Phonology

 

1.1     Phonetics

1.1.1     Consonant Chart

Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosives p, b d, t k, g
Affricates tƒS, dƒZ
Fricatives B (f, v)[1] T, D (s, z)[2] S, Z x, Ä h
Nasals m n N
Lateral approximants,

Flaps & trills

l R, r
Central Approximants w j

 

Aspiration has not been shown. Neither has velarisation or palatalisation of [l].

NB utterance-final consonants are unreleased e.g. Myrat! [mµ’RAt|].

 

1.1.2     Vowel Chart

Front Central Back
UR R UR R UR R
Close i, iù y, yù µ, µù u, uù
Close-mid
Open-mid E ¿, ¿ù , ù
Open A, Aù

 

See the Introduction for a description of vowel harmony.

From this point forward all phonemes will be written as per the orthography, rather than according to the IPA. Please see 2.4 The Turkmen Alphabet for a comparison of the two ways of writing Turkmen phonemes.

 

 

1.2     The Turkmen Orthography, with Pronunciation Guide

The Cyrillic orthography was based on its Russian counterpart. The latest orthography is based on a Roman script. The following shows the two alphabets, and then the International Phonetic Alphabet symbols used to represent the sounds produced.

Latin Cyrillic IPA Notes
A a А а A As in “catch” (approximately)
B b Б б b, B Becomes a fricative (softens) mid word or phrase
Ç ç Ч ч tƒS “ch” in English as in chart or chin
D d Д д d
E e Э э, Е е E As in “egg”. See below for Cyrillic E, e
Ä ä Ә ә As in “air” but with hump of tongue further forward
F f Ф ф f
G g Г г g, Ä Fricative mid-utterance. Front or back velar depending on vowels.
H h Х х x, h Usually a central fricative as in “loch“. Uvular – see “g”
I i И и i As in “feet”
J j Җ җ dƒZ “j” in “joke”
Ž ž Ж ж Z Used mostly in loan-words e.g. the Arabic sežd. Pronounced as in “vision”.
K k К к kH, k Front or back velar depending on surrounding vowels. See “p” for k vs. kH.
L l Л л lJ, lì Palatised with front vowels, velarised with back ones.
M m М м m
N n Н н n
Ň ň Ң ң N “ng” as in “sing
O o О о  As in “off”
Ö ö Ө ө ¿ As in the French oeuf
P p П п pH, p At the beginning of a word it is “breathy”, mid-word not.
R r Р р R, r When there are two “r”s the flap becomes a trill e.g. garry
S s С с, Ц ц T, s Teke, Chärjew versions respectively
Ş ş Ш ш S “sh” (assimilates to front and back vowels)
T t Т т tH, t
U u У у u As in “rule”
Ü ü Ү ү y As in German “über”
W w В в w
Y y Ы ы µ Further back than the Russian 61, but closer (tongue to palate)
Ý ý Й й j The first sound in “yacht”
Z z З з D, z Teke, Chärdjew versions respectively
(Ýe, ýe) Е е je, e Can also be [E, e] in Latin – when not word initial or following ъ. Part of
(Ýo, ýo) Ё ё Cyrillic but not Latin alphabet, these characters are
(Ýu, ýu) Ю ю ju mostly represented by two letters in the Latin alphabet, and are
(Ýa, ýa) Я я jA pronounced differently from the same characters in Russian.
(Ş ş) Щ щ SÊù Pronounced (in Russian) like a long, soft ш. Hardly ever [SÊtS] any more.
ь  J Soft sign (palatalises previous consonant) e.g. -тъ is pronounced [tJ]
ъ Hard sign (treat next vowel separately) e.g. весъет [wesjet]

 

Notes: Any of the vowels can be either short or long. This difference usually gives the word a different meaning.

Both “b” and “g” change when in the middle of a word. They are pronounced as “w” and [Ä] respectively. The latter is one of the sounds of Dutch, or like the “ch” in “loch” only with the voice box vibrating. The former is hardly rounded at all.

A “fricative” is made by forcing air through a restricted opening in the mouth e.g. f, v, s, z in English are all fricatives.

“Back velar” means further back in the throat. “Velar” is where k and g are often pronounced in English (e.g. “sack”).

