Lesson 1

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Тыва Дыл Kичээллер
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Tyvan Lesson 1: Vowels & Consonants - Тыва Дыл Бирги Kичээл

by Stacey Borsody
All rights reserved


Tyvan has 8 vowels

  • а (a), е/э (e), и (i), о (o), ө (ö), у (u), ү (ü), ы (y)

Vowel harmony

Vowels have different qualities that distinguish them from each other. We use words like front or back and round or unround to describe these qualities. Picture the cross-section of a mouth. The tongue slides either to the front or to the back, to the top or to the bottom, or stays somewhere in the middle depending upon which vowel sound you are making. The position of the lips can also affect the sound of a vowel. If you push them outwards when you make a vowel sound, then the vowel is considered to be round.

These qualities tend to group together in languages like Tyvan, which has both back harmony and rounding harmony.

Back harmony

When a person speaks a word, one can find that it is convenient and efficient to keep the tongue in the same or similar position for all the vowels within a single word. If you practice saying all the front vowels and then all the back vowels, you will notice your tongue stays near the front for the front vowels, and near the back for the back vowels. Practice saying the following front and back vowels and pay attention to the position of your tongue.

Round harmony

Another feature for learning Tyvan vowel harmony is rounding. If you thrust your lips out, like you do when you say 'oooo', this is rounding. If you have your lips at rest or even pulled back slightly, then the vowel is unrounded. Just like above, practice saying the vowels below and try to notice the position of your lips.

Long and Short Vowels

The eight different vowels can either be long or short. This is merely the duration that they are spoken for. When a vowel is long, it is written down twice. This means you should hold the vowel sound a little bit longer than you normally would.

ол (ol) - he/she/it
оол (ool) - boy, son

дүн (dün) - night
дүүн (düün) - yesterday

Kargyraa Vowels

These have been called pharyngeal or glottalized vowels in the past. This means when you pronounce them, it feels almost is as if you are swallowing at the same time because they get produced in the throat. Recent studies (Anderson/Harrison) suggest that these are low pitch vowels, pronounced with at a lower pitch than the rest of the word. Some speakers pharyngealize them, but for most it is only low pitch. They also might be held a little longer when they are pronounced, but not as long as long vowels. It is important to learn to pronounce them because some words look the same and the only difference between them are the kargyraa vowel.

аът (a`t) - horse
ат (at) - name

There are also Tyvan words that have a low pitch vowel but the spelling does not mark it.

каш - how

Nasal Vowels

Nasal vowels occur in some dialects. You may have heard of them, so I mention them here, but we are not going to study them since they are not part of the literary language.



Consonants, like vowels, have similarities and differences in the way they are pronounced. For example, voiced consonants require the throat to vibrate whereas unvoiced consonants don't. You can feel this by putting your hand to your throat and comparing how it feels when pronouncing T (unvoiced) and D (voiced). Other classifications deal with the position of the tongue in the mouth or the way the tongue moves. A speaker generally wishes to make the pronounciation of consonants as efficient as the pronounciation of vowels. Because of this, when consonants that are not similar end up next to each other in a word, one of the consonants may change to suit the situation. You find this a lot in the suffixes. For example, when a word ends in a 'nasal' (m, n, ng), the consonant that begins the suffix must also be a nasal (like the noun plurals, -nar/-ner). If you were speaking very fluently, it would be more efficient to say nomnar than nomlar.

(Needs work)

There are several consonants in Tyvan that become voiced if they end a word and are followed by a suffix that begins with a vowel.

  • t -> d at -> adym tut- -> tudar
  • sh -> zh esh -> ezhim

In "voiced" environments

  • ch -> dzh khoomeichi -> khoomeizhi

Another consonant that is pronounced differently will be g. If it appears next to a stop or a sonorant, it will be a hard g. If it appears in between vowels it will be a soft g. It can also be a soft g if the word ends in g.