Chung Te phonology

Modern Chung Te is the main language of the empire of Chung Yí. It has a total of thirty-two phonemes. Their sounds vary a little according to their phonetic environment. They are arranged in simple syllables.


The language has a symmetrical ten vowel system. There are five points of vowel articulation and two tones. The low tone is the default tone so it is transcribed here without a diacritic. The high tone is shown by an acute diacritic.

Highi, í
/i, í/
u, ú
/u, ú/
Mid-Lowne, é
/ɛ, ɛ́/
o, ó
/ɔ, ɔ́/
Lowa, á
/a, á/
Chung Te vowels

Monophthongs keep their full value in all kinds of syllables. Where two vowels meet and one is a high vowel, a diphthong is formed. A high vowel in a diphthong is reduced. Both vowels must share the same tone. This is shown by the presence or absence of an acute diacritic on the non-high vowel:

ai, áu, uó, etc.

Where two vowels of differing tones meet in compounding the resulting diphthong takes the tone of the non-high vowel.

If both vowels are high, the stressed vowel dominates. It is unreduced and passes its tone to the other vowel.


The language has twenty-two consonants. There are three series of stops (voiced, voiceless and aspirated), along with small sets of fricatives and sonorants.

Chung Te consonants

The absence of /r/ is noticeable. However, the sound of l is very variable. It can become an alveolar lateral flap /ɺ/ for some speakers.

Suprasegmental Features

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


The N represents any of the nasal sonorants listed in the table above.

Primary stress falls invariably on the penultimate syllable of a word. Secondary stress falls on alternate syllables before that.


The language has always had numerous dialects. Historically it has had two standard forms. The first was based on northern forms, particularly the speech of the old capital, Han Kuetung.

The Empire expanded south and west towards the coast. The capital was therefore moved. The modern language is based on southern forms, particularly the estuarine dialects around the modern capital, Han Máichi.

Nowadays, Chung Yí is a large and varied empire, so its language still has several dialects. The population is young and growing fast so new forms of the language continue to develop. Speech patterns are also coloured by the fact that many Chung Yí citizens only speak Chung Te as a second language.

Writing System

Chung Te is written natively in a syllabary. Writing may be from left to right or top to bottom. Characters are predominantly curvilinear.

Characters may appear in one of two distinct styles. The Traditional Script was originally written with a writing brush and calligraphy was highly prized. This script has a fluid look reminiscent of Chinese or Japanese. The Modern Script is a product of the machine age and has a simpler, streamlined look.

In theory, either script may be used at any time. In contemporary practice, the Traditional Script is favoured in artistic, religious and nationalistic contexts whilst the Modern Script is favoured in scientific, technical and business environments.

Schools teach the modern script first and the traditional one much later. Advertisers make use of either script depending on what impression they wish to convey. Graphic designers often use one script for headings and the other for body text to differentiate the two elements.

By David Johnson

Conlanger, writer and activist.

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