What does Lemohai sound like?

How people talk on Mohai.

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.


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 consist of three syllables, not two: /mɔ.’ha.i/.

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 /

ã, ẽ, ĩ, õ, ũ = /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 the diacritic known in Portuguese as til and in Spanish as tilde.

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

Front vowels e,, i and ĩ become central /ə, ə̃, ɨ, ɨ̃/ before velar and glottal consonants (g, k, kh, h, w and the unwritten /ʔ/). So Tekuo is pronounced: /tə.‘ku.ɔ/

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 ends in a nasal vowel, an epenthetic -n is sounded after it, so the 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.


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 ĩ. 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.

Supra-segmental Features

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


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. 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 precedes 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”.


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 and õ 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.

The northern dialect has been retained some irregular stress from Old Lemohai. It is indicated on oral vowels by an acute diacritic and on nasal vowels by a circumflex: á, â.

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. Syllabic nasal consonants are permitted in word-initial position.

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

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.

5 thoughts 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.

    1. Ha! I’ve now gone back to using f instead of z. It sounds less buzzy and looks more East Asian. I like both these things. Mostly though I switched because it made the phoneme inventory less coronal. There are now 7 coronal and 11 non-coronal consonants. Before the ratio was 8 to 10.

      I’ve also gone back to using til instead of trailing -N for nasal vowels. It greatly reduces the number of digraphs from 8 to 3. A language of 28 phonemes doesn’t need 8 digraphs. The use of the Google fonts plugin allows me to use the Noto font family, solving some of my display problems. This, in turn, made me happier to bring back the til. I like the shape of the thing anyway.

      I will shortly bring the rest of the site into line with these changes.

      1. 29 phonemes now and 4 digraphs. Ng is now a feature of the standard language, not just the northern dialect. Syllabic nasal have moved from the standard language to the northern dialect to even things up. The same thing has happened to irregular stress.

          1. Guess what? F is back out and z is back in. Turns out I need the buzz of z. It gives the language the “Portuguese in space” feel I was always after. You knew I’d change back, though, didn’t you?

            And now? Now it really is fixed!

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