What does Lemohai sound like?



Modern Standard Lemohai has five oral monophthongs plus a nasal equivalent for each, making ten monophthongs in all.  Nasal monophthongs are written with a trailing nasal consonant.

Oral: a, e, i, o, u = /a, ɛ, i, ɔ, u /

Nasal: an, en, in, on, un

OR: am, em, im, om, um = /ã, ɛ̃, ĩ, ɔ̃, ũ/

Historical VN and CVN syllables gave rise to of the modern nasal vowels. Hence trailing -N are retained in the native script and in transliteration.

Monophthongs are classed as strong, /a, e, oã, ɛ̃, ĩ, ɔ̃/, or weak, /i, u/ ; /ĩ, ũ/. Where two strong vowels meet, two separate syllables are sounded.

Diphthongs & Triphthongs

Any combination of a strong vowel with a weak vowel is a valid diphthong, provided both are oral or both nasal. Two weak vowels can also form a diphthong. Here the first vowel weakens. Again, both vowels must be oral or both nasal.

Triphthongs do not occur natively, but can occur in loanwords in the stressed syllable. These consist of any combination of a strong monophthong between two weak ones. All the vowels must be oral or all must be nasal.

Nasal diphthongs and triphthongs are written also followed by -N, so ain, iaum, etc.

Vowel Allophones

Where vowels meet at word boundaries, an unwritten glottal stop is sounded between them, if the first word ends in an oral vowel and the second word begins with strong vowel or a stressed weak vowel.

If the first word ends in a nasal vowel, the -N is sounded. If the second word begins with an unstressed vowel it diphthongises with the final vowel of the previous word. If either of these vowels is nasal, the result is a nasal diphthong.



Plosives & Their Allophones

The language has eighteen consonants. Plosives come in three series:

Voiced: b, d, g = /b, d, g/

Plain: p, t, k = /p, t, k/

Aspirated: ph, th, kh = /pʰ, tʰ, kʰ/

After nasal vowels, plain stops become aspirated. This keeps them distinct from voiced stops, but means that plain and aspirate stops are only contrastive after oral vowels. The change is reflected in writing, so some words change their initial letter if the previous word ends in a nasal vowel.

Other Consonants & Allophones

The remaining consonants are:

Nasals: m, n = /m~m̩ , n~n̩ /

Fricatives: z, s, h = /z, s, h~ç/

Other: l, r, y, w = /l, r~ɾ, j~ɲ, w~w̃ /

Syllabic nasals and only occur word initially, before stops or the fricatives s and z. They are homorganic with the following consonant.

Word initial r is a trill, but it is a flap elsewhere.

After nasal vowels, h becomes a voiceless palatal fricative /ç/. The change is not reflected in writing. The change is thought to be motivated by the need to keep the sound distinct.

The -N of a nasal vowel is sounded before an approximant. So ny is sounded ɲ, and mw is sounded . Despite the way they are expressed, these are allophones of y and w, not phonemes.


Supra-segmental Features

Modern Lemohai is a syllable-timed language. Only simple syllables are now allowed: (C)V or N̩- . Stress falls regularly on the penultimate syllable. Stress is light and accompanied by a high pitch accent.

The language exhibits nasal harmony. From a stressed nasal vowel, all subsequent vowels are nasalised until the next stressed oral vowel. These changes are reflected in writing.

Nasal harmony only works backwards in VVN sequences. Historically, the vowel adjacent to the N acquired nasality and the N disappeared. At a later stage, the first vowel became nasal to harmonise with it.



The language has three main regional dialects, each with small but noticeable differences from the above.

Author: David Johnson

Language constructor, writer, music fan and activist.

4 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.

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