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Ílion phonology and spelling

Consonants: labial dental alveolar post* dorsal glottal
stopp bt dc/q g
nasalmn
affricateçh j
fricativef vth dhs zsh jhqh gh
flapr
approximantwlrhyh
*postalveolar

In this table, as usual, when consonants appear in space-separated pairs the first is unvoiced and the second voiced. All flaps and approximants are always voiced (in earlier stages I included unvoiced <wh> and <yh>, but I'm currently leaning against them), except for <h>, which is always the unvoiced /h/.

/h/ always appears alone, never in clusters. The digraphs with <h> are therefore unambiguous.

I'm calling the final column "dorsal" because it encompasses both the (dorso-)palatal and velar places of articulation: Ílion makes no phonemic distinction between them. The stops are more often velar, but may be palatal when juxtaposed with front vowels (depending on dialect), while the fricatives are more often palatal, and the voiced fricative is always palatal (I just don't like the sound of the voiced velar fricative, really; it just sounds gargly and kinda makes my throat hurt). There is no phonemic dorsal nasal, although /n/ before a dorsal may be pronounced as such.

I decided against using the letter <k> because I felt that it looked too angular and "hard" to fit in with the aesthetic I was going for (I rejected <x> for the same reason). The unvoiced dorsal stop /k/ is instead spelled with <c> and <q>, depending on context: as an onset consonant, if it is followed by a front vowel (/i/ /e/) or /w/, it is spelled <q>, while if it is followed by any other vowel or approximant, it is spelled <c>; if it falls at the end of a word or is followed by a consonant, the spelling is determined (in the same way) by the preceding vowel. This was to avoid situations that might result in confusion or mispronunciation on the part of English-speakers, particularly the hard/soft c problem (e.g. how many people pronounce Celeborn as "seleborn", even though <c> is always hard in Tolkein's languages) and <qu>. It also gives me an excuse to throw in the letter <q> without making spelling less than round-trip phonemic or introducing something like uvulars.

My "in-world" rationale for the c/q thing is that originally they denoted distinct consonants (palatal for C, possibly uvular for Q), but palatal stops before front vowels became fronted from dorso-palatal to lamino-palatal (postalveolar), becoming <ch> and <j>, and the uvulars moved forward, merging C with Q. This nicely explains why <c> is dorsal but <ch> is laminal, but unfotunately doesn't really explain the independent existence of <j>. I'm not sure if I'll expand on this; it's really only an excuse for a weird bit of spelling, and I'm not going to bother seriously creating a proto-language and deriving the modern tongue from it.

The c-with-cedilla is only used in the digraph <çh>. It's there mainly because I wanted to have a cedilla. It's silly but I like it.

Phonemically speaking, there are two kinds of R sounds in Ílion: the alveolar flap <r> (the "Spanish" single r, /4/ in CXS), and the rhotic approximant <rh> (the American English r). Phonetically, there's more like three: the trill (Spanish "rr") also appears, but is not phonemic. When two /4/ appear in sequence (which can only happen across a syllable boundary), they are pronounced as a trill. Predictably, this is spelled <rr>.

Vowels:FrontCentralBack
Closeiu
Mideo
Opena

Yeah, it's just the five cardinal vowels. Back vowels are rounded and front/center unrounded. Nothing too special here, really, but that's fine. Mid vowels are more close-mid (/e/ and /o/) rather than open-mid (/E/ and /O/). I'm not sure whether <a> should be /a/, /6/, or /A/. I'm kind of leaning towards the last (it has a smoother sound, to my ears, and euphony is a goal here), but the phoneme seems to pattern with the front vowels more than the back, so I'm kind of torn.

I know I want diphthongs, but haven't decided on any yet. They will be spelled as digraphs, I know that. <eu> and <au> are likely, <oe> or <oi> possible, <ae> maybe more likely than <ai>. Not sure if I want more, or how exactly they'll be pronounced.

In earlier drafts, I had an explicit schwa, which I was spelling ÿ. This was mainly an excuse to use the Latin-1 character set's y-umlaut, because it's a pretty absurdly showy symbol for a vowel that so rarely takes stress. It had some interesting features, for example being pronounced with breathy voice (the glottis partly closed but lax) after fricatives and approximants (or in some drafts, always) and being unvoiced between unvoiced consonants like the Japanese /u/ and /i/. I still kind of like that idea, but I don't think it fits with this language, particularly the goal of being able to explain basic pronunciation and grammar in a page. The schwa still survives, barely, but is epenthetic, appearing only when a proclitic ending in a consonant fuses to a word beginning with a consonant, and not within words. It doesn't have a letter, although the apostrophe used when attaching clitics could be considered such sometimes.

Phonotactics are still a little sketchy. Syllables may end with a single consonant, never a cluster (the affricates <ch> and <j>, which act like clusters in some respects, are also verboten), and open syllables (ending in vowels) abound. The muta cum liquida rule, which means that a stop followed by an approximant must be part of the same syllable as the approximant (a syllable break cannot fall between the two) is in effect. It sounds right, and I think it's common in natural languages for articulatory reasons (padparadscha, am I off base on this?). Allowed consonant clusters will probably be restricted to a stop or fricative followed by an approximant.

Syllable accent will be regular (I think), but still marked orthographically with an acute accent. I don't know why the Ílion people would explicitly mark something they could always predict anyway, but I can always fall back on the old "spelling rules don't always make sense" excuse if pressed. With diphthongs, the accent mark would fall on the first letter of the digraph. Ílion has pitch accent rather than stress accent, which I think would provide a bit of a sing-song quality.

Vowels can occur in hiatus (that is, a syllable break may occur between vowels). When it does, the second vowel is marked with a diæresis, unless the second vowel is a diphthong, in which case the first vowel is marked, or the second vowel is stressed, in which case the second vowel is only marked with the acute accent. Word-final <e> is always marked with a diæresis, even when it is not in hiatus (which would actually be rare, I think). This is to prevent English-speakers from interpreting it as a "silent e"—a trick I stole picked up from Tolkein.

Any questions?
Tags: conlangs, ideas
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