In the phonology of the Romanian language, the phoneme inventory consists of seven vowels, two or four semivowels (different views exist), and twenty consonants. In addition, as with all languages, other phonemes can occur occasionally in interjections or recent borrowings.
Notable features of Romanian include two unusual diphthongs /e?a/ and /o?a/ and the central vowel /?/.
^1 In Romanian, both ?î? and ?â? represent the same sound . ?î? is used at the beginning and end of words, whilst ?â? is used everywhere else. ?î? is, however, still retained when adding prefixes: în?eles -> neîn?eles.
The table below gives a series of word examples for each vowel.
|/a/||Open central unrounded||ap? /'ap?/ ('water') |
balaur /ba'la.ur/ ('dragon')
a cânta /k?n'ta/ ('to sing')
|/e/||Mid front unrounded||erou /e'row/ ('hero') |
necaz /ne'kaz/ ('trouble')
umple /'umple/ ('to fill')
|/i/||Close front unrounded||insul? /'insul?/ ('island') |
salcie /'salti.e/ ('willow')
topi /to'pi/ ('to melt')
|/o/||Mid back rounded||ora? /o'ra?/ ('city') |
copil /ko'pil/ ('child')
acolo /a'kolo/ ('there')
|/u/||Close back rounded||uda /u'da/ ('to wet') |
aduc /a'duk/ ('I bring')
simplu /'simplu/ ('simple')
|/?/||Mid central unrounded||?sta /'?sta/ ('this') |
p?ros /p?'ros/ ('hairy')
alb? /'alb?/ ('white [fem. sg.]')
|/?/||Close central unrounded||înspre /'?nspre/ ('toward') |
cârnat /k?r'nat/ ('sausage')
coborî /kobo'r?/ ('to descend')
Although most of these vowels are relatively straightforward and similar or identical to those in many other languages, the close central unrounded vowel /?/ is uncommon as a phoneme and especially uncommon amongst Indo-European languages.
In addition to the seven core vowels, in a number of words of foreign origin (predominantly French, but also German) the mid front rounded vowel /ø/ (rounded Romanian /e/; example word: bleu /blø/ 'light blue') and the mid central rounded vowel /?/ (rounded Romanian /?/; example word: chemin de fer /men d? 'fer/ 'Chemin de Fer') have been preserved, without replacing them with any of the existing phonemes. The borrowed words have become part of the Romanian vocabulary and follow the usual inflexion rules, so that the new vowels, though less common, could be considered as part of the Romanian phoneme set. Many Romanian dictionaries[which?] use ⟨ö⟩ in their phonetic descriptions to represent both vowels.
Because they are not native phonemes, their pronunciation may fluctuate or they may even be replaced by the diphthong /e?o/. In older French borrowings it has often been replaced by /e/, /o/, or /e?o/, as in ?ofer /?o'fer/ ('driver', from French chauffeur), masor /ma'sor/ ('masseur', from masseur), and sufleor /su'fle?or/ ('theater prompter', from souffleur).
Similarly, borrowings from languages such as French and German sometimes contain the close front rounded vowel /y/: ecru /e'kry/, tul /tyl/, führer /'fyrer/, /'fyr?r/. The symbol used for it in phonetic notations in Romanian dictionaries is ⟨ü⟩. Educated speakers usually pronounce it /y/, but other realizations such as /ju/ also occur. Older words that originally had this sound have had it replaced with /ju/, /u/, or /i/. For instance, Turkish kül became ghiul /?jul/ ('large ring'), Turkish tütün became tutun /tu'tun/ ('tobacco'), but tiutiun [tju'tjun] in the Moldavian subdialect, German Düse gave duz? /'duz?/ ('nozzle') and French bureau became birou /bi'row/ ('desk', 'office').
According to Ioana Chi?oran, Romanian has two diphthongs: /e?a/ and /o?a/. As a result of their origin (diphthongization of mid vowels under stress), they appear normally in stressed syllables and make morphological alternations with the mid vowels /e/ and /o/.
