Kyrgyz phonology

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This article is about the phonology and phonetics of the Kyrgyz language.


File:Kyrgyz stem vowel space.svg
A formant chart showing the stem vowel space of Kyrgyz. From Washington (2007:10).
Kyrgyz vowel phonemes[1]
Front Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close i y ɯ u
Mid e ø o
Open (a) ɑ
  • Notes on vowel quality:
    • Kyrgyz vowel space is different in affixes and stems. Washington (2007) describes the former as more typical and more condensed.[2]
    • All rounded vowels are more back than their unrounded counterparts.[2]
    • In stem vowel space, the main difference between /e/ and /i/ is that the latter is more back. In affix vowel space, they can have the same backness, and differ by height.[2]
  • /a/ appears only in borrowings from Persian or when followed by a front vowel later in the word (regressive assimilation), e.g. /ajdøʃ/ 'sloping' instead of */ɑjdøʃ/. This vowel is excluded from normal vowel harmony rules.[3] Note that in most dialects, its status as a vowel distinct from /ɑ/ is questionable.[4]
  • /i, y, u, e, ø, o/ are sometimes transcribed /ɪ, ʏ, ʊ, ɛ, œ, ɔ/.[5]
  • The sequence of any vowel and the consonant /z/ is pronounced as a long vowel with falling pitch.[6]
  • In colloquial speech, word-final vowels are dropped when the next word begins with a vowel.[7]


Kyrgyz consonant phonemes[8]
Labial Dental/
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless (t͡s) t͡ʃ
voiced d͡ʒ
Fricative voiceless (f) s ʃ (x)
voiced (v) z
Approximant l j
Trill r
  • /n, l, r/ are alveolar, whereas /t, d, t͡s, s, z/ are dental.[8]
  • /ŋ, k, ɡ, x/ are velar, whereas /j/ is palatal.[8]
    • /k, ɡ/ are palatal [c, ɟ] in words with front vowels, and velar [k, ɡ] in words with back vowels.[9]
      • Word-initial [c] is often voiced [ɟ].[10]
      • In loanwords from Persian and Arabic, palatal [c, ɟ] are always followed by front vowels, whereas velar [k, ɡ] are always followed by back vowels, regardless of the vowel harmony.[9]
      • Word-final and word-initial /k/ is voiced to [ɡ] when it is surrounded by vowels or the consonants /m, n, ŋ, l, r, j/.[7]
  • /f, v, t͡s, x/ occur only in foreign borrowings.[8]
  • In colloquial speech:
    • /b/ is lenited to [w] after /l, r, j/ or between vowels.[7]
    • /t͡ʃ/ is deaffricated to [ʃ] before voiceless consonants.[7]
    • Intervocalic /s/ can be voiced to [z].[7]
    • Word-final /z/ is often devoiced to [s].[7]

The consonant phonemes /k, ɡ, ŋ/ have uvular realisations [q, ɢ, ɴ] in back vowel contexts (before back vowels). In front-vowel environments, /ɡ/ is fricativised to [ɣ] between continuants, and in back vowel environments both /k/ and /ɡ/ fricativise to [χ] and [ʁ]. Additionally, the liquid /l/ is velarized [ɫ] in back vowel contexts. Other consonants have slightly different realisations in front- versus back-vowel contexts and when between continuants or not, but these are the clearest examples.


Recent loanwords often retain their original stress.[11]

Desonorisation and devoicing

In Kyrgyz, suffixes beginning with /n/ show desonorisation of the /n/ to [d] after consonants (including /j/), and devoicing to [t] after voiceless consonants; e.g. the definite accusative suffix -NI patterns like this: кемени ('the boat'), айды ('the month'), торду ('the net'), колду ('the hand'), таңды ('the dawn'), көздү ('the eye'), башты ('the head').

Suffixes beginning with /l/ also show desonorisation and devoicing, though only after consonants of equal or lower sonority than /l/, e.g. the plural suffix -LAr patterns like this: кемелер ('boats'), айлар ('months'), торлор ('nets'), колдор ('hands'), таңдар ('dawns'), көздөр ('eyes'), баштар ('heads'). Other /l/-initial suffixes, such as -LA, a denominal verbal suffix, and -LUU, a denominal adjectival suffix, may surface either with /l/ or /d/ after /r/; e.g. тордо-/торло- ('to net/weave'), түрдүү/түрлүү ('various').

See Kyrgyz language#Case for more examples.


  1. Kara (2003), p. 10.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Washington (2007), p. 10.
  3. Washington (2007), p. 11.
  4. Washington (2006b), p. 2.
  5. For example by Washington (2006a)
  6. Washington (2007), p. 12.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Kara (2003), p. 16.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Kara (2003), p. 11.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Kara (2003), p. 14.
  10. Kara (2003), pp. 14, 16.
  11. Washington (2006c), pp. 2–3.


Further reading

  • Kirchner, Mark (1998), "21 Kirghiz", in Johanson, Lars; Csató, Eva Á. (eds.), The Turkic Languages, Taylor & Francis, pp. 344–356, ISBN 978-0415412612<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Linebaugh, Gary Dean (2007), " Tatar, Kyrgyz, and Yakut", Phonetic Grounding and Phonology: Vowel Backness Harmony and Vowel Height Harmony, ProQuest, pp. 121–123, ISBN 978-0549340874<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Washington, Jonathan North (2009), Insights on Coda Cluster Phonology in Kazakh and Kyrgyz from a Split-Margin Approach (PDF)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>