(With that kind of title, this post can only get better, right?)
This post will explain how word stress works in Dari. Stress has to do with emphasis on syllables. In English, if you rejéct someone, they become a réject. If you convért somebody, they become a cónvert. If you you want to protést something, you may attend a prótest. Stress can change when you add bits to the word, like how gýrate become gyrátion. When people get the stress wrong, it makes it really hard to understand them.
In Dari, as in English, verbs work different from every other kind of word. This post will give you the rules.
Everything except verbs
The rule is: stress goes on the last syllable of the word. Examples:
- [kɛtʌ́b] book
- [afɣʌnɛstʌ́n] Afghanistan
- [kɛlíd] key
- [kʌmpjutár] computer
- [tɛrmʊ́z] thermos
There are two systematic exceptions. The exceptions are two suffixes that never ever take stress.
The first is the ezafa marker, the handy little vowel that can seemingly join any two words:
- [séb-ɛ sʊ́rx] red apple (NOT [seb-ɛ́ sʊ́rx])
- [ʊtʌ́q-ɛ kalʌ́n] large room (NOT [ʊtʌq-ɛ́ kalʌ́n])
- [ʊtʌ́q-ɛ sʊ́rx-ɛ kalʌ́n] large red room
The second suffix is the indefinite marker, the suffix that turns ‘man’ into ‘a man.’
- [márd-e ʌ́mad] a man came (NOT [mard-é ʌ́mad])
For verbs with prefixes the stress goes on the first syllable. (The prefix will either be [me], [na], or [b].) Here are some examples:
- [mé-r-ʊm] I’m going
- [mé-raft-ʊm] I was going
- [ná-raft-ʊm] I didn’t go
- [ná-me-r-ʊm] I’m not going
- [ná-me-raft-ʊm] I wasn’t going
- [mé-xʌj-ʊm bʊ́-r-ʊm] I want to go
For verbs without prefixes, the stress goes on the last syllable of the root—i.e., not on the suffix.
- [ráft-ʊm] I went
- [ʌmád-ʊm] I came
- [fʊrúxt-ʊm] I sold
- [fahmíd-ʊm] I knew
The only exception is the perfect (“I had gone”), where the stress goes at the end. You must have learned about this when you learned about the perfect, but I don’t blame you for forgetting about it. Often the only difference between a present and a perfect is that the stress is at the end.
- [raftém] I have gone
- [raftá] s/he has gone
One wrinkle is that participles count as non-verbs: the stress goes on the end.
- [raftá búdʊm] I had gone
- [darwʌzá ra bastá kadá ráftʊm] I closed the door and left
If you want to speak clearly and have a less obnoxious accent, you need to pay attention to stress. Find a recording of a Dari speaker—or make one—and listen to where the stress go. Now record yourself saying the same things. Do you put the stress in the right place? If not, talk to a teacher about it.
There are weird little exceptions to these rules, but this covers 99.9% of the words. You don’t need to worry about the nitty-gritty, like how [bʌ́jad] and [ʃʌ́jad] have a verb-like stress pattern because they’re originally from the verbs [bʌjɛstan] ‘to have to’ and [ʃʌjɛstan] ‘to be proper.’ You may need to worry about dialectal variation. Stress can vary somewhat from location to location in Afghanistan.