What does Lemohai sound like?

Modern Standard Lemohai has a total of twenty-eight phonemes. Their sounds vary a little according to their phonetic environment. They are arranged in simple syllables.

Vowels

The language has a so-called “pure” vowel system, consisting of five oral and five nasal monophthongs. These keep their full value in all circumstances. In theory, they are never swallowed-up and cannot form diphthongs or triphthongs.

Where two monophthongs meet, a slight hiatus is sounded between them. So words like Mohai and Tekuo consist of three syllables not two.

In rapid or colloquial speech, diphthongs will sometimes be encountered, though the practice is non-standard.

The vowels are:

a, e, i, o, u = /a, ε, i, ɔ, u /

aN, eN, iN, oN, uN = /ã, ɛ̃, ĩ, ɔ̃, ũ/

In the standard language, nasal vowels are sounded at the same point of articulation as their oral equivalents. They are written with a following n or m. This is not normally sounded as a consonant.

Mid-open vowels (e, eN, o, oN) are raised to mid-close position when adjacent to a or aN, presumably in order to differentiate them.

Front vowels e, eN, i and iN become central /ə, ə̃,  ɨ, ɨ̃/ before velar and glottal consonants (g, k, kh, h, w and the unwritten /ʔ/).

Where two vowels meet at word boundaries and the first is oral and the second is stressed, an unwritten glottal stop /ʔ/ is inserted between them unless a pause intervenes. Where two identical vowels meet, /ʔ/ is always inserted.

However, if the first word normally ends in a nasal vowel, the final N is sounded consonantally, so a glottal stop is not required.

Where two vowels meet in compounding and one is stressed, that vowel is retained and the other deleted.

Where both are stressed or both unstressed, only the second is retained. Where the first word ends in two vowels and the second starts with a stressed vowel, then the last vowel of the first word is again deleted.

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Consonants

The language has eighteen consonants. Eight are voiceless occlusives, five of which are plain.

p, t, k, s, h = /p, t, k, s, h/

The three plain stops have aspirated counterparts.

ph, th, kh = /pʰ, tʰ, kʰ/

In addition, plain stops are aspirated after nasal vowels. This change is reflected in writing on compounding, but not across word boundaries.

H is pronounced /ç/ before front close vowels  i or iN. When h moves to /ç/, it does not trigger the centralistion of preceding front vowels.

H is not permitted after a nasal vowel. On compounding, h is usually deleted from this position. Many speakers now retain h after nasal vowels when it has moved to /ç/. Prescriptivists have yet to accept this practice.

The other ten consonants are voiced. Four are voiced occlusives.

b, d, g, z = /b, d, g, z/

There are also six voiced sonorants.

m, n, l, r, y, w = /m, n, l, ɾ, j, w/

Non-nasal sonorants l, r, y and w are nasalised after nasal vowels. Word initial r is a trill, /r/, but it is a flap elsewhere.

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Supra-segmental Features

Lemohai is a syllable-timed language. Only the following syllable types are allowed:

(C)V

In writing, of course, this often takes the form of CVN.

Regular stress falls on the penultimate syllable, i.e. on the penultimate vowel. However, a heavy final syllable (one with a nasal vowel) takes the stress instead. Exceptionally, stress falls on syllables indicated by an acute diacritic: á, án, ám. Stress is light and is accompanied by a high pitch accent.

Young speakers employ a limited form of nasal harmony. Where an oral vowel immediately preceeds a nasal vowel in the same word, it too is nasalised. The practice is frowned upon by older speakers, who refer to it as “nasal slur”.

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Dialects

Lemohai has three regional dialects: northern, southern and central. The standard language, as described above, is the language of the educated classes of the capital Orisu. Orisu lies in the central dialect zone.

In working class speech throughout the island, nasal vowels eN and oN are sounded in mid position, whilst their oral counterparts remain mid-open (except as indicated below).

Working class speech in the central zone is distinguished by the pronunciation of  the vowel sequences ei and ou as /e/ and /o/ respectively. H has become a glottal stop for some speakers.

In the northern dialect, the old phoneme /ŋ/ has been retained. It has moved to /n/ elsewhere. H is always pronounced /x/. The dialect shares this last feature with the nearby Letepi language.

In the southern dialect, h is always pronounced /h/ and front vowels are never centralised. Mid-low vowels e and o are raised to mid-close position when unstressed. Dental-alveolar sounds (n, d, t, z, s) move to alveo-palatal /ɲ, dʒ, tʃ, ʒ, ʃ/ before front close vowels i and iN.

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Writing System

The Lemohai alphabet is written from left to right in simple, geometric characters. It is largely phonetic. It is a variant on the Classical Lekuna alphabet which derives in turn from the Pamak script.

Author: David Johnson

Conlanger, writer and activist.

One thought on “What does Lemohai sound like?”

  1. This page has had a tortured history as it has wobbled between variations on a core idea. I think finally though, we are THERE.

    The core idea revolves around simple syllables, aspirate stops and nasal vowels. It could be summed up as a kind of other-worldly Portuguese. I have aimed for a judicious mixture of commonly used sounds and a bit of conceptual radicalism. The radicalism includes some unusual gaps. I like minimalism generally, and it leaves space for variations in dialects and related languages.

    Allophony was developed with help from the Zompist Bulletin Board.

    Various fads have come and gone in the life of this page such as nasal harmony, syllabic nasals and the deletion of one or more stop series.

    It has also been plagued by the great f versus z debate. It has to be z though, obviously. I’ve also tried to do without y and w, but kept coming back to them as their loss seemed weird. X and j have appeared for alveo-palatal fricatives, but their presence causes too much sibillance, I think.

    Orthography has been surprisingly stable. The only debate here was how to represent nasal vowels. I like the diacritic the Portuguese call til and the Spanish call tilde. Unfortunately, it is just too fiddly to use and the simpler VN approach has won out. This has the bonus of freeing the tops of letters for the acute to indicate stress.

    Lemohai phonology has ended up more or less back where it started, though I now have a greater understanding and appreciation of its virtues and greater commitment to it as result. The current set embodies a delicate balance of what I want, and is about as good as it gets.

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