What did Proto-Dahu-Kemba sound like?

Proto-Dahu-Kemba is reconstructed as having 21 phonemes. It was characterised by its few points of vowel articulation, a lack of voicing contrast amongst consonants and the prominence of velar, uvular and pharyngeal sounds. Syllables were simple or moderately complex.

The standard model of PDK has stood the test of time, but some uncertainties remain. These are indicated below. The language was unwritten. We must assume that it had dialects, but nothing is known about them.



PDK had four short monophthongs each with a long equivalent, giving a total of eight. Long vowels are written double. It is assumed that they were made at the same points of articulation as their short equivalents, but this is not known for certain.

Short: a, ë, i, u = /a, ə, i, u/

Long: aa, ëë, ii, uu = /a:, ə:, i:, u:/

The location of ë is particularly problematic. It is generally regarded as mid-central, but could have been higher or lower. It may also have been further forward, though not fully a front vowel.

Diphthongs & Triphthongs

The combination of any monophthong with short i or u was a valid diphthong in PDK. I and u reduced nearly to /j, w/ whilst a and ë kept their full sound. At this stage, it is no longer possible to tell which vowel reduced in the diphthongs iu and ui.

Unlike a number of its descendants, the language does not appear to have possessed any triphthongs.

Vowel Allophones

High vowels were lowered to mid-high when adjacent to uvular consonants. So i would then be pronounced /e/ and u would become /o/.




Proto-Dahu-Kemba had four plosives, all voiceless.

Voiceless: p, t, k, q = /p, t, k, q/


The language had three nasal consonants.

m, n, ng = /m, n, ŋ/


There were also four fricatives.

f, s, x, h = /f, s,  x, h/

Other Consonants

Finally, the language possessed a couple of non-nasal sonorants.

l, r  = / l, ɾ/

Consonant Gemination

Any consonant could be geminated. Geminates are written double in this transcription: kk, etc. Geminate ng was written ngg.

Consonant Allophones

Velar consonants became uvular when adjacent to q. The combination ngq was common in root words and was pronounced /ɴq/. The combination xq occurred occasionally and was pronounced /χq/, i.e. with a voiceless uvular fricative.

Other combinations only occurred in compounding. K and q became qq, pronounced /qq/. Alveolar and labial consonants were deleted: t+q=q, etc.

S was in free variation between laminal and apical varieties. Its strict phonetic transcription was therefore /s̻ ~ s̺ /. The first of these is more hissing, the latter more hushing.

L became /ʟ/ in syllable coda position.

R became trilled word initially and when geminate: /r/ or /rr/ .


Supra-segmental Features

Only the following syllable types were permitted in Proto-Dahu-Kemba:

(C)V, (C)V:, (C)VV, (C)VC

Any consonant could appear in onset or coda position.

Stress fell on the penultimate syllable unless the final syllable was heavy (i.e. unless the final syllable was CV:, CVV or CVC). Heavy final syllables took the stress instead. Secondary stress occurred two syllables before the syllable with primary stress.


Author: David Johnson

Language constructor, writer, music fan and activist.

One thought on “What did Proto-Dahu-Kemba sound like?”

  1. Edited 04.08.17. My attempts to derive sound changes for later languages have shown that I did not need so many consonants. I have therefore reduced the number of phonenes in PDK from 27 to 21. Most of the lost phonemes reappear as allophones and the language was previously short of allophony. A double win, I think.

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