A Handbook of Kyrgyz Grammar/Alphabet

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Sounds and Alphabet[edit | edit source]

Like other Turkic languages of Central Asia (e.g., Kazakh) Kyrgyz uses the Cyryllic (Russian) alphabet. The sounds represented are typically similar to those in Russian, with a few exceptions.

Аа—Like the vowel in English “hall.”
Бб—Like English “b” in “boy.” Between vowels, often like English “w.”
Вв—Like “v”in “void”
Гг—At the beginning of words, like “g” in “grin.” Between vowels, like a cross between “g” and the “h” in hat, or a sort of gurgle like the French “r”.
Дд—Like “d” in “delta” - that is, made with the tongue off of the upper front teeth.
Ее—At the beginning of a word, like the “ye” in “yet.” In the middle or at the end of a word, like the vowel in “let.”
Ёё—A “yo” sound, with a much purer “o” than that typically found in English.
Жж—Like the “j” in “judge.” (In loan words from Russian, like the “ge” in “rouge.”)
Зз—Like the “z” in “zebra.”
Ии—Like the “ee” in “bee.”
Йй—Like the “y” in “buoy.”
Кк—Like the “c” in “cat.”
Лл—Like the “l” in “like.”
Мм—Like the “m” in “make.”
Нн—Like the “n” in “new.”
Ӊӊ—Like the “ng” in “sang.”
Оо—Like the “o” in “bottle.”
Өө—Like the vowel in English “turn,” or, like the German “ö”
Пп—Like the vowel in “speech”—that is, an unaspirated “p.”
Рр—Rolled r, but usually pronounced with just a single flap of the tongue (as in Spanish “pero”)
Сс—Like the “s” in “slip.”
Тт—Like the “t” in “stick” ---- That is, an unaspirated “t.”
Уу—Like the vowel in “flu”
Үү—Like the German “ü”—If you round your lips to say the “u” sound mentioned above, but instead attempt to make the vowel in “mean,” the resulting sound will be at least a very close approximation.
Фф—Like the “f” in “flew.”
Хх—A harsh sound made in the back of the throat, like the German “doch.”
Цц—Like the “ts” in “cats.”
Чч—Like the “ch” in “punch.”
Шш—Like “sh” in “sheet.”
Щщ—A sort of “sh-ch,” like the “shch” in “fish chunks” if it is said quickly.
Ъъ—A short pause.
Ыы—Like the first vowel in “around”
Ьь—A palatization of the preceding consonant.
Ээ—Like the “e” in “let.”
Юю—Like the English word “you.”
Яя—Like the “ya” in “yawn.”

The letters “ц,щ,ъ,and “ь are used only in loan-words taken from Russian. In spite of the differences in some sounds, Russian words are generally pronounced as they sound in Russian (thus, in a Russian word, “Ы sounds more like the “i” in “ill.”)
The letters ӊ,ө,and ү are not found in the Russian alphabet.

Voiced and Voiceless Consonants[edit | edit source]

Consonants are generally divided into two categories, the so-called “voiced” and “voiceless.” When making voiced consonants or vowels, you use your vocal cords, whereas voiceless consonants are made without the vibration of the vocal cords. An easy way to test whether a consonant is voiced or not is to say the consonant while plugging your ears. If you hear a buzzing or rumbling inside your head, then the consonant is voiced.

Voiceless consonants in Kyrgyz are х,ч,т,п,к,ш, and с. Kyrgyz takes many loan words from Russian and other languages, and these words can include the other voiceless consonants ц,щ,and ф. All of the other consonants are voiced.

Voiceless consonants often have correspondences to voiced consonants. For example, the only difference between т and д is that in the latter consonant, the vocal cords are used Otherwise, it’s the same sound.

The voiced/voiceless consonant pairs—that is, the letters that are apt to change from one to another—are т/д, п/б, and к/г1. This is important because sometimes, suffixes can be changed on the basis of the last letter in the word, or they can at times change the last letter from a voiceless to a voiced consonant. Generally, if a suffix begins with consonant, it will change to match the type of consonant at the end of the word to which it is being added. So if a suffix begins with a д (which is a voiced consonant), and it is being added to a word that ends in a п (which is a voiceless consonant), then the voiced д will become a voiceless т.

Also, if a word ends in a voiceless consonant, and a suffix that begins with a vowel is added to it, then the last consonant of the word is changed to a voiced consonant. So in the case of the word китеп (book), if you wish to add the first person possessive suffix (in this case, “-им ”) so as to say “my book,” it will come out “китебим.”

If this explanation is confusing, it may be better to leave it behind. If you hear the language spoken a little bit, you'll catch on.

Suffixes and Vowel Harmony[edit | edit source]

Kyrgyz is an agglutinative language, which means that most grammatical meanings are communicated with suffixes. These can pile up at the end of a word or root. This can get a bit confusing at first. However, Kyrgyz is a wonderfully regular language, and once its logic is understood, it presents few of sorts of difficulties that tyrannize learners of Russian or German.
Suffixes can look a little different from word to word, because the vowels in them will change depending the last vowel in the word itself. These changes work according to rules called "vowel harmony."

Vowel Harmony[edit | edit source]

The family of Turkic languages (to which Kyrgyz belongs) experiences a phenomenon known as “vowel harmony.” That means that the vowels in a suffix are determined according to the last vowel in the word to which they are being added.

Kyrgyz vowels are linked together in pairs, of which one is a “left” vowel and one is a “right” vowel. If a suffix needs a left vowel, then it takes the left vowel that corresponds to the last vowel in the stem.

Here are the pairs:

How it works: “from America” is rendered “Америкадан," whereas “from Boston” is "Бостондон." In the first example, the idea of “from” is expressed with the suffix “-дан”, while in the second it becomes “-дон.” The form for this suffix (the “ablative“) is “-д←н,” meaning that the vowel between the д and the н is going to be the “left vowel” of the last vowel of the word to which the suffix is being added.

The last vowel in “Бостон” is “о,” and since the ablative suffix requires a left vowel, it takes the left vowel of the pair “о-у”: Hence, "Бостондон." By the same logic, “from Helsinki” is “Хелсинкиден”—The last vowel is ‘и', and so here the ablative suffix uses the left vowel of the pair “е-и.”

EXCEPTION: As indicated by the diagram above,although the right vowel for “о”is“у”, the left vowel for “y” is “a.” So, the ablative for окуучу (“student”) is окуучудан, not окуучудон.* This rule, like everything else to do with vowel harmony, is actually much more easily used and mastered than it may seem at first.