Proto-Dahu-Kemba is reconstructed as having 27 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 long equivalents, but this is not known for certain.
Short: a, e, i, u = /a, ə, i, u/
Long: aa, ee, ii, uu = /a:, ə:, i:, u:/
The location of e 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 /y, w/ whilst a and e kept their full sound. At this stage, it is impossible 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.
High vowels were lowered to mid-high when adjacent to uvular consonants. So i would be pronounced /e/ and u would become /o/.
The language had five plosives, all voiceless. They had no apparent allophones.
Voiceless: p, t, k, q, ‘ = /p, t, k, q, ʔ/
The language had four nasal consonants, a high number.
m, n, ng, nq = /m, n, ŋ, ɴ/
The uvular nasal is transcribed here as nq, but this should not be taken to mean that it was a voiceless sound. The q is there simply to illustrate uvularity. The digraph is consistent with the use of ng.
The language also had six fricatives, a similar number to many European languages in our world.
f, z, s, x, xh, h = /f, s̻ , s̺ , x, χ, h/
As in Basque, z is used to represent a laminal /s/, whilst s represents a apical one. The first is more hissing, the latter more hushing. Xh represents the voiceless uvular fricative, a sound midway between /x/ and /h/, hence its chosen symbol.
Other Consonants and Allophones
Finally, the language possessed four other sonorants. These were:
l, r, y, w = / l, ɾ, y, w/
They were normally pronounced as above, but l became /ʟ/ in syllable coda position and r became trilled /r/ word initially.
Consonants could be geminated. Geminates are written double in this transcription. Logically enough, the only consonants that could geminate were those that could appear in syllable coda position. These are listed in the next section. Geminated consonants were normally pronounced like single ones, though rr had a trilled /rr/ sound instead of the usual flap.
Only the following syllable types were permitted in Proto-Dahu-Kemba:
(C)V, (C)V:, (C)VV, (C)VC
Any consonant could appear in coda position except for y, w and ‘.
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 one with primary stress.