Modern Standard Lemohai has a total of twenty-six 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 /
The trailing nasal consonants (n or m) are not sounded independently except when word-final and the next word starts with a vowel.
Where two oral 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.
Vowels keep their full value in all circumstances bar one. 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 only exception is that close oral vowels i and u are sounded /j, w/ between vowels: lei, /‘le.i/ BUT leia, /‘le.ja/. This change is made at word boundaries except where a pause intervenes. The sequences ii and uu may not occur. Ei and ou are substituted.
The vowels e, eN, o and oN are normally true mid vowels. They are raised to close-mid when adjacent to a close vowel (i, iN, u, uN) and lowered to open-mid when adjacent to an open vowel (a, aN).
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 sixteen consonants. There are three series of stops (voiced, plain and aspirate), along with small sets of fricatives and sonorants.
|Stop||b, p, ph|
/b, p, pʰ/
|d, t, th|
/d, t, tʰ/
|g, k, kh|
/g, k, kʰ/
Plain stops are aspirated after nasal vowels. This change is reflected in writing on compounding, but not across word boundaries.
H is pronounced /ç/ before front close vowels i or in. H is not permitted after a nasal vowel. On compounding, h is deleted from this position.
Oral sonorants l and r 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:
As noted above, the combination VN is a digraph representing a nasal vowel, but the nasal consonant is sometimes sounded as well.
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: á, án. Unstressed front vowels e, eN, i and iN become central vowels /ə, ə̃, ɨ, ɨ̃/ before velar and glottal consonants (g, 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, en, o and on are raised to close-mid position when unstressed. They become open-mid when stressed. Dental-alveolar sounds (n, d, t, th, z, s) move to pre-palatal, approximately /ɲ, dʒ, tʃ, tʃʰ, ʒ, ʃ/, before front close vowels i and in*.
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.