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Beneath the hood: a closer look at Nuirn spelling - consonants



  • b

    • In low environments, /bˠ/, in high environments /bʲ/. Vowel quality does not have as strong an effect on this stop as it does on some others. boa /bu:.ə/ "live, dwell, inhabit"; biorn /bi.əɹ̥n/ "bear".

  • bh

    • Always /v/. In low environments all /v/ sounds tend towards /ʋ/ or simply /w/, and between vowels create diphthongs: abhan /au.ən/ "river"

  • c

    • In low environments, /kˠ/, in high environments /kʲ/. The effect of vowel quality is much stronger on /k/ sounds than on the preceding. The high sound /kʲ/ is often realized as /ʧ/. /kˠɪʊ/ "cow"; cýr /kʲy:.əɹ. "cows".

  • ch

    • Usually /x/. Often simply /k/ as word final. Note that the group cht is always /xk/: nacht /nɑxk/ "night". To write /xt/, write chd. Note that 'c' is written in Nuirn where other North Germanic languages typically use 'k', which does not find much use in Nuirn.

  • d

    • In low environments, /dˠ/, in high environments /dʲ/. The group dr often becomes /ʤ/ in high environments: compare dirne /dʲiɹ̥.nə/ "(able bodied) woman" and dreng /dʲɾɛŋ/ > [ʤɛŋ] "(able bodied) man".

  • dd

    • Always /ð/. caoinedd /kˠəɪ.nəð/ "song".

  • dh

    • Usually silent; occasionally /ð/ when hiatus would otherwise result. Note that dh is the written form for the softened forms of both d and dd.

  • f

    • Word initially always /f/. Between two vowels, always /v/ (and see note on bh above). Before a consonant, it will take the voiced or voiceless pronunciation based on the following consonant. affa /ɑ.fə/ "monkey"; næfer /nɛ.vəɹ̥/ "never". The digraph fv is always /v/: øfver /ø.veɹ̥/ "over".

  • fh

    • Always silent. Seldom encountered.

  • g

    • The reflexes of /g/ are a bit more complicated than some of the other stops. Generally, in low environments, /gˠ/, in high environments /gʲ/. In high environments, however, /gʲ/ is sometimes realized as /j/. The spelling system copes with this in a number of ways. In high environments gh can be written for /j/, and when a full /g/ in a high environment the digraph gc can be used. gada /gˠa.də/ "city street"; geit /gʲɛɪt/ "goat"; geting, also gheting /jɛ.tɪŋ/ "wasp, marijuana cigarette"; gceire also geire /gʲɛɪ.ɾə/ "make, do".

  • gh

    • When low, historically /ɣ/, but now usually /v/. When high, always /j/, as discussed above.

      The group -igh is often realized as /əɪ/, /ʌɪ/, /aɪ/: note especially migh /məɪ/ "me" (1p. acc. sing.) and þigh /ðʌɪ/ "you" (2p. acc. sing.). But as an adjective ending, -igh is always /i/. The group -igt is always /-ɪk/: go roligt /gʌ ɾu.lɪk/ "quietly, cautiously".

  • h

    • As /h/ or /x/. Relatively indifferent to vowel quality. haurn /haʊ.ɾən/ "horn".

      As is obvious above, h is used as a diacritical. Following a consonant, it signifies a softened or silenced pronunciation: bh, ch, dh, fh, gh, mh, ph, th.

      But when h precedes certain consonants, it produces a "retroflex" pronunciation:

  • hl

    • This is the voiceless 'l': /ɬ/. It generally only appears word initially. hlaut /ɬaʊt/ "guitar".

  • hr

    • This is the trilled 'r', /r/. Spelled this way, it generally only appears word initially; elsewhere the sound is written rr: hròm /rom/ "gypsy".

