This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

The Persian language has between six and eight vowels and 26 consonants. It features contrastive stress and syllable-final consonant clusters.

Vowels

The vowel phonemes of Tehrani Persian
The vowel phonemes of Tehrani Persian

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

There are three short vowels: /æ/, /e/ and /o/, and three long vowels: /ɒː/, // and //. The three short vowels are only short when in an open syllable (i.e. without a coda) that is non-final (regardless of stress); e.g. صدا [seˈdɒː] "sound", خدا [xoˈdɒː] "God". In an unstressed closed syllable, they are around 60 percent as long as a long vowel. Otherwise all vowels are long; e.g. سفتر [seˑfˈtʰæːɾ] "firmer".[3]

When the short vowels are in open syllables, they are also unstable and tend to assimilate in quality to the following long vowel (both in informal and formal speech). Thus, دویست /deˈviːst/ "two hundred" ranges between [de̝ˈviːstʰ] and [diˈviːstʰ]; شلوغ /ʃoˈluːɢ/ "crowded" ranges between [ʃo̝ˈluːɢ] and [ʃuˈluːɢ]; رسیدن /ræsiːˈdæːn/ "to arrive" ranges between [ræ̝siːˈdæːn] and [resiːˈdæːn]; and so on.[3]

Word-final /o/ is rare except for تو [tʰo] "you" and nouns of foreign origin. Word-final /æ/ is very rare in Iranian Persian, with the exception being نه [næ] "no". The word-final /æ/ in Early New Persian mostly shifted to /e/ in contemporary Iranian Persian, and [e] is also an allophone of /æ/ in word-final position. However, word-final /æ/ is preserved in the Eastern dialects.[a] /e/ is the most common short vowel that is pronounced in final open syllables.

Diphthongs

The status of diphthongs in Persian is disputed.[4][5] Some authors list /ei, ou, ɒi, oi, ui/,[4] others list only /ej/ and /ou/, 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: /ai/ > /ei/ and /au/ > /ou/. 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 are both respectively written as ی and و.

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

Spelling and example words

For Western Persian:

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

Eastern Persian varieties (Tajik and Dari) have also preserved these two Classic Persian vowels:

IPA Letter Romanization Example(s)
// ـی; ē /ʃeːɾ/   شیر   "lion"
// ـو; ō /zoːɾ/   زور   "strength"

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

Historical shifts

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 ɑː 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 [], while ō, ū have merged as []. In addition, the lax close vowels have been lowered: i > [e], u > [o]; this vowel change has also happened in many dialects of Dari. 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 and 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 and ī have merged as /ɪ/, and u and ū as /ʊ/. The back vowels have chain shifted as well. Open ā has been rounded and raised to an open-mid vowel /ɔ/. In northern dialects, mid ō (transcribed phonologically as «у̊» in the Cyrillic script and "ů" in the Latin script) has shifted to /ɵ/, while in southern dialects, mid ō has shifted upward and merged with ū (and u) as /ʊ/.

A feature of Eastern Persian[a] dialects is the systematic lowering of i and ī (both «и» in Tajiki) to e and ē (both «е» in Tajiki), and u and ū (both «у» in Tajiki) to o and ō (both «у̊» in Tajiki), directly before a glottal consonant (/h/ or /ʔ/) that is in the same syllable; loanwords from Arabic generally undergo these changes as well. However, since «у̊» (o, ō) has merged into «у» (u, ū) in most dialects of southern and central Tajikistan, «у» (/ʊ/) is realized before the glottal consonants in those dialects instead. (This phenomenon also occurs in neighbouring Urdu and Hindi, but it is only the short vowels i and u that are lowered to e and o before /h/ and /ʔ/.)

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

Early New Persian Dari Tajiki Western Persian Example Tajik Romanization English
/a/ /a/ /a/ /æ/ شب шаб šab night
/ɑː/ /ɒː/ /ɔ/ /ɒː/ باد бод bād wind
/i/ /ɪ/ /ɪ/ /e/ دل дил dil heart
// // // شیر шир šīr milk
// // /e/ شیر шер šēr lion
/aj/ /aj/ /aj/ /ej/ کی кай kay when
/u/ /ʊ/ /ʊ/ /o/ گل гул gul flower
// // // نور нур nūr light
// // /ɵ/ روز рӯз rōz day
/aw/ /aw/ /aʋ/ /ow/ نو нав naw new

See also: Tajik vowels

Consonants

Labial Alveolar Post-
alveolar
Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n
Stop/
Affricate
pb td t͡ʃd͡ʒ kɡ (q) ʔ
Fricative fv sz ʃʒ x~χɣ~ʁ h
Trill r
Tap ɾ
Approximant l j

Notes:

Allophonic variation

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 [ʁ] 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. The actual realisation is usually that of a voiced stop [ɢ], but a voiced fricative [ɣ]~[ʁ] is common intervocalically. 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).

