all languages, other phonemes can occur occasionally in interjections or recent borrowings.
Notable features of Romanian include two unusual diphthongs /e̯a/ and /o̯a/ and the central vowel /ɨ/.
The table below gives a series of word examples for each vowel.
|/a/||Open central unrounded||apă /ˈa.pə/ ('water')
balaur /baˈla.ur/ ('dragon')
cânta /kɨnˈta/ ('to sing')
|/e/||Mid front unrounded||erou /eˈrow/ ('hero')
necaz /neˈkaz/ ('trouble')
umple /ˈum.ple/ ('to fill')
|/i/||Close front unrounded||insulă /ˈin.su.lə/ ('island')
salcie /ˈsal.tʃi.e/ ('willow')
topi /toˈpi/ ('to melt')
|/o/||Mid back rounded||oraș /oˈraʃ/ ('city')
copil /koˈpil/ ('child')
acolo /aˈko.lo/ ('there')
|/u/||Close back rounded||uda /uˈda/ ('to wet')
aduc /aˈduk/ ('I bring')
simplu /ˈsim.plu/ ('simple')
|/ə/||Mid central unrounded||ăsta /ˈəs.ta/ ('this')
păros /pəˈros/ ('hairy')
albă /ˈal.bə/ ('white [fem. sg.]')
|/ɨ/||Close central unrounded||înspre /ˈɨn.spre/ ('toward')
cârnat /kɨrˈnat/ ('sausage')
coborî /ko.boˈrɨ/ ('to descend')
While most of these vowels are relatively straightforward and similar or identical to those in many other languages, the close central unrounded vowel /ɨ/ is uncommon as a phoneme and especially uncommon amongst Indo-European languages.
Less frequent vowels
In addition to the seven core vowels, in a number of words of foreign origin (predominantly French, but also German) the close-mid front rounded vowel /ø/, the open-mid front rounded vowel /œ/, and the mid-central rounded vowel /ɵ/ (different from the already existing unrounded /ə/) have been preserved, without replacing them with any of the existing phonemes, at least in careful speech. The borrowed words have become part of the Romanian vocabulary and follow the usual inflexion rules, so that the new vowels, though less common, could be considered as part of the Romanian phoneme set. Romanian dictionaries use ⟨ö⟩ in their phonetic descriptions to represent all the three vowels, which suggests that they may be actually pronounced identically by Romanian speakers. However, the 2005 edition of the prescriptive work Dicționarul ortografic, ortoepic și morfologic al limbii române gives for the ad-hoc phonetic symbol ⟨ö⟩ two distinct values: the mid front rounded vowel (example: acheuleean, 'Acheulean') and the French "e caduc", that is, the mid-central rounded vowel (example: chemin de fer, 'the card game Chemin de Fer'). The vowel occurs in words such as: bleu /blø/ ('light blue'), pasteuriza /pastøriˈza/ ('to pasteurize'), loess /løs/ ('loess'), cozeur /koˈzør/ ('pleasant talker'). Because it is not a native phoneme, its pronunciation may fluctuate or it may even be replaced by the diphthong /e̯o/. In older French borrowings it has often been replaced by /e/, /o/, or /e̯o/, as in șofer /ʃoˈfer/ ('driver', from French chauffeur), masor /maˈsor/ ('masseur', from masseur), and sufleor /suˈfle̯or/ ('theater prompter', from souffleur).
Similarly, borrowings from languages such as French and German sometimes contain the close front rounded vowel /y/: ecru /eˈkry/, tul /tyl/, fürer /ˈfyrer/. The symbol used for it in phonetic notations in Romanian dictionaries is ⟨ü⟩. Educated speakers usually pronounce it /y/, but other realizations such as /ju/ also occur. Older words that originally had this sound have had it replaced with /ju/, /u/, or /i/. For instance, Turkish kül became ghiul /ɡjul/ ('large ring'), Turkish tütün became tutun [tuˈtun] ('tobacco'), but tiutiun [tjuˈtjun] in the Moldavian subdialect, German Düse gave duză /ˈduzə/ ('nozzle') and French bureau became birou /biˈrow/ ('desk', 'office').