  • hv

    • Another digraph usually found only word initially, this one gets realized in a variety of ways depending on context. In many pronouns it is simply realized as /k-/: hvá /kɔ:/ "who" (nom. sg); hvait /kʌtʲ/ "what". This has been regularized in the spelling of many phrases: hvá sóm bhith > co'sóm bhith /kɔ sʌm vi/ "the one who...". In other question words and pronouns, it is still realized as /ʍ/, which is actually realized as a strongly retroflected [̺θ]: hvilceth /̺θɪl.kə/ "which". But when the group appears in non-pronoun or interrogative words it is realizes as /kv-/: hval /kvaɫ/ "whale".

  • j

    • Used very sparingly in Nuirn; as noted above, the usual orthography for /j/ sounds is i plus the grave accent on the following fully pronounced vowel. But j is used in the digraphs cj, kj, and tj, which without ambiguity spell /ʧ/; dj and gj, which unambiguously spell /ʤ/; and sj, which unambiguously spells /ʃ/: Djeaday /ʤɛ.dəɪ/ "Jedi".

  • k

    • Used very sparingly. The only place k is frequently written is in the group ck, which word finally is preferred to cc: reck /ɹɛk/ "count, tally".

  • l

    • Usually /l/; in low environments it will be imperfectly released, and tends to turn into an approximant /ɫ/ in the syllable coda: lænn /læn/ "neighborhood", fiall /fi.əɫ/ "mountain, peak". Can be syllabic.

  • m

    • Usually /m/. Not strongly affected by umlaut and vowel quality. In the endings -um it may be realized as /n/ depending on the consonants that follow: mære /mæ.ɾə/ "female dog"; máighde /mʌɪ.dʲə/ "power"; stundum /stʊnd.n̩/ or /stʊnd.m̩/ "once (upon a time)". Can be syllabic.

  • mh

    • Realized as /v, ʋ, w/ depending on class of surrounding vowels. Rarely written; damhsa also dausa /daʊ.sə/ "dance".

  • n

    • Invariably /n/, although, as in English, it will assimilate to a following consonant. Not strongly affected by vowel quality. nádal /nɔ:.dəɫ/ "needle", níl æ... /ni.lɛɪ/ "there aren't any...."

  • ng

    • Like in English, this digraph is ambiguous as to whether it represents /ŋ/ or /ŋg/: angast /ɑŋ.əst/ "turmoil"; finger /fɪŋ.gəɹ̥/ "finger". Unlike in English, it can occur word-initially: ngaid /ŋadʲ/ "divine grace"; ngochail /ŋɔ.xəl/ "joint".

  • p

    • This is /p/, and like /b/ is not strongly affected by vowel quality: párung /pɔ:.ɾʌŋ/ "twin"; písen /pi:.sən/ "peas".

  • ph

    • Little used. Always /f/. pherian /fɛɾ.jən/ "person of short stature".

  • q

    • Qu is occasionally used in writing to signify /kw/: quar /kwaɹ̥/ "in front of"; quemme /kwɛ.mə/ "come" (subjunctive). The digraph qh is sometimes used instead of hv- above in interrogative pronouns, especially the ones where the sound is in fact /k/: qhá /kɔ:/ "who".

  • r

    • The realization of the phoneme /r/ in Nuirn is quite complex. Alone, word initially and between vowels, it is usually an alveolar flap /ɾ/, a value not much affected by vowel quality: riste /ris.tʲə/ "carve, write", rasca /ɾas.ka/ "slide"; bære /bæ.ɾə/ "barley"; bara /ba.ɾə/ "just, only". Note that hr is a separate phoneme; the trilled /r/ appears most often slightly aspirated and word initial. There are minimal pairs: rod /ɾɔd/ "root"; hrod /hrɔd/ "fame".

      In the syllable coda, the sound is realized similarly, but the flap is never released, and turns into a voiceless approximant. This could be notated several ways, and might be considered a rhotacized vowel /ɚ/ but in fact the vowel and the approximant are separate. It is closer to a strongly retroflex /̠θ/ or a less breathy or ejective /ɬ/, but is really a voiceless alveolar approximant /̥ɹ/. The sound is minimally affected by vowel quality, and in fact encourages breaking like other sonorants do: múir /mu.ɨɹ̥/ "sea"; míor /mi.ʌɹ̥/ "lake".

