The Phonotactic Constraints

Day 2: So, today I am going to lay out some ground rules as to how the various sounds can be arranged in Llárriésh (Since this is a bit of a pain to write, in the future I may simply use Ll.). First, though, a disclaimer: I will try to explain the various linguistic terms I’ll be using, but this isn’t necessarily a tutorial in linguistics. Yesterday I talked about the sounds – these are called phones. Every phone is different in some minute way – the International Phonetic Alphabet is used to group them together into the smallest manageable size. Phonemes are what speakers use to organize phones in their mind – if you ask an American what is the plosive in spin and pin, he’ll say p, even though realistically it should be [p] and [pʰ]. /p/ is a phoneme, and [p] and [pʰ] are phones – you could also say that they are allophones of each other, since they have the same phoneme (I think.) Orthography is the convention for how something is written, and the IPA (International Phonetics Alphabet) is used a gold standard for phones. Phonotactic constraints are what codifies how phonemes can be arranged: In E, *ngat wouldn’t work as a word, nor *akjdljads. This is due to these.

So, to sum up: As for the various sound-based branches of linguistics, phonetics is the study of phones, of actual sounds coming out of people’s mouths, and uses the IPA a lot to describe those sounds. Phonology is the study of phonemes, the study of different languages’ conceptual sound space, how it is organised, and how it relates to the actual sounds that are spoken. How to write down phonemes is very arbitrary. It’s common among the conlang community to use the IPA to choose symbols for phonemes, but in linguistics most often people use language-dependent transliterations, which may or may not be based on the IPA. Finally, phonotactics is the study of how phonemes string together, which series of sounds a language allows to run together, which ones it disallows, and how it solves forbidden clusters when they happen to appear in speech. (This is from a very useful comment by Tsela down below – please refer there for more on how I messed up in my original post, and for more clarification.)

Secondly, when I say day, I mean waking-time: if I load this at 3am, that still technically counts by my watch. (Naps, of course, do not count as sleep.)

I failed, yesterday, to establish an orthography for my vowels: i [i], u [u], ï [ɪ], ü [ʊ] (remember that those last two only occur in low tone). e [e] and [ø], o for [o] and [ɤ]: the latter, in both cases, occur due to specific sound changes, and are predictable. ee [ɛ], a [a], and low-tone only ë [ə], ä [ɐ]. I fear that this is going to be a very accent-based conlang. Two vowels never occur next to each other in Ll., so one need not worry about confusing ee [ɛ].

The maximal syllable construction will be CC[C]VCC. For a CC to occur, one must be either a fricative (An s-like sound) or sonorant (a nasal or a liquid (l and r)). The minimal construction for a syllable is V, which means that two vowels can qualify as two syllables. In the onset, plosive-nasal is allowed, but not nasal-plosive: so, bnin wheat, but not *nbin. It’s the same for plosive-liquid versus liquid-plosive: bllhana fishing net but not *llbana. You’ll not the [h] in there – that’s allowed after l, ll, and rr.  Only an [h] or a [j] can occur in that position, as in plyená doll.

The nucleus must be either a vowel or a diphthong. The lateral fricatives and trills are never syllabic. y [j] never occurs on it’s own in a nucleus, or after a diphthong. The diphthongs are as follows: aü [ɑʊ], eï [eɪ], and aï [ɑɪ] and iü [iʊ]. ([ɪ] and [ʊ] may occur in diphthongs, as well in their previously defined environments.)

Any consonant may end a syllable by itself: in coda consonant clusters, a stop may be followed only by a fricative: pikshún to sweep. No sonorant (nasals, liquids) can end a CC coda cluster. Any fricative or nasal which occurs in the beginning of a CC coda cluster assimilates to the place of articulation of the following consonant: thus teengkún, to contemplate at the expense of other activities; to daydream (coll.), and not *teenkún. Finally, only fricatives may occur after a voiced consonant in a coda cluster.

Two unvoiced fricatives may not appear next to each other, in any cluster, but may occur over syllable boundaries, as in wa’ishthéntún to eye greedily.

Palatal consonants may only occur after high vowels, I have decided. And I think that they may be allophonic to /t/, /ch/, and /s/, but I am not sure yet.

Technically, áshv.gllhïn.ár unsmelted tin ore is allowable, but I would not suggest trying too hard to pronounce it. (The periods mark syllables.)

And I think that should be enough for now. I’m sure I’ll find loopholes that I will have to close up later.

Here are the (bad) pronunciations. Listen!

§

This was not a fun post to make. Not because it wasn’t fun creating rules, or making words and exceptions to those, but because I am dead tired and I didn’t think it would take me this much effort to get this down. I kept looking for holes in my constraints, and I’m still certain that they are there. I would suggest, for other people, to create easy constrictions first, and have languages sound like Hawaiian or something. I like diving off of the deep end, so here I am. Still, there’s a certain beauty to this. I’ve been trying to constrict the use of fricatives, even though this language only has around the same amount as Lakota. You may be able to guess some of the primitive morphology (the way words are put together) already. Hopefully this will work.