According to Ioana Chițoran, Romanian has two diphthongs: /e̯a/ and /o̯a/. As a result of their origin (diphthongization of mid vowels under stress), they appear normally in stressed syllables and make morphological alternations with the mid vowels /e/ and /o/.
In addition to these, the semivowels /j/ and /w/ can be combined (either before, after, or both) with most vowels. One view considers that only /e̯a/ and /o̯a/ can follow an obstruent-liquid cluster such as in broască ('frog') and dreagă ('to mend') and form real diphthongs, while the rest are merely vowel-glide sequences. The traditional view (taught in schools) considers all of the above as diphthongs.
|/aj/||rai /raj/ ('heaven'), aisberg /ˈajs.berɡ/ ('iceberg')|
|/aw/||sau /saw/ ('or'), august /ˈaw.ɡust/ ('August')|
|/ej/||lei /lej/ ('lions'), trei /trej/ ('three')|
|/ew/||greu /ɡrew/ ('heavy'), mereu /meˈrew/ ('always')|
|/ij/||mii /mij/ ('thousands'), vii /vij/ ('you come')|
|/iw/||fiu /fiw/ ('son'), scriu /skriw/ ('I write')|
|/oj/||oi /oj/ ('sheep [pl.]'), noi /noj/ ('we')|
|/ow/||ou /ow/ ('egg'), bou /bow/ ('ox')|
|/uj/||pui /puj/ ('you put'), gălbui /ɡəlˈbuj/ ('yellowish')|
|/uw/||eu continuu /konˈti.nuw/ ('I continue' [partly replaced by eu continui)|
|/əj/||răi /rəj/ ('bad [masc. pl.]'), văi /vəj/ ('valleys')|
|/əw/||dulău /duˈləw/ ('mastiff'), rău /rəw/ ('bad [masc. sg.]')|
|/ɨj/||câine /ˈkɨj.ne/ ('dog'), mâinile /ˈmɨj.ni.le/ ('the hands')|
|/ɨw/||râu /rɨw/ ('river'), brâu /brɨw/ ('girdle')|
|/e̯a/||beată /ˈbe̯a.tə/ ('drunk [f.]'), mea /me̯a/ ('my [fem. sg.]')|
|/e̯o/||Gheorghe /ˈɡe̯or.ɡe/ ('George'), ne-o ploua /ne̯o.ploˈwa/ ('it would rain us')|
|/e̯u/||(only in word combinations) pe-un /pe̯un/ ('on a')|
|/ja/||biată /bja.tə/ ('poor [f.]'), mi-a zis /mjaˈzis/ ('[he] told me')|
|/je/||fier /fjer/ ('iron'), miere /ˈmje.re/ ('honey')|
|/jo/||iod /jod/ ('iodine'), chior /ˈkjor/ ('one-eyed')|
|/ju/||iubit /juˈbit/ ('loved'), chiuvetă /kjuˈve.tə/ ('sink')|
|/o̯a/||găoace /ɡəˈo̯a.tʃe/ ('shell'), foarte /ˈfo̯ar.te/ ('very')|
|/we/||piuez /piˈwez/ ('I felt [a fabric]'), înșeuez /ɨn.ʃeˈwez/ ('I saddle')|
|/wa/||băcăuan /bə.kəˈwan/ ('inhabitant of Bacău'), ziua /ˈzi.wa/ ('the day')|
|/wə/||două /ˈdo.wə/ ('two [fem.]'), plouă /ˈplo.wə/ ('it rains')|
|/wɨ/||plouând /ploˈwɨnd/ ('raining'), ouând /oˈwɨnd/ ('laying [eggs]')|
|/e̯aj/||ceainic /ˈtʃe̯aj.nik/ ('tea pot'), socoteai /so.koˈte̯aj/ ('you were reckoning')|
|/e̯aw/||beau /be̯aw/ ('I drink'), spuneau /spuˈne̯aw/ ('they were saying')|
|/jaj/||mi-ai dat /mjajˈdat/ ('you gave me'), ia-i /jaj/ ('take them')|
|/jaw/||iau /jaw/ ('I take'), suiau /suˈjaw/ ('they were climbing')|
|/jej/||iei /jej/ ('you take'), piei /pjej/ ('skins')|
|/jew/||maieu /maˈjew/ ('undershirt'), eu /jew/ ('I [myself]')|
|/joj/||i-oi da /jojˈda/ ('I might give him'), picioică /piˈtʃjoj.kə/ ('potato [regionalism]')|
|/jow/||maiou /maˈjow/ ('undershirt')|
|/o̯aj/||leoaică /leˈo̯aj.kə/ ('lioness'), rusoaică /ruˈso̯aj.kə/ ('Russian woman')|
|/waj/||înșeuai /ɨn.ʃeˈwaj/ ('[you] were saddling')|
|/waw/||înșeuau /ɨn.ʃeˈwaw/ ('[they] were saddling')|
