What did Classical Letepi sound like?

Classical Letepi was the language of the ancient Empire of Tepi. It had twenty-eight phonemes. It was characterised by five points of vowel articulation, a plain/aspirate contrast and the prominence of velar and palatal sounds. Syllables were simple or moderately complex.

A wide range of writings in Classical Letepi have survived to the modern era. These range from the popular and practical to the advanced and academic. They even include grammars of C Let written by native speakers. We can, therefore, describe the formal registers of the language with confidence.


Classical Letepi had ten monophthongs, five short and five long. Long vowels are written double in this transcription.

Closei, ii
/i, i:/
u, uu
/u, u:/
Close Mide, ee
/e, e: /
o, oo
/o, o: /
Opena, aa
/a, a:/
Classical Letepi vowels

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is used here to indicate typical values. No doubt the sound of each vowel varied somewhat in practice, but few of the details of vowel variation were recorded by ancient writers.

The combination of any short monophthong with a reduced i or u was a valid diphthong in C Let. Open and mid-close vowels a, e and o always kept their full sound in diphthongs. Where the close vowels i and u met, the first one reduced.


C Let had a set of eighteen consonants. A third of them were stops. Plain stops contrasted with aspirate ones. There were a good number of sonorants and a couple of fricatives.

Stopp, ph
/p, pʰ/
t, th
/t, tʰ/
k, kh
/k, kʰ/
Affrc, ch
/tç, tçʰ/
Liql, r
/l~ʟ, r/
Classical Letepi consonants

Any consonant could be geminated, apart from aspirate stops or y, and w. Geminates are written double in this transcription: kk, etc. The trigraphs ngg and nyy represent the geminates /ŋŋ/ and /ɲɲ/ respectively.

Nasals were homorganic with the following consonant.

S was pronounced /ç/ word finally if the next word began with a consonant and there was no intervening pause between the two words.

L became /ʟ/ in syllable coda position.

Unlike in English, R was always trilled.

Suprasegmental Features

Only the following syllable types were permitted in Classical Letepi:

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

Any consonant could appear in onset position. Any could be found as a coda, except aspirate stops or y and w.

Syllables were classed as light: (C)V; heavy (C)VC, (C)V:, (C)VV or superheavy: (C)V:C, (C)VVC.

Stress normally fell on the penultimate syllable. However, if the final syllable was heavier, it took the stress instead. Secondary stress occurred on every alternate syllable before the one with primary stress.

Writing system

Classical Letepi began to be written in the alphabet of Pamak, a language of the Transmontane family. This was a unicase script written from left to right. It was adapted somewhat to meet the needs of C Let.

Changes from Proto-Maritime


The sounds that changed between Proto-Maritime and Classical Letepi may be grouped into the following categories:

  • C=m n ny ng nq p t k q ph th kh c ch s x l r y w [Consonants]
  • V=a e i o u [Short Vowels]
  • F=i ii [Front Vowels]
  • P=p t c k q [Plain Stops and Affricates]
  • G=pp tt cc kk qq [Geminate Stops and Affricates]
  • A=ph th ch kh [Aspirate Stops and Affricates]
  • X=ng k x [Velar Consonants]
  • Y=ny c ch x [Palatal Consonants]
  • U=nq q [Uvular Consonants]
  • Z=& @ [Primary and Secondary Stress Marks]


The rules may now be presented using standardised notation. They appear in the order in which linguists think they occurred.

  • X→Y/_F

Velar consonants ng, k and x became palatal before front vowels i and ii.

  • U→X/_

Uvular consonants nq and q became velar.

  • P→A /_&
  • G→A/_

Plain stops and affricates were aspirated at the start of the syllable with primary stress or when geminate. A single aspirate replaced the geminate stops and affricates.

(I use stress marks when rewriting words for the Zompist Sound Change Applier. Their absence from the rule above means it is only applied to unstressed syllables by the SCA).

  • x→ç/_

X in other positions moved forward to become a voiceless palatal fricative.

  • s→ç/_C/_s

S also became a voiceless palatal fricative before consonants other than s.

Stress was regularised wherever sound change occurred.


In Classical Letepi, velar consonants developed palatal allophones before front vowels. Uvular sounds merged with velars, but in its sister language Classical Lekuna, they became a new glottal series.

The uvular-velar merger restored velar sounds before front vowels. This meant that the palatal allophones became phonemic. As phonemes, they became available for use in other positions.

In Proto-Maritime, close vowels were lowered to close-mid position when adjacent to uvulars nq or q. In these positions, i would be pronounced /e/ and u would become /o/. When uvulars merged with velars in C Let, the vowels retained their lowered sound, giving rise to phonemic /e, o/.

Next, both siblings acquired aspiration in stops. The distribution of aspirate stops differs between the two languages.

Remaining x moved forward to become a voiceless palatal fricative in all positions.

Proto-Maritime s was in free variation between apical and laminal varieties /s̻ ~ s̺ /. This variation was retained in Classical Lekuna but lost in Classical Letepi when s became /ç/ before any consonant apart from another s.

By David Johnson

Conlanger, writer and activist.

One comment

  1. Parts of this post are currently non-canonical. C Let as described above is now too close to Lemohai. It will have to be altered to look more like Proto-Maritime. This will be done once a full set of changes from Proto-Maritime to Lemohai are published.

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