Modern Standard Lemohai has a total of twenty-four phonemes. Their sounds vary a little according to their phonetic environment. They are arranged in simple syllables.
The language has a so-called “pure” vowel system, consisting of five oral and five nasal monophthongs. Nasal vowels are written like their oral counterparts followed by a nasal consonant.
/e̞, ẽ̞ /
/o̞, õ̞ /
Where two vowels meet, a slight hiatus is normally sounded between them. So words like Mohai consist of three syllables, not two: /mo̞.’ha.i/. A hiatus is also sounded where two vowels meet across word boundaries. Where the first vowel is a nasal vowel, a glottal stop /ʔ/ is sounded between them. The glottal stop is unwritten.
Vowels keep their full value in all circumstances. In theory, they are never swallowed-up and cannot form diphthongs or triphthongs. In rapid or colloquial speech, diphthongs will sometimes be encountered, though the practice is non-standard.
The vowels e, ẽ, o and õ are normally true mid vowels. They are raised to close-mid when adjacent to a close vowel (i, ĩ, u, ũ) and lowered to open-mid when adjacent to an open vowel (a, ã).
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.
The language has fourteen consonants. There are two series of stops (plain and aspirate), along with small sets of fricatives and sonorants.
Plain stops p, t, k are voiced after nasal vowels, as is s. They become /b, d, g, z/ respectively.
H is pronounced /ç/ before front close vowels i or ĩ. H is not permitted after a nasal vowel. On compounding, h is deleted from this position.
Oral sonorants l, r, y and w are nasalised after nasal vowels. Word-initial r is a trill, /r/, but it is a flap elsewhere.
Lemohai is a syllable-timed language. Only the following syllable types are allowed:
Regular stress 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.
Younger speakers employ a limited form of nasal harmony. Where an oral vowel immediately precedes a nasal vowel in the same word, it too is nasalised. The practice is frowned upon by older speakers, who refer to it as “nasal slur”.
Thanks to the levelling effects of modern media and education, regional and class-based differences in the modern language are few, though they remain noticeable.
Lemohai has three main dialects: Northern, Southern and Central. The Lemohai spoken overseas is also non-standard. The standard language, as described above, is the language of the upper and middle classes of the capital Orisu. Orisu lies in the central dialect zone.
Working-class speech in the central zone is distinguished by the pronunciation of the vowel sequences ei and ou as /e/ and /o/ respectively. E and o have become open-mid, but their nasal counterparts remain true mid vowels. H has become a glottal stop for some speakers.
The northern dialect has retained some irregular stress from Early Lemohai. It is indicated by an acute diacritic on oral vowels or a circumflex on nasal vowels: á, â. Unstressed front vowels e, ẽ, i and ĩ become central vowels /ə, ə̃, ɨ, ɨ̃/ before velar and glottal consonants (k, kh, h). So Tekuo is pronounced: /tə.‘ku.o̞/.
The old phoneme /ŋ/ has been retained and is written ng. It has moved to /n/ elsewhere. H is always pronounced /x/. The dialect shares this last feature with the nearby Letepi language. Syllabic nasal consonants are permitted in word-initial position.
In the southern dialect, h is always pronounced /h/. Open-mid vowels e, ẽ, o and õ are raised to close-mid position when unstressed. They become open-mid when stressed. Dental-alveolar sounds (n, t, th, s) move to pre-palatal, approximately /ɲ, tʃ, tʃʰ, ʃ/, before front close vowels i and ĩ*. Before front close vowels and after nas vowels t and s become voiced a pre-palatals /dʒ, ʒ/.
The Lemohai alphabet is written from left to right in simple, geometric characters. It is a unicase script without separate upper and lower case forms. It is largely phonetic. It is a variant on the Classical Lekuna alphabet which derives in turn from the Pamak script.