|/wəj/||rouăi /ˈro.wəj/ ('of the dew')|
|/e̯o̯a/||pleoape /ˈple̯o̯a.pe/ ('eyelids'), leoarcă /ˈle̯o̯ar.kə/ ('soaking wet')|
|/jo̯a/||creioane /kreˈjo̯a.ne/ ('pencils'), aripioară /a.riˈpjo̯a.rə/ ('winglet')|
As can be seen from the examples above, the diphthongs /e̯a/ and /o̯a/ contrast with /ja/ and /wa/ respectively, though there are no minimal pairs to contrast /o̯a/ and /wa/. Impressionistically, the two pairs sound very similar to native speakers Because /o̯a/ doesn't appear in the final syllable of a prosodic word, there are no monosyllabic words with /o̯a/; exceptions might include voal ('veil') and trotuar ('sidewalk'), though Ioana Chițoran argues that these are best treated as containing glide-vowel sequences rather than diphthongs. In some regional pronunciations, the diphthong /o̯a/ tends to be pronounced as a single vowel /ɒ/.
Other triphthongs such as /juj/ and /o̯aw/ occur sporadically in interjections and uncommon words.
Diphthongs in borrowings
Borrowings from English have enlarged the set of ascending diphthongs to also include /jə/, /we/, /wi/, and /wo/, or have extended their previously limited use. Generally, these borrowings have retained their original spellings, but their pronunciation has been adapted to the Romanian phonology. The table below gives some examples.
|/jə/||yearling /ˈjər.linɡ/ 'one-year-old animal (colt)'|
|/we/||western /ˈwes.tern/ 'Western (movie set in the American West)'|
|/wi/||tweeter /ˈtwi.tər/ 'high-pitch loudspeaker'|
|/wo/||walkman /ˈwok.men/ 'pocket-sized tape/CD player'|
Borrowings such as whisky and week-end are listed in some dictionaries as starting with the ascending diphthong /wi/, which corresponds to the original English pronunciation, but in others they appear with the descending diphthong /uj/.
Romanian has vowel alternation or apophony triggered by stress. A stressed syllable has a low vowel, or a diphthong ending in a low vowel, and an unstressed syllable has a mid vowel. Thus /e̯a/ alternates with /e/, /o̯a/ with /o/, and /a/ with /ə/.
This alternation developed from Romanian vowel breaking (diphthongization) and reduction (weakening). The Eastern Romance mid vowels /e o/ were broken in stressed syllables, giving the Romanian diphthongs /e̯a o̯a/, and the low vowel /a/ was reduced in unstressed syllables, giving the Romanian central vowel /ə/.
These sound changes created the stress-triggered vowel alternations in the table below. Here stressed syllables are marked with an acute accent (á):
|a - ə||cárte||'book'||cărticícă||'book' (diminutive)||/ˈkarte kərtiˈtʃikə/|
|cásă||'house'||căsúță||'house' (diminutive)||/ˈkasə kəˈsutsɘ/|
|e̯a - e||beát||'drunk'||bețív||'drunkard'||/be̯at beˈtsiv/|
|o̯a - o||poártă||'gate'||portár||'gatekeeper'||/ˈpo̯artə porˈtar/|
|coástă||'rib'||costíță||'rib' (diminutive)||/ˈko̯astɘ kosˈtitsə/|
Standard Romanian has twenty consonants, as listed in the table below. Where symbols for consonants occur in pairs, the left represents a voiceless consonant and the right represents a voiced consonant.