      The effects of umlaut quality are strongly felt when the 'r' sound appears as the final part of a syllable initial consonant culture. In low environments the lightly trilled [r] returns: þrott /θrɔt/ "bravery"; grá /grɔː/ "gray". In high environments, the sound either remains a tap, frí /fɾi:/ "free"; but especially after t- and d- has a strong tendency to be coarticulated with the preceding consonant as /ʧ/ or /ʤ/: dricht /ʤɪxk/ "blame", treinn /ʧɛɪn/ "noose". (Nuirn proverb: stoppar dricht scubbaþ /stɔ.pʌɹ̥ ʤɪxk skʊ.bʌθ/ "the buck stops here".)

  • s

    • In low environments, always /s/. In high environments, sometimes /sʲ/, sometimes /ʃ/. The inability to distinguish consistently and reliably between /sʲ/ and /ʃ/ may be the largest failing of the Nuirn spelling system.

      The sound /ʃ/ will be called for when the spelling seems to have gone out of its way to indicate the high quality: siú /ʃu:/ "seven", siòchar /ʃʊ.xəɹ̥/ or /ʃʊ.kəɹ̥/ "sugar", sièy /ʃɛɪ/ "lake, bay". If a high glide is inserted to indicate vowel quality, the glide will usually be written with e to call for /sʲ/ and i for /ʃ/, but this is not completely reliable, especially for old words in the core vocabulary: seò /ʃo:/, 'this'. To write /ʃ/ unambiguously the digraphs sk and sj are available, but dispreferred: forskaid, but more frequently forscaid or foirsed, /fʊɹ̥.ʃɛt/, "table fork". Note that the indicative middle voice endings of high verbs -es is always /sʲ/, but that the corresponding subjunctive ending -is is always /ʃ/.

  • t

    • In low environments, /tˠ/, in high environments /tʲ/: tòca, /to.kə/, "rhythm, beat, riff"; tísen, /tʲi:.sən/ "tea". See also d, above. As noted at d and g, above, in high environments t can sometimes be realized as /ʧ/. The written form tj is available to unambiguously write this sound, but Nuirn spellings prefer to avoid it, and prefers to write ti with a grave accent on the following vowel to indicate the sound: tièrnich /ʧɛɾ.nɪk/ "Black person".

  • th

    • Generally silent or /h/: treithse (also treise) /tɾɛʃ.(ə)/ "across"; bristhe /bɾɪʃ.hə/ "broken".

      Note first that th is a characteristic ending of neuter adjectives including the neuter definite article ath. In these contexts, the th is likely to be realized fully as t when followed by a vowel. In these situations it is written as t as well.

      Note also that th serves as the softened form of both t and þ, because the written form þh is not used: compare cnoth, stem cnot'-, "knot", and cnòth, stem cnòþ-, "nut".

  • v

    • Realized as /v/, and in low environments tending towards /ʋ/ or /w/. Generally only found word-initialy. vicn vɪk.ən "romantic love"; véird /vɛɹ̥ɖ/ "world".

  • w

    • Very seldom written in Nuirn. When it appears, always /w/.

  • x

    • Written for ks or gs; a purely graphical variant: féax /fe.ʌks/ "head of hair".

  • z

    • In low environments, /z/. In high environments, /zʲ/. Unlike 's', it is never palatized fully to /ʒ/. A relatively uncommon sound: hazo /hɑ.zu/ "rabbit".

  • þ

    • Works somewhat like 'f', above. Word initially the sound is unvoiced /θ/ except in a number of pronouns and unstressed particles, in which it will typically be realized voiced as /ð/: þræll /θɾæl/ "retail employee"; þú /ðu:/ "you" (singular). Between two vowels the voiced pronunciation will prevail: uìþer /wɪð.əɹ̥/ "backwards" (adv). When it appears non-initially or with another consonant it will be unvoiced again: struþ /struθ/ "current, flow, voltage". As noted above, the sound /ð/ is usually written dd except when word-initial or between two vowels.

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