If you didn’t understand any of this, don’t worry about it. This post was mainly for me – it clarifies how I can and cannot make words.

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31 Comments

  1. Plumps
    Posted August 6, 2010 at 3:45 am | Permalink

    Interesting indeed.
    I really appreciate that you create sound files with it. I can imagine that it’s a further difficulty in getting the posts done but I think it’s easier to have a glimpse of how the language is supposed to sound.

    Keep up the good work 😉

    PS: And yes of course, 3 am works fine! 😉 Who needs sleep anyway… ?! 😛

    • Posted August 6, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Thanks Plumps. I’ll try and make sound recordings for each word I come up with. Now, if I could only find a way to make a good database…maybe a dictionary…hmm…

  2. Posted August 6, 2010 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    Hi Richard,

    I applaud your initiative (I know by experience how time-consuming creating a language is), but I think there are a few mistakes in this post that need to be corrected, as they completely misrepresent how a language phonology works.

    You write:

    phones are the actualy sounds, and phonemes are the representations of those sounds that we use in spelling. Orthography is the convention for how something is written, and the IPA (International Phonetics Alphabet) is used a gold standard to apply phonemes to phones.

    First, phonemes don’t have anything to do with spelling! They are a purely phonological phenomenon, that exists also for languages that are not written down. Second, the IPA (International *Phonetic* Alphabet) is not called “Phonetic” for no reason: it is purely a standardised way of writing down phones, not phonemes. It can be used for that as well, but that is not necessary.

    So, what are phonemes and phones then? If I simplify a lot, phonemes are the sounds people think they make when they talk, while phones are the sounds they actually make. For instance, if you casually ask an English speaker about the “t” sound in “top” and “stop”, they will say: “it’s the same sound”. In their mind, they think it’s a single sound. But if you pay attention, you’ll hear that the “t” in “top” is aspirated (pronounced with a puff of air), while the one in “stop” isn’t. They are different phones (different phones, or “sounds” corresponding to a single phoneme are called allophones. In your language, you talk about how [e] and [ø] occur predictably. Those are basically allophones of the same phoneme, which you recognised since you gave them a single spelling. But you didn’t need to. Sanskrit had different letters for allophones of the same phoneme. Some languages don’t even bother with pronunciation is their writing system!).

    Phonemes are basically how speakers of a specific language separate their conceptual sound space in meaningful chunks (i.e. chunks that are used to actually contrast words), while phones are the actual realisations, what actually comes out of people’s mouths. And the relationship between phonemes and phones is very language-dependent.

    As for the various sound-based branches of linguistics, phonetics is the study of phones, of actual sounds coming out of people’s mouths, and uses the IPA a lot to describe those sounds. Phonology is the study of phonemes, the study of different languages’ conceptual sound space, how it is organised, and how it relates to the actual sounds that are spoken. How to write down phonemes is very arbitrary. It’s common among the conlang community to use the IPA to choose symbols for phonemes, but in linguistics most often people use language-dependent transliterations, which may or may not be based on the IPA. Finally, phonotactics is the study of how phonemes string together, which series of sounds a language allows to run together, which ones it disallows, and how it solves forbidden clusters when they happen to appear in speech.

    Keep up the good work! I’m curious about how Llárriésh is going to turn out!

    • Posted August 6, 2010 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Hey Tsela!

      Thanks for reading. I didn’t realise that doing this would take this much time, but that’s alright, I’m up for it.

      And thanks for correcting me. I see I’ve made a few mistakes – my bad. I blame being too tired and simply too ignorant and lazy to spot those. This is what I get for trying to clarify things. 😛 So, yes, I understand that phonemes have nothing to do with orthography. Secondly, thank you for your clarification concerning the IPA – you’re right, I was thinking that phones are the always-different realisation, and took it that the IPA was a bit abstracted: this was an error, and it is now corrected in my mind. That was a very clear, concise, and helpful post which you made. I will go through and correct my errors, now.

      Thanks again. 🙂

    • Posted May 7, 2016 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      The puchrases I make are entirely based on these articles.

    • Posted May 13, 2016 at 2:28 am | Permalink

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  3. Posted August 6, 2010 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    You snuck in some grammar! -ún marks some sort of verbal noun or verb inflection you’ve picked to be the lemma.

    It looks like the IPA went awry for ï.

    Please, please, please have several words for flying insects start with [b]bll-[/b].

    Unsmelted tin ore. Huh.

    • Posted August 6, 2010 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      You got it. 😀 Also, thanks – corrected the ïssue. 😛

      Good idea. And yes, weird word, huh.

  4. Atan'eveng
    Posted August 6, 2010 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    OOh I wanna learn it so bad right now!
    But it sounds complicated to read. I hope my experience with other languages will help me with this one =)

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