Besides the consonants in this table, a few consonants can have allophones:
- Palatalized consonants occur when preceding an underlying word-final /i/, which is then deleted.
- /n/ becomes the velar [ŋ] before /k/, /ɡ/ and /h/;
- /h/ becomes the velar [x] in word-final positions (duh 'spirit') and before consonants (hrean 'horseradish'); it becomes the palatal [ç] before [i], [j], like in the word human in English, and as a realization for an underlying /hi/ sequence in word-final positions (cehi 'Czech people' is pronounced [t͡ʃeç], though usually transcribed [t͡ʃehʲ]).
The consonant inventory of Romanian is almost the same as Italian. Romanian, however, lacks the palatal consonants /ɲ ʎ/, which merged with /j/ by lenition, and the affricate /dz/ changed to /z/ by spirantization. Romanian has the fricative /ʒ/ and the glottal fricative /h/, which do not occur in Italian.
Here are some examples, with an approximate indication of how each consonant is pronounced, intended for English native speakers.
|/p/||⟨p⟩ in 'speak[a]||pas /pas/ ('step'), spate /ˈspa.te/ ('back'), cap /kap/ ('head')|
|/b/||⟨b⟩ in boy||ban /ban/ ('money'), zbor /zbor/ ('I fly'), rob /rob/ ('slave')|
|/t/||⟨t⟩ in stop[a][b]||tare /ˈta.re/ ('hard'), stai /staj/ ('you stay'), sat /sat/ ('village'|
|/d/||⟨d⟩ in day[b]||dacă /ˈda.kə/ ('if'), vinde /ˈvin.de/ ('he sells'), cad /kad/ ('I fall')|
|/k/||⟨k⟩ in sky;[a]||cal /ˈkal/ ('horse'), ascund /asˈkund/ ('I hide'), sac /sak/ ('sack')|
|/ɡ/||⟨g⟩ in go;||gol /ɡol/ ('empty'), pungă /ˈpun.ɡə/ ('bag'), drag /draɡ/ ('dear')|
|/ts/||⟨ts⟩ in nuts||țară /ˈtsa.rə/ ('country'), ață /ˈa.tsə/ ('thread'), soț /sots/ ('husband')|
|/tʃ/||⟨ch⟩ in chin||cer /tʃer/ ('sky'), vacile /ˈva.tʃi.le/ ('the cows'), maci /matʃʲ/ ('poppies')|
|/dʒ/||⟨j⟩ in jingle';||ger /dʒer/ ('frost'), magic /ˈma.dʒik/ ('magical'), rogi /rodʒʲ/ ('you ask')|
|/m/||⟨m⟩ in man';||mic /mik/ ('small'), amar /aˈmar/ ('bitter'), pom /pom/ ('tree')|
|/n/||⟨n⟩ in name||nor /nor/ ('cloud'), inel /iˈnel/ ('ring'), motan /moˈtan/ ('tomcat')|
|/f/||⟨f⟩ in fine||foc /fok/ ('fire'), afară /aˈfa.rə/ ('out'), pantof /panˈtof/ ('shoe')|
|/v/||⟨v⟩ in voice||val /val/ ('wave'), covor /koˈvor/ ('carpet'), mov /mov/ ('mauve')|
|/s/||⟨s⟩ in sound||sare /ˈsa.re/ ('salt'), case /ˈka.se/ ('houses'), ales /aˈles/ ('chosen')|
|/z/||⟨z⟩ in zone||zid /zid/ ('wall'), mazăre /ˈma.zə.re/ ('pea'), orez /oˈrez/ ('rice')|
|/ʃ/||⟨sh⟩ in shy||șarpe /ˈʃar.pe/ ('snake'), așa /aˈʃa/ ('so'), oraș /oˈraʃ/ ('city')|
|/ʒ/||⟨s⟩ in measure||jar /ʒar/ ('embers'), ajutor /a.ʒuˈtor/ ('help'), vrej /vreʒ/ ('stalk')|
|/h/||⟨h⟩ in hope||horn /horn/ ('chimney'), pahar /paˈhar/ ('glass'), duh /duh/ ('spirit')|
|/l/||⟨l⟩ in like||lung /lunɡ/ ('long'), alună /aˈlu.nə/ ('hazelnut'), fel /fel/ ('sort')|
|/r/||Italian ⟨r⟩[c]||repede /ˈre.pe.de/ ('quickly'), tren /tren/ ('train'), măr /mər/ ('apple')|
- Note that in English ⟨p⟩ in speak and ⟨p⟩ in peak are not the same sounds: The second one is aspirated. Romanian /p/ is not aspirated. The same holds for /t/ and /k/.