Some Iranian speakers show a similar merger of ج and ژ, such that [d͡ʒ] alternates with [ʒ], with the latter being restricted to intervocalic position.

Some speakers front /h/ to a voiceless palatal fricative [ç] in the vicinity of /i/, especially in syllable-final position. The velar/uvular fricatives are never fronted in such a way.

The flap /ɾ/ has a trilled allophone [r] at the beginning of a word;[13] otherwise, they contrast between vowels wherein a trill occurs as a result of gemination (doubling) of [ɾ], especially in loanwords of Arabic origin. Only [ɾ] occurs before and after consonants; in word-final position, it is usually a free variation between a flap or a trill when followed by a consonant or a pause, but flap is more common, only flap before vowel-initial words. 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/, and the uvular nasal [ɴ] before /q/.

/f, s, ʃ, x/ may be voiced to, respectively, [v, 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

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

Phoneme Persian alphabet Tajik alphabet Example
/b/ ب б /bæɾɒːˈdær/   برادر бародар 'brother'
/p/ پ п /peˈdær/   پدر падар 'father'
/t/ ت, ط т /tɒː/   تا то 'until'
/d/ د д /duːst/   دوست дӯст 'friend'
/k/ ک к /keʃˈvær/   کشور кишвар 'country'
/ɡ/ گ г /ɡoˈɾuːh/   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 /feˈʃɒːr/   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, including /ʔ/ and /h/, can be geminated, often in words from Arabic. This is represented in the IPA either by doubling the consonant, سیّد саййид [sejˈjed], or with the length marker ⟨ː⟩, [seˈjːed].[15][16]

Phonotactics

Syllable structure

Syllables may be structured as (C)(S)V(S)(C(C)).[13][17]

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:

Word accent

The Persian word-accent has been described as a stress accent by some,[18] and as a pitch accent by others.[19] 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.[20][21]

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 /keˈtɒ́bæm/ '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'.[20][21]

When two words are joined in an اضافه ezafe construction, they can either be pronounced accentually as two separate words, e.g. مردم اینجا /mærˈdóme 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: /mærˈdome inˈd͡ʒɒ́/. Words also become deaccented following a focused word; for example, in the sentence نامه‌ی مامانم بود رو میز /nɒˈmeje mɒˈmɒnæm 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.[20]

Knowing the rules for the correct placement of the accent is essential for proper pronunciation.[22]

  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 /ˈtʃerɒ/ ('why'), اگر /ˈæɡær/ ('if'), مرسی /ˈmersi/ ('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'), /-rɒ/ 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-/;
    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 (/-tær/, /-tærin/), 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/ دیده‌ام /diːˈdæm/ 'I have seen'
/ˈdiːdæm/ دیدم /ˈdiːdæm/ 'I saw'

Colloquial Iranian Persian

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:[22][23]

Example

Broad IPA Transcription Persian script Cyrillic script Gloss
/jek ˈruz ˈbɒde ʃoˈmɒlo xoɾˈʃid bɒhæm dæʔˈvɒ ˈmikæɾdænd ke koˈdɒm jek ɢæviˈtæɾ æst/[1] یک روز باد شمال و خورشید با هم دعوا می‌کردند که کدام یک قویتر است Як рӯз боди шимолу хуршед бо ҳам даъво мекарданд ки кадом як қавитар аст. One day the North Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger.

Notes

  1. ^ a b Eastern Persian refers to the Dari and Tajik languages or dialects, especially when contrasted with "Western Persian", i.e "Iranian Persian"

References

  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. Vol. 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 (ed.). 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 (eds.). 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. ^ Hansen, B. B., & Myers, S. 2017. "The consonant length contrast in Persian: Production and perception". Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 47, 183–205.
  17. ^ Jahani, Carina (2005). "The Glottal Plosive: A Phoneme in Spoken Modern Persian or Not?". In Éva Ágnes Csató; Bo Isaksson; Carina Jahani (eds.). Linguistic Convergence and Areal Diffusion: Case studies from Iranian, Semitic and Turkic. London: RoutledgeCurzon. pp. 79–96. ISBN 0-415-30804-6.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Abolhasanizadeh, Vahideh, Mahmood Bijankhan, & Carlos Gussenhoven, 2012. "The Persian pitch accent and its retention after the focus", Lingua 122, 13.
  20. ^ a b c Sadat-Tehrani, Nima, 2007. "The Intonational Grammar of Persian". Ph.D. Thesis, University of Manitoba, pp.3, 22, 46-47, 51.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ a b Mace, John (2003). Persian Grammar: For reference and revision. London: RoutledgeCurzon. ISBN 0-7007-1695-5.
  23. ^ 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.