Kurdish phonology


Kurdish phonology is the sound system of the Kurdish dialect continuum. This article includes the phonology of the three Kurdish varieties in their respective standard descriptions. Phonological features include the distinction between aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stops, and the large phoneme inventories.[1][2]


Geographic distribution of Kurdish and Zaza–Gorani[3]

Consonant phonemes[1][4][5]
Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
plain velar. plain labial. plain labial. plain labial.
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless asp. t͡ʃʰ
vcls. unasp. p t t͡ʃ k q ʔ
voiced b d d͡ʒ ɡ ɡʷ
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ x ħ h
voiced v z ʒ ɣ ɣʷ ʕ
Approximant l ɫ j ɥ w
Rhotic ɾ r
  • /n, t, d/ are laminal denti-alveolar [, , ], while /s, z/ are dentalized laminal alveolar [, ],[6] pronounced with the blade of the tongue very close to the back of the upper front teeth, with the tip resting behind lower front teeth.
  • Kurdish contrasts plain alveolar /l/ and velarized postalveolar[7] /ɫ/ lateral approximants. Unlike in English, the sounds are separate phonemes rather than allophones.[8]
  • Postvocalic /d/ is lenited to an approximant [ð̞]. This is a regional feature occurring in other Iranian languages as well and called by Windfuhr the "Zagros d".[9]
  • Kurdish has two rhotic sounds; the alveolar flap (/ɾ/) and the alveolar trill (/r/). While the former is alveolar, the latter has an alveo-palatal articulation.[10]

Kurmanji Kurdish

  • Distinguishes between aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stops, which can be aspirated in all positions. Thus /p/ contrasts with /pʰ/, /t/ with /tʰ/, /k/ with /kʰ/, and the affricate /t͡ʃ/ with /t͡ʃʰ/.[2][8][11]
  • Although [ɥ] is considered an allophone of /w/, some phonologists argue that it should be considered a phoneme.[12]

Sorani Kurdish

  • According to Hamid (2015), /x, xʷ, ɣ, ɣʷ/ are uvular [χ, χʷ, ʁ, ʁʷ].[13]
  • Distinguishes between the plain /s/ and /z/ and the velarized /sˠ/ and /zˠ/.[14][15] These velarized counterparts are less emphatic[clarification needed] than the Semitic emphatic consonants.[15]

Southern Kurdish

  • [ɲ] is an allophone of /n/, occurring in the about 11 to 19 words that have the consonant group ⟨nz⟩. The word yânza is pronounced as [jɑːɲzˠa].[16]


  • Kurdish has labialized counterparts to the velar plosives, the voiceless velar fricative and the uvular stop. Thus /k/ contrasts with /kʷ/, /ɡ/ with /ɡʷ/, /x/ with /xʷ/, and /q/ with /qʷ/.[17] These labialized counterparts do not have any distinct letters or digraph. Examples are the word xulam ('servant') which is pronounced as [xʷɪˈlɑːm], and qoç ('horn') is pronounced as [qʷɨnd͡ʒ].[18]


  • After /ɫ/, /t/ is palatalized to [tʲ]. An example is the Central Kurdish word gâlta ('joke'), which is pronounced as [gɑːɫˈtʲæ].[8]
  • /k/ and /ɡ/ are strongly palatalized before the front vowels /i/ and /e/ as well as [ɥ], becoming acoustically similar to /t͡ʃ/ and /d͡ʒ/.[2]
  • When preceding /n/, /s, z/ are palatalized to /ʒ/. In the same environment, /ʃ/ also becomes /ʒ/.[19]


  • In some cases, /p, t, k, s, z/ are pharyngealized to [pˤ, tˤ, kˤ, sˤ, zˤ]. For example, the word sed/ṣed is pronounced as [ˈsˤɛd][8][4][20]
  • Furthermore, while [fˤ] and [ɡˤ] are unique to Central Kurdish,[5] Kurmanji has [t͡ʃˤ].[21]

Consonants in loanwordsEdit

  • /ɣ/ is a phoneme that is almost exclusively present in words of Arabic origin. It is often replaced by /x/ in colloquial Kurdish. Thus the word xerîb/ẍerîb ('stranger', /ɣɛˈriːb/) may occur as either [xɛˈriːb] or [ɣɛˈriːb].[22]
  • /ʕ/ only occurs in words of Arabic origin, mostly in word-initial position.[23]
  • /ʔ/ is mainly present in Arabic loanwords and it affects the pronunciation of adjacent vowels. The use of the glottal stop in everyday Kurdish may be seen as an effort to highlight its Arabic source.[24]


The vowel inventory differs by variety, some dialect having more vowel phonemes than others. The vowels /iː ʊ uː ɛ eː oː ɑː/ are the only phonemes present in all three Kurdish varieties.