- /t/ and /d/ are only similar, not identical, to their English counterparts. While in English they are usually alveolar, pronounced by touching the alveolar ridge with the tip of the tongue, in Romanian and other Romance languages they are denti-alveolar, obtained by touching the roof of the mouth just behind the teeth with the flat of the tongue. The same remark is valid for consonants /n/, /s/, and /z/, although the difference is not as obvious.
- Somewhat as in Italian and Spanish, /r/ is usually a flap, though it may occasionally be a trill in word-initial position. It is similar to the consonant in the middle of "get up" in American English.
The interpretation commonly taken is that an underlying morpheme /i/ palatalizes the consonant and is subsequently deleted. However, /sʲ/, /tʲ/, and /dʲ/ become [ʃʲ], [t͡sʲ], and [zʲ], respectively, with very few phonetically justified exceptions, included in the table below, which shows that this palatalization can occur for all consonants.
|/p/||rupi /rupʲ/ 'you tear'||/b/||arabi /aˈrabʲ/ 'Arabs'|
|/t/||proști /proʃtʲ/ 'stupid (masc. pl.)'||/d/||nădejdi /nəˈdeʒdʲ/ 'hopes'|
|/k/||urechi /uˈrekʲ/ 'ears'||/ɡ/||unghi /unɡʲ/ 'angle'|
|/t͡s/||roți /rot͡sʲ/ 'wheels'||–|
|/t͡ʃ/||faci /fat͡ʃʲ/ 'you do'||/d͡ʒ/||mergi /merd͡ʒʲ/ 'you go'|
|–||/m/||dormi /dormʲ/ 'you sleep'|
|–||/n/||bani /banʲ/ 'money (pl.)'|
|/f/||șefi /ʃefʲ/ 'bosses'||/v/||pleșuvi /pleˈʃuvʲ/ 'bald (masc. pl.)'|
|/s/||bessi /besʲ/ 'Bessi'||/z/||brazi /brazʲ/ 'fir trees'|
|/ʃ/||moși /moʃʲ/ 'old men'||/ʒ/||breji /breʒʲ/ 'brave (masc. pl.)'|
|/h/||vlahi /vlahʲ/ 'Wallachians'||–|
|–||/l/||școli /ʃkolʲ/ 'schools'|
|–||/r/||sari /sarʲ/ 'you jump'|
In certain morphological processes /ʲ/ is replaced by the full vowel /i/, for example
- in noun plural genitive formation: școli - școlilor /ʃkolʲ/ - /ˈʃko.li.lor/ ('schools - of the schools'),
- when appending the definite article to some plural nouns: brazi - brazii /brazʲ/ - /ˈbra.zij/ ('fir trees - the fir trees')
- in verb + pronoun combinations: dați - dați‑ne /dat͡sʲ/ - /ˈda.t͡si.ne/ ('give - give us').
This may explain why /ʲ/ is perceived as a separate sound by native speakers and written with the same letter as the vowel /i/.
The non-syllabic /ʲ/ can be sometimes found inside compound words like câțiva /kɨt͡sʲˈva/ ('a few') and oriunde /orʲˈun.de/ ('wherever'), where the first morpheme happened to end in this /ʲ/. A word that contains this twice is cincizeci /t͡ʃint͡ʃʲˈzet͡ʃʲ/ ('fifty').
