What does Lemohai sound like?

Modern Standard Lemohai has a total of twenty-five 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 /

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 indicated with the diacritic the Portuguese call til.

E, ẽ, o and õ are raised to mid-close position when adjacent to a or ã, presumably in order to differentiate them. Between vowels, unstressed i and u are pronounced /y/ and /w/ respectively. This applies at word boundaries unless a pause intervenes.

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

However, if the first word ends in a nasal monophthong, an epenthetic final n is sounded, 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 fifteen consonants. Six of these are voiceless occlusives.

p, t, k, s, x, h = /p, t, k, s, ʃ, h/

Most of these have a voiced counterpart.

b, d, g, z, j = /b, d, g, z, ʒ/

Voiceless  stops p, t, k become aspirated /pʰ, tʰ, kʰ/ after nasal vowels. This differentiates them from their voiced counterparts  in this position. H is not permitted after a nasal vowel. On compounding, h is deleted from this position.

There are also four sonorants. These are always voiced.

m, n, l, r = /m, n, l, ɾ/

Non-nasal sonorants l and r are nasalised between 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

Stress normally 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 accompanied by a high pitch accent.

The language exhibits leftwards nasal harmony. If a stressed vowel is nasal, then all previous vowels become nasal until the start of the word or a voiceless occlusive is encountered.

Adjacent vowels within the same word are also required to harmonise. If one is nasal, the other should be also.

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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 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 h as /ç/ when it appears before i or ĩ. The vowel sequences ei and ou are pronounced as single vowels /e/ and /o/ respectively.

In the northern dialect, an unstressed a is pronounced /ə/ and h is pronounced /x/. Front vowels e, , i and ĩ become central /ə, ə̃,  ɨ, ɨ̃/ before k, , w and h. (The dialect shares this feature with the nearby Letepi language).

In the southern dialect, h has become a glottal stop and mid-low vowels e and o are raised to mid-close position when unstressed. T moves to alveo-palatal /tʃ/ before front close vowels i and ĩ. D likewiseore becomes /dʒ/ when it appears before i or ĩ and after a nasal vowel

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Writing System

Lemohai is written natively in a syllabary. The syllabary is written from left to right in simple and geometric characters. Letter shapes are flipped from left to right to distinguish syllables that differ only in nasality, such as ku and .

A macron is used to cancel a vowel when transcribing foreign words, so the ka character becomes to indicate coda k.

The script is largely phonetic.

The Lemohai syllabary is a variant on the Classical Lekuna alphabet which derives in turn from the Pamak script.

Author: David Johnson

Conlanger, writer and activist.

8 thoughts on “What does Lemohai sound like?”

  1. Edited on 12.12.15, to reflect improved knowledge of how vowel harmony systems work. A few other changes to the allophony also introduced.

    Stress rule tweaked on 30.01.16.

    Edited on 08.03.16 to add affricates, replace a fricative and respell nasal vowels.

    Edited on 20.03.16 to revert the changes of 08.03.16 and to simplify the stress rule.

    Edited on 06.04.16 to replace /z/ with /f/ in the phoneme inventory.

    Edited on 14.04.16 to revert the change of 06.04.16.

    Edited on 20.10.16 to replace til with trailing N, to abandon nasal harmony, to abandon nasalisation of vowels after nasal stops and to bring back variable stress.

  2. Radically re-edited on 04.01.18 to reduce the number of phonemes from 28 to 23. This was done for aesthetic reasons and to make sound changes easier to derive.

    Aspirated stops /pʰ, tʰ, kʰ/ are no longer phonemic, but are retained as allophones. Semivowels /y, w/ are also removed from the language as are diphthongs and triphthongs.

    Allophones are added for /s/ and /z/. Nasal harmony is removed as I thought it generated too many nasal vowels.

    I find the new phoneme inventory very pleasing and closer to my gut feeling of what the language should look and sound like. Some complexity is lost, but new sources of complexity have been found.

    Phonemic aspirated stops are now free to become signature markers of the Kemba languages. Similarly, nasal harmony is now free to become a signature marker of Western Dahu languages.

  3. Another radical rewrite on 28.09.18. I’ve boiled Lemohai down to 22 phonemes. The result is a well-balanced inventory that I find euphonous.

    I’ve decided to be brave and re-introduce til for nasal vowels, in place of -N. Nasal harmony is back, too, now I’ve found a way to restrict it whilst allowing for some variation in stress.

    It’s now much more “the language of the heart” and it still has some conceptually interesting touches. I think this time we really are THERE.

  4. Well, nearly there. Edited on 13.10.18 to add alveo-palatal sibilants and remove /j/ and /w/. This gives the language a Japano-Portuguese flavour. It’s now less original, but more pleasing to me. I think this time we really are THERE!

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