Monthly Archives: October 2015

Showing pronunciation in written Dari

In an earlier post I challenged you to think about the written Dari form of a word as the “real” form of the word. This post will carry that a bit further by teaching you how to represent pronunciation with the Dari script using the Dari vowel marks, the [zer o zabar]. You can do this to save yourself having to write down the IPA pronunciation of a word. It’ll also make it easier to talk to Afghans about pronunciation who haven’t been linguistically trained. (Throughout, I assume that you know how to read; if you don’t yet, there are worse places to start than this guide.)

This is a long-ish post, since I’m trying to explain something, instead of just the usual yada-yada. You may want to bookmark this page and come back to it later.

First off we have the vowel sounds that have their own letters: [ʌ], [i], and [u]. These are written with their own vowel letters—with a little complication at the beginnings of words.

i [pir] ‘old’ پیر
u [bud] ‘was’ بود
ʌ [dʌs] ‘sickle’ داس

For these sounds, you can tell what the pronunciation is from using the letter. Easy.

To write this next set of words, you need the three vowel markers, which I’ll introduce below.

a [tab] ‘fever’ تب
ɛ [dɛl] ‘heart’ دل
ʊ [pʊt] ‘hidden’ پت

The system is that the vowel goes above or below the consonant that it follows. The word below is [tab] ‘fever.’ The short line above the [ت] makes the [a] sound. It is called [zabar].


To type a zabar, do Shift+U (or Shift+ع). (Here and throughout I assume you are using the Iranian Standard Keyboard instead of the Windows default keyboard. My references to Latin keys assume an English keyboard layout.)

The same line below the consonant makes the [ɛ] sound, as in [dɛl] ‘heart.’ It is called [zer].


To type a zer, do  Shift+Y (or Shift+غ).

A little waw-like shape makes the [ʊ] sound, as in [pʊt] ‘hidden.’ It is called a [peʃ].


To type a pesh, do Shift+T (or Shift+ف).

If you’re learning to type, note that these diacritics are in order on the keyboard. It starts with U and goes right-to-left: zabar, zer, pesh = U Y T.

Now these letters do not have their own letters. [e] is written with ی and [o] is written with و. What to do?

e [bel] ‘shovel’ بیل
o [top] ‘ball’ توپ

My recommendation is to treat [e] as a zer followed by a ی, and [o] as a pesh followed by a و.



The only vowels that remain are the diphthongs, and we handle these as you would expect (shown after the table).

aj [bajt] ‘song’ بیت
aw [sawgand] ‘oath’ سوگند
uj [dʒuj] ‘sewer’ جوی
ʌj [bʌj] ‘bigwig’ بای
ʌw [gʌw] ‘cow’ گاو

[aj] is zabar followed by ی.


[a] is zabar followed by و.


For [uj] we can just write وی:


For [ʌj] we can just write ای:


For [ʌw] we can just write او:


And remember how و and ی are ambiguous in the middle of a word? If there are vowel marks before and on top of a و (for instance), it’s making a [w] sound. Otherwise it’s a different sound. Look at [rawɛʃ]:


So, that is the system. Practice these a bit until you get comfortable with them. If you get good you can ditch IPA altogether. 😉

Two ironies:

  1. I spent a good chunk of time last Spring moving LCP from the Glassman alphabet to the International Phonetic Alphabet. Now I’m moving the goal post again! Sigh…
  2. Relying on the vowel markers will really hurt your reading ability, so I have left them out of all other LCP materials. (Vowel markers are not typically used in texts.) I recommend these only for your personal use in writing!

Daily habits to help your language learning

How can we make our language study more relevant to our daily lives? How can we break out of the pattern where our language lessons become an event of their own, unconnected to our learning goals? My suggestion here is to build two habits into your day to help you to learn language. Neither will take much time.

Working around the house, or walking down the street, we all maintain an internal dialog. Perhaps we’re thinking about something we need to say, or something we wish we had said, or just about life in general. Try to have that dialog in Dari. If you’re thinking about a familiar topic (e.g., what you see on the street), you’ll build fluency as you think of words. If you’re thinking about a topic that you wouldn’t normally think about in Dari, you’ll quickly become aware of the Dari words you need to learn.

A related idea is to carry around a notebook, and write down notes and questions that come up throughout the day. (“What does this word mean?” “What should I have said?” “How do I say such-and-such?”) This has two uses. First, you can bring those questions to your language lessons. Second, even if you don’t use this for your language lessons, it will help you to pay attention to regular parts of the input. I discovered this trick while studying a different language. I wrote a note to myself to, “look into indicative vs. aorist subjunctives.” I never actually followed up on that, but just after writing it down, I found myself paying more attention to those things automatically.

Keep your language notebook around. It will encourage you by showing the progress you’re making in learning new things. It can also be a reminder to practice the new things you’ve learned.

If done successfully, you will end up with a lot of little bits of information. Don’t let those things get away! Many people benefit from creating flashcards, but everyone has different preferences.

New resource: the LCP News Collection

I’m very pleased to announce the launch of a new LCP resource:

The LCP News Collection

This is a selection of news stories—mostly from Fall 2014—that you can use to (i) practice reading, (ii) learn vocabulary relevant to politics, pop culture, world affairs, and security, and (iii) become familiar with the news story genre.

When you place your mouse over a word, there is a pop-up that has the the pronunciation of the word in context, and the definition. There are also occasional notes on tricky words, and notes on the meaning and grammar of difficult sentences. There ought to be enough there for successful self-study, but you can also go through these texts with a teacher.

Unless you’re really behind on the news, the stories won’t actually be news. The point of this resource is to expose you to real world texts, and to the most frequent words that appear, so that you can read today’s news on your own. (This year’s political squabble is going to be reported in pretty much the same way as last year’s political squabble!)

These stories will present a challenge to any learner. (I have certainly learned a lot while working on it!) Take the plunge intending to feel overwhelmed.