In old Romanian and still in some local pronunciations there is another example of such a non-syllabic, non-semivocalic phoneme, derived from /u/, which manifests itself as labialization of the preceding sound. The usual IPA notation is /ʷ/. It is found at the end of some words after consonants and semivowels, as in un urs, pronounced /un ˈursʷ/ ('a bear'), or îmi spui /ɨmʲ spujʷ/ ('you tell me'). The disappearance of this phoneme might be attributed to the fact that, unlike /ʲ/, it didn't play any morphological role. It is possibly a trace of Latin endings containing /u/ (-us, -um), this phoneme is related to vowel /u/ used to connect the definite article "l" to the stem of a noun or adjective, as in domn - domnul /domn - ˈdom.nul/ ('lord - the lord', cf. Latin dominus).
||This article possibly contains original research. (July 2012)|
As with other languages, Romanian interjections often use sounds beyond the normal phoneme inventory or disobey the normal phonotactical rules, by containing unusual phoneme sequences, by allowing words to be made up of only consonants, or by consisting of repetitions. Such exceptional mechanisms are needed to obtain an increased level of expressivity. Often, these interjections have multiple spellings or occasionally none at all, which accounts for the difficulty of finding the right approximation using existing letters. The following is a list of examples.
- A bilabial affricate [ʘ], pronounced by rounding the lips and strongly sucking air between them, is used for urging horses to start walking.
- Whistling is another interjection surpassing the limits of the phoneme inventory. It is usually spelled fiu-fiu.
- The dental click [ǀ] (see also click consonants) is used in an interjection similar to the English tut-tut (or tsk-tsk), expressing concern, disappointment, disapproval, etc., and generally accompanied by frowning or a comparable facial expression. Usually two to four such clicks in a row make up the interjection; only one click is rare and more than four can be used for over-emphasis. The Romanian spelling is usually ttt or țțț. Technically, the dental click is obtained by creating a cavity between a velar closure and the tongue touching the alveolar ridge in the same position as for consonant [t]. When the tongue closure is released, the air from outside is sucked in and produces the click.
- The same dental click is used in another interjection, the informal equivalent of "no" (nu in Romanian). Only one click is emitted, usually as an answer to a yes-no question. Although there is rarely any accompanying sound, the usual spelling is nt or nț, in which the additional n has the role of showing either the fact that the click is pronounced stronger, or that the mouth shape before the click is approximately the same as for consonant [n].
- A series of interjections are pronounced with the mouth shut. Depending on intonation, length, and rhythm, they can have various meanings, such as: perplexity, doubt, displeasure, tastiness, toothache, approval, etc. Possible spellings include: hm, hâm/hîm, mhm, îhî, mmm, îî, hî. Phonetically similar, but semantically different, is the English interjection ahem.
- Another interjection, meaning "no", could be described as the pronunciation of [ˈʔa.ʔa] with the mouth shut; both voicings start with glottal stops, like the English uh-oh. Possible spellings include: î-î, îm-îm, and m-m. The stress pattern is opposite to the interjection for "yes" mentioned before, pronounced [aˈha] with the mouth shut.
- Pfu expresses contempt or dissatisfaction and starts with the voiceless bilabial fricative /ɸ/, sounding like (but being different from) the English whew, which expresses relief after an effort or danger.
- Câh/cîh expresses disgust and ends in the voiceless velar fricative /x/, similar in meaning to English ugh.
- Brrr expresses shivering cold and is made up of a single consonant, the bilabial trill, whose IPA symbol is /ʙ/. The spelling with several letters r is misleading, as the tongue doesn't play an active role; the actual labial place of articulation is indicated by letter b.
Romanian has a stress accent, like almost all other Romance languages (with the notable exception of French). Generally, stress falls on the rightmost syllable of a prosodic word (that is, the root and derivational material but excluding inflections and final inflectional vowels). While a lexically marked stress pattern with penultimate stress exists, any morphologically derived forms will continue to follow the unmarked pattern.
