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Jáhkarrá: Orthography
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The spelling of Jáhkarrá, especially consonant gradation
This public article was written by Hastrica, and last updated on 7 Jan 2020, 17:00.

This article is a work in progress! Check back later in case any changes have occurred.

Jáhkarrá spelling is largely predictable, but not entirely straightforward. The main reason for this is consonant gradation, which is represented in spelling in ways that sometimes go beyond a simple representation of the sounds that are involved in the alternations. Once these peculiarities are mastered, the written language presents few difficulties.



LetterSound value
áa, a:
ee, e:

The length of /a:/ and /e:/ is not phonemic. If they are followed by a long consonant, they become short (this is termed "underlying length"; Jáhkarrá grammatical terminology refers to these vowels as ŋaspisá "stretchable"). /i:/, on the other hand, is always long (ŋaspilá "stretching, outreaching").


LetterSound value


LetterSound value
b, p
d, t
dj, tj
g, kk
c, zt͡s
č, žt͡ʃ

Doubling a consonant indicates gemination if it is surrounded by vowels. If a doubled consonant occurs in a cluster, it does not indicate length, but instead the second grade of a cluster that has undergone consonant gradation. Indicating gradation is also the sole difference between the plosive letter pairs b/p, d/t, dj/tj, g/k, z/c, ž/č, which are otherwise identical in pronunciation. This is explained in the next section.

Writing gradation

Much of the complexity of Jáhkarrá spelling is in the representation of consonant clusters. The way that letters are used to write grade distinctions can be counterintuitive at first, especially in the light of the "double letter means length" rule above. The first two spelling rules that can be applied regardless of the consonants involved are these:

  • If two or more different, single consonant letters occur in a cluster, the first is pronounced long, while all others are short.
  • If a cluster contains two identical consonant letters, all consonants in the cluster are short.

Examples for these rules are the following alternation pairs:

áska - áskkin/as:kɑ/ - /a:skin/"water - waters"
ŋaspa - ŋasppin/ŋɑs:pɑ/ - /ŋɑspin/"influence - influences"
bearva - bearvva/pærːʋɑ/ - /pærʋɑ/"he throws - the two of them throw"
havna - havnna/hɑʋ:nɑ/ - /hɑʋnɑ/"he crosses - the two of them cross"
sarska - sarskkin/sɑr:skɑ/ - /sɑrskin/"weapon - weapons"
ihpa - ihppa/ih:pɑ/ - /ihpɑ/"he plays - the two of them play"
aksa - akssin/ɑk:sɑ/ - /ɑksin/"three - threes"
gálva - gálvvin/kal:ʋɑ/ - /ka:lʋin/"light - lights"

All of these have a long first consonant in the first grade, while in the second grade, both are short. The second grade is written with a doubled letter. Historically, this made perfect sense because the main difference between grades was length transfer from the first to the second consonant, but the second grade has since come to distinguish itself from the first primarily by lack of length.

The two rules above apply to clusters that contain plosives adjacent to s or after h (which indicates preaspiration, but behaves like any other consonant for purposes of length) as well as all clusters that do not contain plosives at all. The way plosives pattern with the other consonants if preaspiration or /s/ are involved can be formalised into another rule:

  • If a cluster contains s or h, plosives are written with voiceless letters only.

For plosives in other clusters, a different set of rules is needed, exploiting the availability of two letters per phoneme:

  • A voiced plosive letter is associated with the first grade, while a voiceless plosive letter is associated with the second grade.
  • A single or double consonant between vowels is written with the voiced letter in the first grade and with the voiceless one in the second grade.
  • In initial and final position, only voiced letters are written (but see below for c č).
  • If a cluster contains a voiced letter, the first consonant of the cluster is long.
  • If a cluster contains a voiceless letter (excluding the cases with s h above), all consonants in the cluster are short.

Again, this has historical justification; while modern Jáhkarrá has lost all voicing contrast, its older stages maintained a voice opposition on the plosives, with the first grade voiced and the second voiceless. This means that for geminates, gradation is indicated in spelling but not in pronunciation: haggá - hakkin, ažžu - aččin, obba - oppin /hɑkːaː/ - /hɑkːin/, /ɑt͡ʃːu/ - /ɑt͡ʃːin/, /ɔpːɑ/ - /ɔpːin/ .

Examples for the plosive pattern are plentiful: idni - itnin, orgŋo - orkŋin, geadnja - geatnjin, ruobma - ruopmin, ilba - ilpin, árba - arpin /it:ni/ - /itnin/, /ɔr:kŋɔ/ - /ɔrkŋin/, /kætʲ:nʲɑ/ - /kætʲnʲin/, /ruɔp:mɑ/ - /ruɔpmin/, /il:pɑ/ - /ilpin/, /ar:pɑ/ - /a:rpin/.

The role of /j/

/j/ is an exception to the rule that the first consonant of a cluster is the one that gets lengthened. If a cluster begins with /j/ and is in the first grade, its second consonant is long; in the second grade, it is short. Essentially, /j/ in clusters is never long. The orthography takes this peculiar behaviour into account by always writing /j/ as i in cluster onsets, as well as at the end of words. /j/ is only written as j in initial and intervocalic position.

Examples: áista - áistta, áiba - áipa, eaiksá - eaikssin, uibma - uipma /ajs:tɑ/ - /a:jstɑ/, /ajp:ɑ/ - /a:jpɑ/, /æjk:sa:/ - /æjksin/, /ujp:mɑ/ - /ujpmɑ/.

z c and ž č

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