The three vowels , and are traditionally referred to as 'short' vowels and the other three (, 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. [se'd?:] 'sound', [xo'd?:] '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 /i:/ as well. Otherwise the 'short' and 'long' vowels are all pronounced long. Example: [se?f't?æ:r] 'firmer'.
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, sometimes in formal situations also. Thus [de'vi:st] 'two hundred' becomes [di'vi:st], ? [?o'lu:?] 'crowded' becomes [?u'lu:?], [ræsi:'dæ:n] 'to arrive' becomes [resi:'dæ:n] and so on.
Word-final /o/ is rare except for /to/ ('you' [singular]) and nouns of foreign origin, and word-final /æ/ is very rare in Iranian Persian, an exception being /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. The short vowel [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?, ?i?, oi?, ui?/, others list only /ei?/ 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 both are written with ? and ? respectively.
For Western Persian:
|Phoneme (in IPA)||Letter||Romanization||Example(s)|
|, ? ,;||?||/t?:/ "until"|
|? ,;||?||/?i:r/ "milk"|
|,;||o||/to/ "you" (singular)|
The variety of Afghanistan has also preserved these two Classic Persian vowels:
Early New Persian inherited from Middle Persian eight vowels: three short i, a, u and five long ?, ?, ?, ?, ? (in IPA: /i a u/ and /i: e: a: o: u:/). 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 > ; u > ; ? > . These quality contrasts have in modern Persian varieties become the main distinction between the two sets of vowels.
In Western Persian, two of the vowel contrasts have been lost: those between the tense mid and close vowels. Thus ?, ? have merged as , while ?, ? have merged as . In addition, the lax close vowels have been lowered: i > , u > ; this vowel change also happened in Dari. The lax open vowel has become fronted: a > , and in word-final position further raised to . Modern Iranian Persian does not feature distinctive vowel length.
In both varieties ? is more or less labialized, as well as raised in Dari. Dari ? 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, ? have merged as , and u, ? have merged as . The other tense back vowels have shifted as well. Mid ? has shifted front: or , a vowel usually romanized as ?. Open ? has been labialized and raised to an open-mid vowel .
Loanwords from Arabic generally undergo these changes as well.
|Early New Persian||Dari||Tajiki||Western Persian||Example||Tajik||Romanization||English|
Alveolar stops and are either apical alveolar or laminal denti-alveolar. The voiceless obstruents /p, t, t, 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 , as in ? /'hæstæm/ ('I exist'). They are also aspirated at the end of syllables, although not as strongly.
In Classical Persian, the uvular consonants ? and ? denoted the original Arabic phonemes, the fricative and the plosive , 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 ? and ?. The actual realisation is usually that of a voiced stop , but a voiced fricative ~ is common intervocalically. The classic pronunciations of ? and ? 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 ? and ?, such that alternates with , with the latter being restricted to intervocalic position.
Some speakers front to a voiceless palatal fricative in the vicinity of , especially in syllable-final position. The velar/uvular fricatives are never fronted in such a way.
The flap 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 [?], especially in loanwords of Arabic origin. Only [?] 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 also occurs as an allophone of /?/ before /t, d, s, z, ?, l, ?/; [?] is sometimes in free variation with [?] in these and other positions, such that ('Persian') is pronounced [f?:?'si:] or [f?:?'si:] and ('scarlet') [sæ?e?'l?:t] or [sæ?e?'l?:t]. /r/ is sometimes realized as a long approximant [?:].
/f, s, ?, x/ may be voiced to, respectively, [v, z, ?, ?] before voiced consonants; /n/ may be bilabial before bilabial consonants. Also /b/ may in some cases change into , or even ; for example ('open') may be pronounced [b?:z] as well as [:z] or [v?:z] and/or [v?:], colloquially.
The pronunciation of ? in Classical Persian shifted to 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. ? /xw?b/ ~ [x?b] 'sleep', as Persian has no syllable-initial consonant clusters (see below).
|Phoneme||Persian alphabet||Tajik alphabet||Example|
|?, ?, ?||?||/s?:'je/||?||'shadow'|
|?, ?, ?, ?||?||/?:'z?:d/||?||?||'free'|
In standard Iranian Persian, the consonants and are pronounced identically.
Consonants, including and , can be geminated, often in words from Arabic. This is represented in the IPA either by doubling the consonant, ? [sej'jed], or with the length marker ⟨:⟩, [se'j:ed].
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. ? /ke'tb/ 'book'; unless there is a suffix, in which case the intonation is (L +) H* + L, e.g. /ke'tbæm/ '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. ? /ke'tb bu:d/ 'it was a book'.
When two words are joined in an ezafe construction, they can either be pronounced accentually as two separate words, e.g. ? /mær'dóme in'd?/ 'the people (of) here', or else the first word loses its high tone and the two words are pronounced as a single accentual phrase: /mær'dome in'd?/. Words also become deaccented following a focused word; for example, in the sentence /n?'meje m?'m?næm bud ru miz/ 'it was my mom's letter on the table' all the syllables following the word /m?'m?n/ 'mom' are pronounced with a low pitch.
Knowing the rules for the correct placement of the accent is essential for proper pronunciation.
|/di:'de.æm/ ?||/di:'dæm/||'I have seen'|
|/'di:dæm/ ?||/'di:dæm/||'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:
|Broad IPA Transcription||Persian script||Cyrillic script||Gloss|
|/jek 'ruz 'b?de ?o'm?lo xo?'?id b?hæm dæ?'v? 'mikæ?dænd ke ko'd?m jek ?ævi'tæ? æst/||? ? ? ?||? ? .||One day the North Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger.|