In the examples below, the stress is indicated in the phonetic transcription by a small vertical line before the stressed syllable.
- frate /ˈfra.te/ ('brother'), copil /koˈpil/ ('child')
- strugure /ˈstru.ɡu.re/ ('grape'), albastru /alˈbas.tru/ ('blue'), călător /kə.ləˈtor/ ('voyager').
Stress is not normally marked in writing, except occasionally to distinguish between homographs, or in dictionaries for the entry words. When it is marked, the main vowel of the stressed syllable receives an accent (usually acute, but sometimes grave), for example véselă - vesélă ('jovial', fem. sg. - 'tableware').
In verb conjugation, noun declension, and other word formation processes, stress shifts can occur. Verbs can have homographic forms only distinguished by stress, such as in el suflă which can mean "he blows" or "he blew" depending on whether the stress is on the first or the second syllable, respectively. Changing the grammatical category of a word can lead to similar word pairs, such as the verb a albi /alˈbi/ ('to whiten') compared to the adjective albi /ˈalbʲ/ ('white', masc. pl.). Stress in Romanian verbs can normally be predicted by comparing tenses with similar verbs in Spanish, which does indicate stress in writing.
Languages such as English, Russian, and Arabic are called stress-timed, meaning that syllables are pronounced at a lower or higher rate so as to achieve a roughly equal time interval between stressed syllables. Another category of languages are syllable-timed, which means that each syllable takes about the same amount of time, regardless of the position of the stresses in the sentence. Romanian is one of the syllable-timed languages, along with other Romance languages (French, Spanish, etc.), Telugu, Yoruba, and many others. (A third timing system is mora timing, exemplified by Classical Latin, Fijian, Finnish, Hawaiian, Japanese, and Old English.)
The distinction between these timing categories may sometimes seem unclear, and definitions vary. In addition, the time intervals between stresses/syllables/morae are in reality only approximately equal, with many exceptions and large deviations having been reported. However, while the actual time may be only approximately equal, the differences are perceptually identical.
In the case of Romanian, consonant clusters are often found both in the syllable onset and coda, which require physical time to be pronounced. The syllable timing rule is then overridden by slowing down the rhythm. Thus, it is seen that stress and syllable timing interact. The sample sentences below, each consisting of six syllables, are illustrative:
- Mama pune masa – Mom sets the table
- Mulți puști blonzi plâng prin curți – Many blond kids cry in the courtyards
The total time length taken by each of these sentences is obviously different, and attempting to pronounce one of them with the same rhythm as the other results in unnatural utterances.
To a lesser extent, but still perceivably, the syllables are extended in time also on one hand by the presence of liquid and nasal consonants, and on the other by that of semivowels in diphthongs and triphthongs, such as shown in the examples below.
|pic - plic||bit - envelope|
|cec - cerc||cheque - circle|
|zic - zinc||I say - zinc|
|car - chiar||I carry - even|
|sare - soare||salt - sun|
|sta - stea||to stay - star|
|fi - fii||be (inf.) - be (imperative)|
A simple way to evaluate the length of a word, and compare it to another, consists in pronouncing it repeatedly at a natural speech rate.
A detailed description of the intonation patterns must consider a wide range of elements, such as the focus of the sentence, the theme and the rheme, emotional aspects, etc. In this section only a few general traits of the Romanian intonation are discussed. Most importantly, intonation is essential in questions, especially because, unlike English and other languages, Romanian does not distinguish grammatically declarative and interrogative sentences.
In non-emphatic yes/no questions the pitch rises at the end of the sentence until the last stressed syllable. If unstressed syllables follow, they often have a falling intonation, but this is not a rule.
- — Ai stins lumina? [ai stins lu↗mi↘na] (Have you turned off the light?)
- — Da. (Yes.)
In Transylvanian speech these yes/no questions have a very different intonation pattern, usually with a pitch peak at the beginning of the question: [ai ↗stins lumi↘na]
In selection questions the tone rises at the first element of the selection, and falls at the second.
- — Vrei bere sau vin? [vrei ↗bere sau ↘vin] (Do you want beer or wine?)