In addition to these, the semivowels /w/ and /j/ can be combined (either before, after, or both) with most vowels. One view considers that only /e?a/ and /o?a/ can follow an obstruent-liquid cluster such as in broasc? ('frog') and dreag? ('to mend') and form real diphthongs, whereas the rest are merely vowel-glide sequences. The traditional view (taught in schools) considers all of the above as diphthongs.
|/aj/||mai /maj/ ('May'), aisberg /'ajsber?/ ('iceberg')|
|/aw/||sau /saw/ ('or'), august /'aw?ust/ ('August')|
|/ej/||lei /lej/ ('lions'), trei /trej/ ('three')|
|/ew/||greu /?rew/ ('heavy'), mereu /me'rew/ ('always')|
|/ij/||mii /mij/ ('thousands'), vii /vij/ ('you come')|
|/iw/||fiu /fiw/ ('son'), scriu /skriw/ ('I write')|
|/oj/||oi /oj/ ('sheep [pl.]'), noi /noj/ ('we')|
|/ow/||ou /ow/ ('egg'), bou /bow/ ('ox')|
|/uj/||pui /puj/ ('you put'), g?lbui /l'buj/ ('yellowish')|
|/uw/||continuu /kon'tinuw/ ('continuous')|
|/?j/||r?i /r?j/ ('bad [masc. pl.]'), v?i /v?j/ ('valleys')|
|/?w/||dul?u /du'l?w/ ('mastiff'), r?u /r?w/ ('bad [masc. sg.]')|
|/?j/||câine /'k?jne/ ('dog'), mâinile /'m?jnile/ ('the hands')|
|/?w/||râu /r?w/ ('river'), brâu /br?w/ ('girdle')|
|/e?a/||beat? /'be?at?/ ('drunk [fem.]'), mea /me?a/ ('my [fem. sg.]')|
|/e?o/||Gheorghe /'?e?or?e/ ('George'), ne-o ploua /ne?oplo'wa/ ('it would rain on us'), vreo /vre?o/ ('some; around [fem., masc. pl.]')|
|/e?u/||(mostly in word combinations) pe-un /pe?un/ ('on a'), vreun /vre?un/ ('some; around [masc. sg.]')|
|/ja/||biat? /'bjat?/ ('poor [f.]'), mi-a zis /mja'zis/ ('[he] told me')|
|/je/||fier /fjer/ ('iron'), miere /'mjere/ ('honey')|
|/jo/||iod /jod/ ('iodine'), chior /'kjor/ ('one-eyed')|
|/ju/||iubit /ju'bit/ ('loved'), chiuvet? /kju'vet?/ ('sink')|
|/o?a/||g?oace /'o?ate/ ('shell'), foarte /'fo?arte/ ('very')|
|/we/||piuez /pi'wez/ ('I felt [a fabric]'), în?euez /?n?e'wez/ ('I saddle')|
|/wa/||b?c?uan /b?k?'wan/ ('inhabitant of Bac?u'), ziua /'ziwa/ ('the day')|
|/w?/||dou? /'dow?/ ('two [fem.]'), plou? /'plow?/ ('it rains')|
|/w?/||plouând /plo'w?nd/ ('raining'), ouând /o'w?nd/ ('laying [eggs]')|
|/e?aj/||socoteai /soko'te?aj/ ('you were reckoning')|
|/e?aw/||beau /be?aw/ ('I drink'), spuneau /spu'ne?aw/ ('they were saying')|
|/e?o?a/||pleoape /'ple?o?ape/ ('eyelids'), leoarc? /'le?o?ark?/ ('soaking wet')|
|/jaj/||mi-ai dat /mjaj'dat/ ('you gave me'), ia-i /jaj/ ('take them')|
|/jaw/||iau /jaw/ ('I take'), suiau /su'jaw/ ('they were climbing')|
|/jej/||iei /jej/ ('you take'), piei /pjej/ ('skins')|
|/jew/||maieu /ma'jew/ ('undershirt'), eu /jew/ ('I [myself]')|
|/joj/||i-oi da /joj'da/ ('I might give him'), picioic? /pi'tjoj.k?/ ('potato [regionalism]')|
|/jow/||maiou /ma'jow/ ('undershirt')|
|/o?aj/||leoaic? /le'o?ajk?/ ('lioness'), rusoaic? /ru'so?ajk?/ ('Russian woman')|
|/waj/||în?euai /?n?e'waj/ ('[you] were saddling')|
|/waw/||în?euau /?n?e'waw/ ('[they] were saddling')|
|/w?j/||rou?i /'row?j/ ('of the dew')|
