Lemohai phonology

Modern Standard Lemohai has a total of twenty-two phonemes. Their sounds may vary 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 three nasal monophthongs. Like many languages in our world, Lemohai has fewer nasal than oral vowels. Notice that the three nasal vowels are maximally contrastive.

Nasal vowels are written here with a trailing nasal consonant. Historically, these were oral vowel and nasal consonant combinations. Nowadays, the consonant is only sounded at the end of a word when the next word begins with a vowel.

  Front Central Back
High i, ĩ
/i, ĩ/
  u, ũ
/u, ũ/
Mid e
/e̞ /
/o̞ /
Low   a, ã
/a, ã/
Lemohai vowels

Vowels keep their full value in all circumstances. So words like Mohai consist of three syllables, not two: /mo̞.’ha.i/.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.

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 two vowels meet across word boundaries and the first is nasal, a velar nasal/ŋ/ is sounded between them. Where two oral vowels meet, a light glottal stop /ʔ/) is normally sounded if the second vowel is stressed or if the two vowels are identical. Both the glottal stop and the velar nasal are unwritten.

The vowels e and o are normally true mid vowels. They become mid-low when adjacent to a close vowel (i, ĩ, u, ũ) and mid-high next to an open vowel (a, ã). This increases the contrast between the two consecutive vowel sounds, making them easier to distinguish.

Any vowel adjacent to a nasal vowel, must also be nasalised, as in the name of the nearby planet: Surũã. E and o nasalise to /ĩ/ and/ũ/ respectively.


The language has fourteen consonants. There are two series of stops, plus small sets of fricatives and sonorants.

  Lab Alv Pal Vel Glot
Nas m
Stop p
Fric   s
Liq   l, r
/l, r/
Gld (w)
Lemohai consonants

Plain stops p, t, k are voiced after nasal vowels. They become /b, d, g/ respectively. They are also voiced after a syllabic nasal. They are never aspirated, unlike their English counterparts.

Aspirated stops are found at the start of English words like pin, tin and kin: /pʰɪn, tʰɪn, kʰɪn/. These are separate phonemes in Lemohai and may occur in any position.

S is voiced after a nasal vowel or a syllabic nasal, becoming /z/.

H is pronounced /ç/ before front high 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.

Suprasegmental Features

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

(C)V ; N-

That is to say that the first syllable of a word may consist entirely of a syllabic m or n as in Mpesi /m̩’be̞si/ ; nkhome /ŋ̩’kʰo̞me/

Stress normally falls on the penultimate vowel, but if the final vowel is nasal, it takes the stress instead. Stress is light and accompanied by a high pitch accent.


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, Western and Eastern. 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 is in the Eastern dialect zone.

Writing System

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.

By David Johnson

Conlanger, writer and activist.

One comment

  1. This page replaces another which had a tortured history as it wobbled between variations on a core idea. The core idea is based around simple syllables, aspirated stops and nasal vowels. I have aimed for a judicious mixture of common sounds and conceptual radicalism. Allophony was developed with help from the Zompist Bulletin Board.

    More than anything I’ve wanted the phoneme inventory to look and sound good. The current set of phonemes and allophones embodies some delicate balances and is probably as good as it gets.

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