What does Lemohai sound like?

Vowels

Modern Standard Lemohai 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.

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

Nasal monophthongs: an, en, in, on, un = /ã, ɛ̃,  ĩ, , ɔ̃ , ũ/

Nasal vowels are sounded in the same place as their oral equivalents in the standard language. They are not permitted before sonorants. When compounding therefore, nasal vowels become oral in this position. Before a labial b or p in the same word, nasal vowels are written Vm. This also applies on compounding.

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, the 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.

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Consonants

The language has fifteen consonants. Obstruents come in two series, voiceless and voiced. Most voiceless obstruents have a voiced counterpart.

Voiceless obstruents: p, t, k, s, h = /p~pʰ, t~tʰ, k~kʰ, s, h/

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

Voiceless stops p, t and k become aspirated /pʰ, tʰ, kʰ/ after nasal vowels. This keeps them distinct from voiced stops in this position.

H is not permitted after a nasal vowel. On compounding, h is deleted from this position.

The six sonorants are all voiced.

Voiced sonorants: m, n, l, r, y, w = /m, n, l, r~ɾ, j, w/

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

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Supra-segmental Features

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

(C)V(N)

Final N are rare. They are only sounded before vowel initial words, as outlined above.

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. Irregular stress is indicated by an acute accent: á.

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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-low (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. 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/.

In the southern dialect, h has become a glottal stop and mid-low vowels e and o are raised to mid-high position when unstressed. S and z move to alveo-palatal /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ before front high vowels i and in.

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Writing System

Lemohai is written natively in a syllabary. This consists of 80 characters: (5 vowels) + (15 x 5 CV combinations). The characters are simple and geometric. They lack risers or descenders. There are no cursive forms.

There are in fact only 40 letter shapes, but they are flipped from left to right to show voiced and voiceless initial consonants and from top to bottom to mark the difference between the following pairs:

mV and nV ; lV and rV ;  V and hV ; yV and wV.

Three diacritics may appear above a character. A macron indicates a nasal vowel, an apostrophe indicates stress and a breve marks a stressed nasal vowel.

This sounds like a lot to learn compared with the 26 letter alphabet of English, but English actually has 52 characters if you include the capitals and more with cursive variations. Furthermore, English characters are used inconsistently, whereas the Lemohai system is simple and regular. All things considered, it is probably easier to learn to write Lemohai than to learn to write English.

 

Author: David Johnson

Language constructor, writer, music fan and activist.

6 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.

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