In this section the phonological structure of Persian is discussed.
First, the general vocalic characteristics of Persian are explained. Following that, the vocalic system of Persian is discussed, including the long vowels and short vowels, diphthongs, and two special consonants. (To hear all the consonants pronounced, see the alphabet page in The Writing System).
Basically there are 32 consonants and 6 vowels in Persian: three short vowels a, e, o, and three long vowels ā, ū, ī. In addition, there are 4 diphthongs.
Make a note of the following points:
As far as the vowels are concerned, in different Persian dialects the same vowel may have different variations, according to the dialectal regions (as follows: Persian del ‘heart’ ~ Dari Persian dil). But as a general rule:
(1) the Modern Persian /i/ is always a high front vowel /ī/ (very close to [-ee-] in ‘cheese’ and [-ea-] in ‘please’); it is never a central /i/(as the /i/ in “sit”); and
(2) the Modern Persian /u/ is always a long /ū/, very close to the [-oo-] in “tool”, but without the off-glide.
Hence, if not trained, a Persian’s ear would never distinguish an [i] from an [ee], [ea]; or [u] from [oo] or [ou].
In other words, without enough knowledge of English, a Persian would pronounce both ‘sit’ and ‘seat’ as sīt, ‘bin’ and ‘bean’ as bīn, ‘knit’ and ‘neat’ as nīt, ‘pull’ and ‘pool’ as pūl, and so forth. If the /u/ is an open-mid back, as in ‘tub,’ then it is pronounced as [ā]; hence, tāb. In addition, unlike English, the terminal liquids (that is, /l/ and /r/) are not weak in Persian. Compare and contrast English ‘car’ with Persian kār ‘work; deed,’ English ‘pull’ with Persian pūl ‘money.’ A non-Iranian student should practice extensively, using the accompanying audio links to master the vocalic articulations of Persian.
In Persian, there is no gliding in the articulation of /a/ (as in ‘cat’), /e/ (as in ‘forte’), and /o/ (as in ‘bold’). These vowels must be pronounced respectively as /á/, /é/, and /ó/. More over, /o/ is never pronounced as an open back (as in the English ‘top’); it is always a close-mid back, close to the [o] in the English ‘more’ and the French bol ‘bowl, basin.’
Medial and final alef by default is a long [ā]; for instance, کار kār ‘work, job; deed,’ کجا kojā ‘where?’ In this case the madd is not used, for madd is only used initially; that is, at the beginning of a syllable, whether the syllable is initial, medial, or final. In the middle of a word, however, madd only occurs in words of Arabic origin; such as:
‘air and style; resort’
This is usually used in compounds to express manner; e.g., فرنگی مآب farangī-ma’āb ‘having the air of, or imitating Europeans (Westerners, in general).’