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Vodholk phonology
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or why i sometimes write things weird
This public article was written by severy, and last updated on 28 Aug 2018, 04:03.

[comments] Menu 1. Introduction 2. Free variation 3. Allophony 4. Obstruent voicing 5. Stop nasalization 6. Mid vowel raising 7. Gliding 8. Prosody
[top]Introduction

Vodholk, also known as Futhorcish, has a very small phoneme inventory of eleven sounds (five vowels, six consonants). While this is somewhat characteristic of its language family, it has reduced its inventory even more drastically due to the large population of deaf speakers, to facilitate lip-reading. (Vodholk also has a manually encoded channel.)

Phonemic Inventory:
vowelsi e̞ ʉ o ɑ
continuantsf θ s l
plosivesp s k
note that /s/ behaves as a stop in some positions (see Stop nasalization, below) and a continuant in others, hence its inclusion in both rows.

/θ l/ may be pronounced interdentally.

Practical Orthography
vowelsi e u o a é ó á (í ú)
continuantsf t s l
plosivesp s k
Acute accents on vowels represent stress, which is lexical. /í ú/ and /é ó/ are nondistinct, so /í~é/ and /ú~ó/ tend to both simply be written <é ó>.

For practicality, even in IPA /e̞ ʉ/ may be written /e u/.

Allophonic Graphemes
Glidesy w
continuantsv d z r
plosivesm b n ŋ g
Allophonic spelling is optional; I used it a lot in earlier stuff, but much more rarely now.

Out-of-Date Phonology and Orthography: The Vodholk language has been on CWS for a few years now and has undergone a minor overhaul, eliminating one phoneme (/ʔ/), adding two new ones (/e̞ ʉ/), and shifting one (/ɐ → ɑ/). There may therefore be some words, articles, translations, and other information that is out of date. There have also been a few spelling shifts: /θ/ was originally written <th>, and then <þ>. (Before its deletion, /ʔ/ was written <ɂ>, and before that, <'>.)

The rules in following sections are observed in most native, hearing speakers of Vodholk. However, deaf vodholk may not have many of these phonological rules.

[top]Free variation

Some of the phonemes in Vodholk have a large range of free variation, and it is not unusual to hear these different sounds from different dialect groups but also even from the same speaker, in the same conversation. These are not predictable allophones, which are listed further below; they are simply sounds that can replace what is considered standard, in some dialects or speakers.

Common variants
  • /ɑ/ → [ɐ ä a ə h]
  • /o/ → [ə̹ əʷ ɔ ɣʷ w]
  • /ʉ/ → [u y ɥ]
  • /e/ → [ɛ əʲ j ç]
  • /i/ → [ɪ ɨ j ʝ]
  • /l/ → [j w r ʈ t̼]
  • /θ/ → [t t̪ t̼]
  • /k/ → [x q c tʔ]


Deaf and hard-of-hearing speakers are somewhat more likely to produce a nonstandard variant.

Some of the free variants are more likely to occur in certain word positions; for instance, /l/ → [w] often when word-final; vowels → fricatives often before a stressed vowel (also see 'gliding' below); vowels → schwa when unstressed, etc. But again, these are not fully predictable.

[top]Allophony

The rest of this article will deal mainly with the standard phonemes & their allophones. The main categories are obstruents /p k f θ s/ [m n ŋ], sonorants /i e a o u l/ [w ɥ j r], continuants /f θ s l/ [v ð z r], high vowels /i ʉ/ and mid vowels /e o/.

[top]Obstruent voicing

[-sonorant] → [+voice]
    / [+son]_[+son]
    / #_[+son]

'Obstruents voice between sonorants or word-initially before a sonorant.'

voicing examples

  1. fotolk /foþolk/ → [voðolk] 'futhorc'
  2. fátea /ˈfɑþeɑ/ → [ˈvɑðeɑ] 'deer'
  3. ákel /ˈɑkel/ → [ˈɑgel] 'parent'
  4. épka /'epkɑ/ → ['epkɑ] 'knife'
  5. klaseka /klɑsekɑ/ → [glɑzeˈgɑ] 'alcohol'
  6. pfeso /pfeso/ → [pfeˈzo] 'meat'
    The accents mark stress - singular V́V, plural VV́


Obstruents do not voice when adjacent to another obstruent, as in example 6.

This phonological rule make it very easy to deduce where words begin and/or end, and help mark the difference between a N+A sequence and a compound noun (wherein the second word will never feature initial nasalization).

[top]Stop nasalization

For the purpose of this rule, /s/ behaves as a stop.

[-son -continuant] or /s/→ [+nasal]/ #_[vowel]
'/p k s/ nasalize (to [m ŋ n] word-initially before a vowel.'

nasalization examples
  1. pélap /ˈpelap/ → [ˈmelap] 'edible fruit'
  2. /seþa/ → [neˈða] 'colour'
  3. /kapa/ → [ŋaˈba] 'to create'
  4. /skoso/ → [skoˈzo] 'to stop'
  5. /pfau/ → [pfaʉ] 'ashes'
  6. /kla/ → [gla] 'LVLowest volition (volition/ role)
    least agentive/ volitional argument
    '


As with the voicing rule, obstruents will not nasalize before another obstruent (e.g. 4). However, they will also not nasalize before the liquid /l/ (e.g. 5).