|/jo?a/||creioane /kre'jo?ane/ ('pencils'), aripioar? /ari'pjo?ar?/ ('winglet')|
As can be seen from the examples above, the diphthongs /e?a/ and /o?a/ contrast with /ja/ and /wa/ respectively, though there are no minimal pairs to contrast /o?a/ and /wa/. Impressionistically, the two pairs sound very similar to native speakers. Because /o?a/ doesn't appear in the final syllable of a prosodic word, there are no monosyllabic words with /o?a/; exceptions might include voal ('veil') and doar ('only, just'), though Ioana Chi?oran argues that these are best treated as containing glide-vowel sequences rather than diphthongs. In some regional pronunciations, the diphthong /o?a/ tends to be pronounced as a single vowel /?/.
Other triphthongs such as /juj/ and /o?aw/ occur sporadically in interjections and uncommon words.
Borrowings from English have enlarged the set of ascending diphthongs to also include /j?/, /we/, /wi/, and /wo/, or have extended their previously limited use. Generally, these borrowings have retained their original spellings, but their pronunciation has been adapted to Romanian phonology. The table below gives some examples.
|/j?/||yearling /'j?rlin?/ 'one-year-old animal (colt)'|
|/we/||western /'western/ 'Western (movie set in the American West)'|
|/wi/||tweeter /'twit?r/ 'high-pitch loudspeaker'|
|/wo/||walkman /'wokmen/ 'pocket-sized tape/CD player'|
Borrowings such as whisky and week-end are listed in some dictionaries as starting with the ascending diphthong /wi/, which corresponds to the original English pronunciation, but in others they appear with the descending diphthong /uj/.
Romanian has vowel alternation or apophony triggered by stress. A stressed syllable has a low vowel, or a diphthong ending in a low vowel, and an unstressed syllable has a mid vowel. Thus /e?a/ alternates with /e/, /o?a/ with /o/, and /a/ with /?/.
This alternation developed from Romanian vowel breaking (diphthongization) and reduction (weakening). The Eastern Romance mid vowels /e o/ were broken in stressed syllables, giving the Romanian diphthongs /e?a o?a/, and the low vowel /a/ was reduced in unstressed syllables, giving the Romanian central vowel /?/.
These sound changes created the stress-triggered vowel alternations in the table below. Here stressed syllables are marked with underlining (a):
|a -- ?||carte||'book'||c?rticic?||'book' (diminutive)|
|e?a -- e||beat||'drunk'||be?iv||'drunkard'|
|o?a -- o||poart?||'gate'||portar||'gatekeeper'|
Standard Romanian has twenty phonemic consonants, as listed in the table below. Where symbols for consonants occur in pairs, the left represents a voiceless consonant and the right represents a voiced consonant.
^3a ?c?+?a/?/â/î/o/u? means ?c? is pronounced as . ?c?+?e/i? means ?c? is pronounced as . ?ch?+?e/i? means ?ch? is pronounced as . ?k? is used in loan words.
^3b ?g?+?a/?/â/î/o/u? means ?g? is pronounced as . ?g?+?e/i? means ?g? is pronounced as . ?gh?+?e/i? means ?gh? is pronounced as .
