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Yaghnobi Orthography March 17, 2007

Posted by Bahrom in Linguistics, Orthography, Phonology, Yaghnobi.

Yaghnobi is mainly a spoken language with very little modern written literature. I say very little modern written literature since the Yaghnobi language is a descendant of one of the dialects of Sogdian and there was a rich body of written literature in Sogdian. This ancient Sogdian literature is the literarary heritage of the Yaghnobi people.

The two systems that have been used for transcribing Yaghnobi are a Latin phonetic system which was commonly employed by Russian linguists during the Soviet period, and the modified Cyrillic alphabet which is also used for the Tajik language. A comparison of the two systems is shown in this Acrobat (.pdf) file: Cyrillic-IPA-Latin transcription chart. The Tajik Cyrillic alphabet has been used in the Yaghnobi textbooks printed for use in grades 1 – 4 in public schools in Yaghnobi speaking areas of Tajikistan.

The Latin phonetic system has the advantage that it represents each sound of the language with a different symbol, while the Tajik Cyrillic system does not distinguish all of the vowel sounds or the /v/ and /w/ sounds. The main advantage of the Tajik Cyrillic system is that every literate person in Tajikistan already knows this alphabet. From the perspective of those who are trying to preserve the Yaghnobi language and promote literacy in Yaghnobi, it makes more sense to teach children to read Yaghnobi in the Tajik Cyrillic alphabet, than to expect them to learn another alphabet that would not be used outside the small (less than 15,000) Yaghnobi community.

The font I used for IPA and Cyrillic is Dulos SIL. I used Tavultasoft Keyman to remap my keyboard for typing IPA and Tajik Cyrillic. For typing Tajik Cyrillic, I used a Tajik qwerty phonetic keyboard layout.


Mirzoev, Saifiddin. 1998. Yaghnobii Zivok 4 [Yaghnobi Language for grade 4] (Tajik). Dushanbe: Surushon. (С. Мирзозода, Яғнобӣ зивок 4.)

Mirzoev, Saifiddin. 1993. Khonish Kitob 3 [Reading Book for grade 3] (Tajik and Yaghnobi). Dushanbe: Maorif.

Mirzoev, Saifiddin. 1993. Yaghnobii Zivok 2 [Yaghnobi Language for grade 2] (Tajik and Yaghnobi). Dushanbe: Maorif.

Nematov, G. 2004. Yagnnobii Zivoki Aliphbo [Alphabet of the Yaghnobi Language] (Tajik and Yaghnobi). Dushanbe: Davashtich.



1. birdswords - March 18, 2007

I revised the Yaghnobi orthography chart to include the Latin phonetic transcription system used by
Khromov, Anderev, and other Russian linguists. Here is a link to the revised chart:Yaghnobi Orthography chart Cyrillic-IPA-Latin

However, I am unfamiliar with this transcription system and I had some trouble interpreting the equivalencies between some of the vowels in IPA and the Latin system- in particular, ī , y, ʏ, ū in the Latin system. If someone can help me with this I would appreciate it.

2. birdswords - April 9, 2007

I found a book in our university library that I hoped would help me decipher the transcription system used by Andreyev and Khromov:

Pullum, Geoffrey K. and William A. Ladusaw. 1986. Phonetic Symbol Guide. Chicago: Univerisy of Chicago Press.

However, this book does not contain entries for any of the Latin phonetic symbols that I have not been able to correlate to IPA symbols. So, I am still hoping someone can provide this information.

3. آستان - June 21, 2007


I tried to compile a comparative table in order to unify the orthography of Yaghnobi – http://www.gleipni.net/img/transliteration_of_yaghnobi.pdf
in the column UNI there is my “unified orthofraphy”, in the second column there are IPA values (the values given in bracelets are allophones of vowels under certain cirsumstances), third is a try to summarise the history of Yaghnobi-sounds (and not only Yaghnobi, but also words of Tajik, Arabic and Uzbek origin, by historical means transcribed in a way as they were written in Arabic Alphabet), the fourth column is the system used by Sajfiddin Mirzozoda (please note that usage of yaghnobi letters and with or without macron seams to be equal – basically I can say that in Mirzozoda’s system the length is not distinguished, only in some cases the long accented /’i:/ is markes by “i” with macron at the end of a word). The last two columns represent the system used by Khromov and Andreyev-Peshchereva.

I hope this would be a little helpfull.


4. آستان - June 21, 2007

I am sorry, a mistake appeared… I add again the comment to the system of S.Mirzozoda:

… the fourth column is the system used by Sajfiddin Mirzozoda (please note that usage of yaghnobi letters “i” and “u” with or without macron seams to be equal – basically I can say that in Mirzozoda’s system the length is not distinguished, only in some cases the long accented /’i:/ is markes by “i” with macron at the end of a word). …

5. Bahrom - July 17, 2007

Luboss, thanks so much for compiling this table. I’m sorry I’ve taken so long to respond. Between house guests, traveling, and work, I’ve just been too busy!

More work needs to be done on the phonology of contemporary spoken Yaghnobi to identify allophones. For example, I have made acoustic measurements of the vowel length of /i/ in words that were written with a long /i/ and with a short /i/ in the modified Cyrillic system that Saiffidin uses. I could find no consistent difference in the vowel length. Based on this I think that the discrepencies you apparently found in transcription of vowel length could be due to one or more possible factors: 1) Vowel length distinctions may be disappearing in contemporary Yaghnobi. 2) Vowel length may only be distinguished in some dialects of Yaghnobi. 3) Linguists who made previous transcriptions may have misperceived vowel length. For example, Saifiddin definitely felt that certain words had a long /i:/ while others had a short /i/, but I was not able to measure any difference in recordings of his utterance of these words. Perhaps there is some other factor like stress, or vowel quality that accounts for the perception of vowel length.

One last point, I was not able to find any minimal pairs where vowel length alone distinguished one word from another, although Saifiddin maintains that /ish/ ‘this’ and /i:sh/ ‘one of’ have a vowel length distinction. But, even with thes words I was not able to measure this difference.

I need to emphasize that all of these observations are very preliminary and more work needs to be done on the phonetics and phonology of contemporary Yaghnobi. Phonology is not the focus of my study, so hopefully someone else will be able to work on this important aspect of the language.

6. آستان - July 17, 2007


Your comment concerning Yaghnobi vowel length is probably right – according to Sajfiddin’s pronunciation, there is no real distinction of vowel length in present language. Sajfiddin himself said, that vowels /u/ and /i/ have three variants – they can be ultra short, short and long; /a/ is short only and /e/ and /o/ are supposed to be long but length is not as distinctive as I supposed.

In present Yaghnobi main distinction of vowels probably is not length but is seams to be difference in quantity – length is probably a question of stress.

I have also made some recordings and I would like to make the speech analysis to solve the question of Yaghnobi phonology.


7. Bahrom - July 17, 2007


I just added a couple of posts related to Yaghnobi vowels. You will be able to see what I measured for vowel formants and length. I will look forward to seeing what you discover. If you would like recordings of other speakers I have recordings of four other Yaghnbi language consultants that I would be happy to share.


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