The phonology of the Persian language varies between regional dialects, standard varieties, and even from older variates of Persian. Persian is a pluricentric language and countries that have Persian as an official language have separate standard varieties, namely: Standard Dari (Afghanistan), Standard Iranian Persian (Iran) and Standard Tajik (Tajikistan). The most significant differences between standard varieties of Persian are their vowel systems. Standard varieties of Persian have anywhere from 6 to 8 vowel distinctions, and similar vowels may be pronounced differently between standards. However, there are not many notable differences when comparing consonants, as all standard varieties a similar amount of consonant sounds. Though, colloquial varieties generally have more differences than their standard counterparts. Most dialects feature contrastive stress and syllable-final consonant clusters.
|Close mid||e(ː)||ɵ̞ ~ o̞c; o(ː)|
|Open||æb; æ ~ aac||ɑːa; ɒːb|
^a in Dari ^b in Iranian Persian ^c in Tajik ^d unmarked vowels appear in all standard varieties
The graph to the right reflects the vowels of many educated Persian speakers from Tehran.
In Iranian Persian there are three short vowels: /æ/, /e/ and /o/, and three long vowels: /ɒː/, /iː/ and /uː/. 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". 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.
In Dari the short vowels are /a/, /ɪ/ and /ʊ/ in Kabul, however /ɪ/ is pronounced as /ɛ/ in other regions such as Herat. In Dari and Tajik /a/ is the most common vowel and at the end of the word may be pronounced as /æ/.[a] Unlike Iranian Persian, Dari has 5 long vowels /ɑː/, /eː/, /iː/, /oː/, and /uː/. The Dari vowel /ɑː/ and the Iranian vowel /ɒː/ are, respectively, the unrounded and rounded versions of the same vowel. ('roundness' referring to the shape of the lips during pronunciation)
In Iranian Persian 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. /e/ is the most common short vowel that is pronounced in final open syllables.
The status of diphthongs in Persian is disputed. Some authors list /ei, ou, ɒi, oi, ui/, others list only /ej/ and /ou/, but some do not recognize diphthongs in Persian at all. 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). Morphological analysis also supports the view that the alleged Persian diphthongs are combinations of the vowels with /j/ and /w/.
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 [oː] in the colloquial Tehran dialect but is preserved in other Western dialects and standard Iranian Persian.
For Western Persian:
|/æ/||ـَ ,ـَه;||a||/næ/ نَه "no"|
|/ɒː/||ـا, آ ,ىٰ;||ā||/tɒː/ تا "until"|
|/e/||ـِ ,ـِه;||e||/ke/ کِه "that"|
|/iː/||ـِیـ ,ـِی;||ī||/ʃiːr/ شِیر "milk"|
|/o/||ـُ ,ـُوْ;||o||/to/ تُوْ "you" (singular)|
|/uː/||ـُو;||ū||/zuːd/ زُود "early"|
|/ej/||ـَیْ;||ey||/kej/ کَیْ "when?"|
|/ow/||ـَوْ;||ow||/now/ نَوْ "new"|
Eastern Persian varieties (Tajik and Dari) have also preserved these two Classic Persian vowels:
|/eː/||ـی;||ē||/ʃeːɾ/ شیر "lion"|
|/oː/||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.)
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.
The inherited eight-vowel inventory is retained without major upheaval in Dari, which also preserves quantitative distinctions.
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 [iː], while ō, ū have merged as [uː]. 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.
In both varieties, ā is more or less labialized and raised in Dari. Dari ō is also somewhat fronted.
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/ (compare with Canaanite shift). In northern dialects, mid ō (transcribed phonologically as «ӯ» in the Cyrillic script and "ū" 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.
|Early New Persian||Dari||Tajiki||Western Persian||Example||Tajik||Romanization||English|
See also: Tajik vowels
|p b||t d||t͡ʃ d͡ʒ||k ɡ||(q)||ʔ|
|Fricative||f v||s z||ʃ ʒ||x~χ ɣ~ʁ||h|
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. 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'). 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; 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.
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).
|Phoneme||Persian alphabet||Tajik alphabet||Example|
|/s/||س, ص, ث||с||/sɑːˈja/||سایَه||соя||'shadow'|
|/z/||ز, ذ, ض, ظ||з||/ɑːˈzɑːd/||آزاد||озод||'free'|
Before every initial vowel onset a glottal stop /ʔ/ is pronounced (e.g. ایران [ʔiˈɾɒn] ('Iran')).
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 by doubling the consonant, سَیِّد саййид [sejˈjed].
Syllables may be structured as (C)(S)V(S)(C(C)).
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:
The Persian word-accent has been described as a stress accent by some, and as a pitch accent by others. 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.
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'.
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.
Knowing the rules for the correct placement of the accent is essential for proper pronunciation.
|/diːˈde.æm/ دیدهام||/diːˈdæm/||'I have seen'|
|/ˈdiːdæm/ دیدم||/ˈdiːdæm/||'I saw'|
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:
|Persian script||Cyrillic script||Gloss||IPA Transcription|
|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.||/jek ˈruz ˈbɒde ʃoˈmɒlo xoɾˈʃid bɒhæm dæʔˈvɒ ˈmikæɾdænd ke koˈdɒm jek ɢæviˈtæɾ æst/||/jak ɾoːz bɑːd ʃʊˈmɑːlʊ xoɾˈʃiːd bɑːham daʔˈwɑː ˈmeːkaɾdand kɪ kʊˈdɑːm jak qawiːˈtaɾ ast/||/jak ɾɵz bɔd ʃuˈmɔlu xoɾˈʃid bɔham daʔˈvɔ ˈmeːkaɾdand ki kuˈdɔm jak qaviˈtaɾ ast/|