A “back” vowel is one where the hump of the tongue is in the back of the throat e.g. o in English.

A “flap” is one brief movement of the tongue up to the alveolar ridge (above teeth). A “trill” is a rolled r as in Scottish English.

The “Teke” tribe is split into two halves, based in Mari (Merv) and the Ahal Welayat respectively. The “Teke” sounds are like the English “th” in either “thin” or “this”, or a lisped s or z respectively. Other tribes e.g. the Yomut and ärsary also ‘lisp’ these sounds, but not as strongly.

 

 

 

1.3     Vowel Harmony

Vowel harmony is very important in the Turkmen language. The sixteen vowels can be divided into eight front and eight back vowels, which can be further subdivided into rounded and unrounded vowels. See the chart below:

Vowel Harmony chart:

Position Front Back
Rounding UR R UR R UR = Unrounded, R = Rounded
Close i, iý ü, üý y, (y:) u, (u:)
Open-mid or Open e, ä ö, (ö:) a, (a:) o, (o:)

‘iý’ is approximately twice as long as ‘i’, for example

NB length is not marked in the Turkmen orthography, except in the case of e and ä, i and iý and ü and üý, which are always short and always long respectively. The alphabet has only nine vowels: i, e, ä, ü, ö, y, a, u, and o. Consonants are affected by their surrounding vowels, so kaka is pronounced using back velars, wheras köke has front velars.

Most Turkmen words have either only front or only back vowels, and suffixes always have two forms so that they too are in “harmony” with the stem (compare “hammer” and “bird” in the table below). Also any rounding in the stem tends to carry over into the suffixes in most dialects of Turkmen. Therefore there are really four forms of each suffix in spoken Turkmen, and in some cases in written Turkmen. Lack of space precludes the inclusion of rules describing the orthography and corresponding spoken forms, which vary from dialect to dialect[3]. We will largely ignore the rounding/unrounding vowel harmony except when it affects written Turkmen e.g. see the genitive case marker for the word guş below.

Loan words, such as kitap (Arabic), and word combinations do not always follow the vowel harmony rules, but any suffixes following the root follow the form of the last vowel as far as front-back vowel harmony is concerned e.g. kitabyndan – from his book. Notice that although i is a front vowel all the suffixes follow a in having back vowels. Other examples:

Turkmen word Gloss Example
magazin shop magaziniňden – from your shop
dükan shop dükana – to the shop
betbagt unlucky betbagtçylyk – disaster
ok-däri ammunition olaryň ok-därisi – their ammunition

 

Vowel length

Any vowel except e/ä can be pronounced in either its short or long form, and it is important distinguish between them as there are many minimal pairs eg. ot [ot] means “grass”, but ot [o:t] means “fire”. A Turkmen mother-tongue speaker usually has little problem in guessing a word according to its context, but the lack of differentiation between long and short vowels in the orthography is very confusing to someone attempting to learn the language. It is vital, therefore, that the language learner find a good language resource person who is able to pronounce the words correctly according to one of the main dialects, and it is equally important that the language learner focus on listening and speaking before reading and writing skills.

1.4     Stress

Stress is usually on the last syllable of the root, when pronounced in isolation. It is easy for mother-tongue English speakers to confuse stress and length e.g. bägül [bä:’gül] – rose – has an unstressed lengthened first syllable and a short, but stressed, second syllable. Avoid saying [‘bä:gül], which might be misunderstood. With the addition of affixes of any kind, the stress is on the last syllable, except in the case of words with the question particle –mi, the plural imperative marker –yň/iň and one or two other affixes. e.g:

garawul gara’wul garawuldan garawul’dan
garaňky garaň’ky garaňkylyk garaňkylyg’yň
abadanlaşdyrmak abadanlaşdyr’mak abadanlaşdyrdyk abadanlaşdyr’dyk
tamamlamak tamamla’mak tamamladyňmy? tamamla’dyňmy
barmak bar’mak baryň! ‘baryň

[1] Only used when a Russian load-word is pronounced with a Russian accent.

[2] Most dialects do not use these sounds unless for a Russian loan word pronounced with a Russian accent. The inhabitants of Chärjew, however, use them in place of the inter-dental fricatives T, D.

[3] For futher information see Clark:98:79f who describes how this works out in practice for the largest tribe, the Teke.