The syllable structure in Persian is CV(C)(C). “C” stands for a consonant and “V” stands for a vowel or diphthong. CV(C)(C) means that Persian has only three syllable patterns: CV, CVC and CVCC. The second component of a syllable is always a vowel (or a diphthong). Each syllable has only one vowel sound. Therefore, each vowel indicates a syllable.
Syllables always begin with a consonant sound. According to Persian phonology, vowels that occur at the beginning of a syllable are articulated with a glottal stop. Therefore, even syllables that begin with a vowel in writing, have a preceding glottal stop merged with their sound in articulation. For example, “u” is actually articulated “øu” and “ârd” is pronounced “øârd”.
The consonant sound at the beginning of a syllable is called an “onset”. Since all syllables begin with a consonant, it can be said that in Persian, syllables always have an onset. Some languages including English, allow multi-consonant onsets like “pr-” and “spl-”. Until Middle Persian, such consonant clusters were found in the language but New Persian restricts onsets to be only a single consonant. New Persian resolves multi-consonant onsets by inserting a vowel. For example, Middle Persian “spêd” (white) has become “sepîd” (سپید) in New Persian. As another example, the loanword “stadium” has transformed into “estâdiyom” (استادیوم) in Persian.
Nucleus and Coda
The vowel or diphthong in the middle of a syllable is called a “nucleus”. In Persian, the nucleus is always the second element of a syllable. The “coda” is the consonant sound or sounds of a syllable that follow the nucleus. According to the syllable structure of Persian i.e. CV(C)(C), syllables consist of only an onset and a nucleus with no coda, or an onset, a nucleus and a coda. This means that:
- Onset and nucleus are mandatory.
- Syllables consisting of only a nucleus (i.e. “V”) do not exist.
- Syllables without an onset do not exist.
- Coda is not mandatory. “CV” is a coda-less syllable pattern.
Open and Closed Syllables
A coda-less syllable i.e. a syllable ending in a vowel or diphthong, is called an “open syllable”. A syllable that has a coda i.e. a syllable ending in a consonant, is called a “closed syllable”. Persian has one pattern for open syllables (CV) and two patterns for closed syllables (CVC and CVCC). In speech, there is a tendency to convert closed syllables into open syllables by inserting a vowel. For example, پیرزن “pîrzan” (pîr-zan) is usually pronounced “pîrezan” (pî-re-zan) and مهربان “mehrbân” (mehr-bân) is usually pronounced “mehrabân” (meh-ra-bân).
According to Persian’s syllable structure CV(C)(C), each vowel indicates a syllable. Therefore, adjacent vowels fall into separate syllables and are pronounced individually.