Besides the consonants in this table, a few consonants can have allophones:
The consonant inventory of Romanian is almost the same as Italian. Romanian, however, lacks the palatal consonants /? ?/, which merged with /j/ by lenition, and the affricate /d?z/ changed to /z/ by spirantization. Romanian has the fricative /?/ and the glottal fricative /h/, which do not occur in Italian.
The interpretation commonly taken is that an underlying morpheme /i/ palatalizes the consonant and is subsequently deleted. However, /s?/, /t?/, and /d?/ become , [t?s?], and [z?], respectively, with very few phonetically justified exceptions, included in the table below, which shows that this palatalization can occur for all consonants.
|/p?/||rupi /rup?/ 'you tear'||/b?/||arabi /a'rab?/ 'Arabs'|
|/t?/||pro?ti /pro?t?/ 'stupid (masc. pl.)'||/d?/||n?dejdi /n?'de?d?/ 'hopes'|
|/k?/||urechi /u'rek?/ 'ears';
ochi /ok?/ 'eye(s)'
|//||unghi /un/ 'angle'|
|/t?s?/||ro?i /rot?s?/ 'wheels'||-|
|/t/||faci /fat/ 'you do'||/d/||mergi /merd/ 'you go'|
|-||/m?/||dormi /dorm?/ 'you sleep'|
|-||/n?/||bani /ban?/ 'money (pl.)'|
|/f?/||?efi /?ef?/ 'bosses'||/v?/||ple?uvi /ple'?uv?/ 'bald (masc. pl.)'|
|/s?/||bessi /bes?/ 'Bessi'||/z?/||brazi /braz?/ 'fir trees'|
|//||mo?i /mo/ 'old men'||//||breji /bre/ 'brave (masc. pl.)'|
|/h?/||vlahi /vlah?/ 'Wallachians'||-|
|-||/l?/||?coli /?kol?/ 'schools'|
|-||/r?/||sari /sar?/ 'you jump'|
In certain morphological processes /?/ is replaced by the full vowel /i/, for example
This may explain why /?/ is perceived as a separate sound by native speakers and written with the same letter as the vowel /i/.
The non-syllabic /?/ can be sometimes found inside compound words like câ?iva /k?t?s?'va/ ('a few') and oriunde /or?'unde/ ('wherever'), where the first morpheme happened to end in this /?/. A word that contains this twice is cincizeci /tint'zet/ ('fifty').
In old Romanian and still in some local pronunciations there is another example of such a non-syllabic, non-semivocalic phoneme, derived from /u/, which manifests itself as labialization of the preceding sound. The usual IPA notation is /?/. It is found at the end of some words after consonants and semivowels, as in un urs, pronounced /un 'urs?/ ('a bear'), or îmi spui /?m? spuj?/ ('you tell me'). The disappearance of this phoneme might be attributed to the fact that, unlike /?/, it didn't play any morphological role. It is a trace of Latin endings containing /u(:)/, /o:/ (-us, -?s, -um, -?), this phoneme is related to vowel /u/ used to connect the definite article "l" to the stem of a noun or adjective, as in domn -- domnul /domn/ -- /'domnul/ ('lord -- the lord', cf. Latin dominus).
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As with other languages, Romanian interjections often use sounds beyond the normal phoneme inventory or disobey the normal phonotactical rules, by containing unusual phoneme sequences, by allowing words to be made up of only consonants, or by consisting of repetitions. Such exceptional mechanisms are needed to obtain an increased level of expressivity. Often, these interjections have multiple spellings or occasionally none at all, which accounts for the difficulty of finding the right approximation using existing letters. The following is a list of examples.
Romanian has a stress accent, like almost all other Romance languages (with the notable exception of French). Generally, stress falls on the rightmost syllable of a prosodic word (that is, the root and derivational material but excluding inflections and final inflectional vowels). Although a lexically marked stress pattern with penultimate stress exists, any morphologically derived forms will continue to follow the unmarked pattern.
Stress is not normally marked in writing, except occasionally to distinguish between homographs, or in dictionaries for the entry words. When it is marked, the main vowel of the stressed syllable receives an accent (usually acute, but sometimes grave), for example vésel? -- vesél? ('jovial', fem. sg. -- 'tableware').