- — Bere. (Beer.)
Wh-questions start with a high pitch on the first word and then the pitch falls gradually toward the end of the sentence.
- — Cine a lăsat ușa deschisă? [↗cine↘ a lăsat ușa deschisă] (Who left the door open?)
- — Mama. (Mom did.)
Repeat questions have a rising intonation.
- — A sunat Rodica adineauri. (Rodica just called.)
- — Cine a sunat? [cine a su↗nat] (Who called?)
- — Colega ta, Rodica. (Your classmate, Rodica.)
Tag questions are uttered with a rising intonation.
- — Ți-e foame, nu-i așa? [ți-e foame, nu-i a↗șa] (You're hungry, aren't you?)
Unfinished utterances have a rising intonation similar to that of yes/no questions, but the pitch rise is smaller.
- — După ce m-am întors... [după ce m-am în↗tors...] (After I came back...)
Various other intonation patterns are used to express: requests, commands, surprise, suggestion, advice, and so on.
- Chițoran (2001:7)
- Academia Română, Dicționarul ortografic, ortoepic și morfologic al limbii române, Ediția a II-a revăzută și adăugită, Editura Univers Enciclopedic, București, 2005 (Romanian)
- Chițoran (2002a:204)
- Chițoran (2002b:213)
- See Chițoran (2001:8–9) for one overview regarding Romanian semivowels
- (Romanian) Academia Română, Gramatica limbii române), Editura Academiei Române, București, 2005, Vol. I "Cuvântul", p. 549
- Chițoran (2002a:203)
- Chițoran (2002a:206)
- Chițoran (2002b:217)
- Pop (1938), p. 29.
- The entries for week-end in several dictionaries specify the pronunciation /ujkend/.
- Chițoran (2002b:206)
- Chițoran (2002b:215)
- Chițoran (2002b:209)
- Chițoran (2002b:210)
- Chițoran (2002b:211)
- Chițoran (2001:10)
- Ovidiu Drăghici. "Limba Română contemporană. Fonetică. Fonologie. Ortografie. Lexicologie" (PDF). Retrieved April 19, 2013.
- Petrovici (1956) argues that the palatalized consonants are underlying, but this analysis is not widely accepted.
- Schane (1971:505)
- Chițoran (2001:11)
- (Romanian) Academia Română, Gramatica limbii române, Editura Academiei Române, București, 2005, Vol. I "Cuvântul", p. 659
- (Romanian) Academia Română, Gramatica limbii române, Editura Academiei Române, București, 2005, Vol. I "Cuvântul", p. 660
- Chițoran (2002b:208)
- Chițoran (2002:88)
- Chițoran, Ioana (2001), The Phonology of Romanian: A Constraint-based Approach, Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter, ISBN 3-11-016766-2
- Chițoran, Ioana (2002a), "A perception-production study of Romanian diphthongs and glide-vowel sequences", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 32 (2): 203–222, doi:10.1017/S0025100302001044
- Chițoran, Ioana (2002b), "The phonology and morphology of Romanian diphthongization", Probus 14 (2): 205–246, doi:10.1515/prbs.2002.009
- Pop, Sever (1938), Micul Atlas Linguistic Român, Muzeul Limbii Române Cluj
- Sarlin, Mika (2014), Romanian Grammar, Helsinki: Books on Demand GmbH, ISBN 978-952-286-898-5
- Schane, Sanford A. (1971), "The phoneme revisited", Language 3 (47): 503–521, JSTOR 412375
- Vasiliu, Emanuel (1965), Fonologia limbii române, Editura Științifică, București
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Romanian pronunciation.|
- Very detailed Romanian grammar, with some notes on phonetics and morpho-phonology (PDF; 183 pages; 4.6 MB)
- (Romanian) DEX online, a collection of Romanian language dictionaries; one-letter entries indicate the possible pronunciations
- Romanian Language Sounds Sounds of the Romanian Language Project (SROL)
- Rhymes Dictionary - dictionar de rime Romanian Rhymes Dictionary - allows the user to obtain words which rhyme with the search word (possible indication of pronunciation rules)