Vowel phonemes[25][26]
  Front Central Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded

Close-mid øː
Open-mid ɛ
Open a ɑː

Detailed tableEdit

Grapheme Phoneme
Kurmanji[27] Central[28] Southern[29][30]
a ɑː a a[31]
â ɑː ɑː[32]
e ɛ ɛ ɛ
i ɪ ɪ ɨ[33]
o o
ö øː[34]
u ʊ ʊ ʊ[35]
ü ʉː[36]


  • In Central Kurdish, /a/ is realized as [æ], except before /w/ where it becomes mid-centralized to [ə]. For example, the word gawra ('big') is pronounced as [ɡəwˈɾæ].[37]
  • /ɪ/ is realized as [ɨ] in certain environments.[26][38][39]
  • In some words, /ɪ/ and /u/ are realized as [ɨ]. This allophone occurs when ⟨i⟩ is present in a closed syllable that ends with /m/ and in some certain words like dims ('molasses'). The word vedixwim ('I am drinking') is thus pronounced as [vɛdɪˈxʷɨm],[38] while dims is pronounced as [dɨms].[40]

Vowels in loanwordsEdit

  • /øː/ occurs in numerous dialects of Central Kurdish where it is represented by wê/وێ, as well as in Southern Kurdish, represented by ⟨ö⟩. In Kurmanji, it is only present in loanwords from Turkish, where it often merges with /oː/. The word öks (from Turkish ökse meaning 'clayish mud') is pronounced as either [øːks] or [oːks].[41]

Glides and diphthongsEdit

The glides [w], [j], and [ɥ] appear in syllable onsets immediately followed by a full vowel. All combinations except the last four are present in all three Kurdish dialects.

IPA Spelling Example Word Dialect Group
Kurmanji Central Southern
[əw] aw şaw[42] [ˈʃəw] 'night' (Central Kurdish)      
[ɑːw] âw çaw[42] [ˈt͡ʃɑːw] 'eye' (Central Kurdish)      
[ɑːj] ây çay[42] [ˈt͡ʃɑːj] 'tea'      
[ɛw] ew kew[43] [ˈkɛw] 'partridge'      
[ɛj] ey peynja[42] [pɛjˈnʒæ]
[oːj] oy birôyn[42] [bɪˈɾoːjn] 'let's go' (Central Kurdish)      
[uːj] ûy çûy[42] [ˈt͡ʃuːj] 'went' (Central Kurdish)      
[ɑːɥ] a da[12] [ˈdɑːɥ] 'ogre' (Southern Kurdish)      
[ʉːɥ] ü küa[12] [ˈkʉːɥɑː] 'mountain' (Southern Kurdish)      
[ɛɥ] e tela[12] [tɛɥˈlɑː] 'stable' (Southern Kurdish)      
[ɥɑː] a dat[12] [dɥɑːt] 'daughter' (Southern Kurdish)      


  1. ^ a b Khan & Lescot (1970), pp. 3–7.
  2. ^ a b c Haig & Matras (2002), p. 5.
  3. ^ The map shown is based on a map published by Le Monde Diplomatique in 2007.
  4. ^ a b Thackston (2006a), pp. 1–2.
  5. ^ a b Asadpour & Mohammadi (2014), p. 109.
  6. ^ Khan & Lescot (1970), p. 5.
  7. ^ Sedeeq (2017), p. 82.
  8. ^ a b c d Rahimpour & Dovaise (2011), p. 75.
  9. ^ Windfuhrt (2012), p. 597.
  10. ^ Rahimpour & Dovaise (2011), pp. 75–76.
  11. ^ Campbell & King (2000), p. 899.
  12. ^ a b c d e Fattahi, Anonby & Gheitasi (2016).
  13. ^ Hamid (2015), p. 18.
  14. ^ McCarus (1958), pp. 12.
  15. ^ a b Fattah (2000), pp. 96–97.
  16. ^ Fattah (2000), pp. 97–98.
  17. ^ Gündoğdu (2016), pp. 61–62.
  18. ^ Gündoğdu (2016), p. 65.
  19. ^ "Kurdish language i. History of the Kurdish language". Iranicaonline. Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  20. ^ Thackston (2006b), pp. 2–4.
  21. ^ Thackston (2006b), p. 2.
  22. ^ Khan & Lescot (1970), p. 6.
  23. ^ Asadpour & Mohammadi (2014), p. 114.
  24. ^ Sedeeq (2017), pp. 80, 105–106.
  25. ^ Khan & Lescot (1970), pp. 8–16.
  26. ^ a b Thackston (2006a), p. 1.
  27. ^ Thackston (2006b), pp. 1–2.
  28. ^ Thackston (2006a), p. 7.
  29. ^ Fattah (2000), pp. 110–122.
  30. ^ Soane (1922), pp. 193–202.
  31. ^ Fattah describes the sound as a voyelle brève antérieure ou centrale non arrondie (p. 119).
  32. ^ Fattah describes the sound as a voyelle longue postérieure, d'aperture maximale, légèrement nasalisée. (p. 110)
  33. ^ Fattah describes the sound as being the voyelle ultra-brève centrale très légèrement arrondie (p. 120).
  34. ^ Fattah describes the sound as being the voyelle longue d'aperture minimale centrale arrondie (p. 114).
  35. ^ Fattah describes the sound as being the voyelle postérieure arrondie (p. 111).
  36. ^ Fattah describes the sound as being voyelle longue centrale arrondie (p. 116).
  37. ^ Thackston (2006a), p. 3.
  38. ^ a b Thackston (2006b), p. 1.
  39. ^ Gündoğdu (2016), p. 62.
  40. ^ Gündoğdu (2016), p. 61.
  41. ^ Khan & Lescot (1970), p. 16.
  42. ^ a b c d e f Rahimpour & Dovaise (2011), p. 77.
  43. ^ Asadpour & Mohammadi (2014), p. 107.


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