In verb conjugation, noun declension, and other word formation processes, stress shifts can occur. Verbs can have homographic forms only distinguished by stress, such as in el sufl? which can mean 'he blows' (el súfl?) or 'he blew' (el sufl?) depending on whether the stress is on the first or the second syllable, respectively. Changing the grammatical category of a word can lead to similar word pairs, such as the verb a albí /al'bi/ ('to whiten') compared to the adjective álbi /'alb?/ ('white', masc. pl.). Stress in Romanian verbs can normally be predicted by comparing tenses with similar verbs in Spanish, which does indicate stress in writing.
Languages such as English, Russian, and Arabic are called stress-timed, meaning that syllables are pronounced at a lower or higher rate so as to achieve a roughly equal time interval between stressed syllables. Another category of languages are syllable-timed, which means that each syllable takes about the same amount of time, regardless of the position of the stresses in the sentence. Romanian is one of the syllable-timed languages, along with other Romance languages (French, Spanish, etc.), Telugu, Yoruba, and many others. (A third timing system is mora timing, exemplified by Classical Latin, Fijian, Finnish, Hawaiian, Japanese, and Old English.)
The distinction between these timing categories may sometimes seem unclear, and definitions vary. In addition, the time intervals between stresses/syllables/morae are in reality only approximately equal, with many exceptions and large deviations having been reported. However, whereas the actual time may be only approximately equal, the differences are perceptually identical.
In the case of Romanian, consonant clusters are often found both in the syllable onset and coda, which require physical time to be pronounced. The syllable timing rule is then overridden by slowing down the rhythm. Thus, it is seen that stress and syllable timing interact. The sample sentences below, each consisting of six syllables, are illustrative:
The total time length taken by each of these sentences is obviously different, and attempting to pronounce one of them with the same rhythm as the other results in unnatural utterances.
To a lesser extent, but still perceivably, the syllables are extended in time also on one hand by the presence of liquid and nasal consonants, and on the other by that of semivowels in diphthongs and triphthongs, such as shown in the examples below.
|pic -- plic||bit -- envelope|
|cec -- cerc||cheque -- circle|
|zic -- zinc||I say -- zinc|
|car -- chiar||I carry -- even|
|sare -- soare||salt -- sun|
|sta -- stea||to stay -- star|
|fi -- fii||be (inf.) -- be (imperative)|
A simple way to evaluate the length of a word, and compare it to another, consists in pronouncing it repeatedly at a natural speech rate.
A detailed description of the intonation patterns must consider a wide range of elements, such as the focus of the sentence, the theme and the rheme, emotional aspects, etc. In this section only a few general traits of the Romanian intonation are discussed. Most importantly, intonation is essential in questions, especially because, unlike English and other languages, Romanian does not distinguish grammatically declarative and interrogative sentences.
In non-emphatic yes/no questions the pitch rises at the end of the sentence until the last stressed syllable. If unstressed syllables follow, they often have a falling intonation, but this is not a rule.
In Transylvanian speech these yes/no questions have a very different intonation pattern, usually with a pitch peak at the beginning of the question: [ai ?stins lumi?na]
In selection questions the tone rises at the first element of the selection, and falls at the second.
Wh-questions start with a high pitch on the first word and then the pitch falls gradually toward the end of the sentence.
Repeat questions have a rising intonation.
Tag questions are uttered with a rising intonation.
Unfinished utterances have a rising intonation similar to that of yes/no questions, but the pitch rise is smaller.
Various other intonation patterns are used to express: requests, commands, surprise, suggestion, advice, and so on.
Orthographic transcription: Radu se joac? în curte. El alearg? pân? la gard, ?i apoi se-ntoarce spre cas?.
Phonetic transcription: ['radu se '?o?ak? ?n 'kurte jel a'le?ar 'p?n? la ?ard ?i a'poj sen'to?arte spre 'kas?]