[top]Mid vowel raising

/e/ and /o/ raise to [i~ɪ] and [u~ʊ] in at least some predictable environments:

/e/-raising examples
  • when stressed
    • /léʔel/ → [líʔel] 'morning'
    • /leʔél/ → [leʔíl] 'mornings'

  • between fricatives/s, but not nasalized /s/ [n]
    • /seþa/ → [neða] 'colour'
    • /pfeso/ → [pfizo] 'meat'
    • /fef/ → [vif] 'brown'

  • often in the morpheme e- PSTPast (tense)
    action occurred before moment of speech
    before /s/
    • /e-spe/ → [ispe] 'heard'


/e/-raising is one of the notable phonological rules that most deaf speakers produce. When speaking to someone who is lipreading, it is especially strong, and used to contour /s/ and help differentiate it from /k/, e.g. ese [izi] vs. eke [ege].

/o/-raising is more limited, occuring only where stressed, or sometimes between two /s/ or /p/.

Mid-raising create mergers in words that contain /i ʉ/. Although alternating stress forms (sg vs pl) can help indicate which sound is underlying, stressed mid or high vowels tend to both be written with <é ó> and treated as nondistinct sounds.

[top]Gliding

[+syll][-stress] → [+approx]
    / [+syll]_[+syll]
    / _[+syll +stress]

'Unstressed vowels behave as approximants between two vowels, or before a stressed vowel.'

within those conditions,
  • /e i/ → [j]
  • /o/ → [w]
  • /a/ → [ɑˠ~ɑˤ] (= [ɑ̴])
  • /ʉ/ → [ɥ]


Some speakers pronounce approximated /ɑ/ as a syllabic velar or uvular voiced fricative ([ɣ̩~ʁ̩], especially when word-initial, and it is usually phonetically represented as the velar voiced fricative.

gliding examples
  • áeako /ˈɑeɑko/ → [ˈɑjɑgo] 'bear'
  • aéako /ɑˈeɑko/ → [ˈɣeɑgo~ˈʝɑgo] 'bears'
  • aoas /ɑoɑs/ → [ɑ'wɑs] 'happy'
  • teaep /θeɑep/ → [ðeˈɣip] 'eat (imperative)'
  • aésa /ɑˈesɑ/ → [ˈɣizɑ] 'child'
  • sóa /ˈsoɑ/ → [ˈnoə] 'ptarmigan'
  • soá /soˈɑ/ → [ˈnwɑ] 'ptarmigans'


[top]Prosody

There are three stress systems at work in Vodholk: phonological/basic, lexical, and grammatical. They can create a somewhat complex picture.

All words have at least 'basic' or phonological stress (PS). PS is iambic, with feet assigned from the right word edge, with the final syllable bearing the word's primary stress. Incomplete feet, if any, occur at the beginning of the word, generally creating a very weak, short, unstressed syllable before the first iamb. If this puts two vowels together, they will diphthongize. In other cases, a vowel might delete to reduce the two syllables to one. Word-final suffixes attract PS away from the root.

Lexical stress (LS) is marked by an acute accent and occurs in many Vodholk words, overriding and upsetting the PS system found in "unstressed" words. LS is not phonetically any stronger or more prominent than natural stress but can be very noticeable due to the disruption of the PS pattern.

LS can occur only once per root. However, derived words can contain multiple instances of it, and it can even occur on affixes. There are certain rules governing this. Two instances of LS may not be adjacent; in these cases, the rightmost instance wins out, following the general PS preference of yielding to the right.

If there is only one instance of LS, things may occur pretty much as normal. Degenerate feet may occur before it or after it (again, these syllables tend to reduce).

LS can also completely break the PS right-to-left preference. LS typically changes the entire word to take a trochaic pattern; this is always the case when there is only one instance of LS in the word. If there are later instances of LS which do not easily form trochees however, it can reset the word into an iambic pattern. Either way, in words with multiple LSs, the first instance of it is the word's primary stress.

Finally, Grammatical Stress (GS) is a system of inflection that occurs on nouns that have LS. It has only one purpose and pattern: it shifts stress one syllable to the right to turn a singular noun into a plural (e.g. épsi 'flower' → epsé 'flowers'). GS here refers only to the already-shifted stress of the plural form, and not the pre-shifted singular form. GS overrides PS and some features of LS.

A GSed syllable, wherever it occurs, is always the primary stress focus of the word. It is therefore somewhat inconvenient that it is not marked distinctly from LS, since a word with GS could easily have a series of prefixes with LS, which in any other case would attract primary stress away from it.

If GS is the only LS in the word it behaves just like lone LS, potentially leaving degenerate feet to either end, although it forms an iambic foot. If there are further instances of LS, all feet to the left of it will form a trochaic pattern, and the GS and those to the right iambic, which can also leave partial feet medially — again, these usually reduce.

Does this section need five million examples? Hell yeah. Am I gonna do that now? nope
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