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Tlemba phonology
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the sounds and such
This public article was written by severy, and last updated on 17 Sep 2018, 06:11.

[comments] Menu 1. Phonemic Inventory 2. Allophony 3. Phonotactics & Morphophonology 4. Stress  Tlemba has a phonological inventory of (mostly) average size and content, straightforwards phonology and fairly simple phonotactics.

Note: Throughout this article, if <x> is ever given as an IPA value (/x/ or [x]), it actually indicates /ʕ/ (the voiced pharyngeal fricative). Velar fricatives never occurs in Tlemba, even at the phonetic level.

[top]Phonemic Inventory

Nasalmn hnˀnŋ
N. clickḿʘ̃ńǃ̃ǂ̃
Stopp ppˀp bt ttˀt djd͡ʒk (g)q hʔ
Fricativef (v)s ssˀsšʃ hsˀʃxʕ
Liquidl r tlɺˀyj

/v/ and /g/ may appear in loan words.
/ɺˀ/ is a special phoneme appearing only at the beginning of roots and written with «tl».


There are also the diphthongs ei and aiäi.


Phonation changes

Voiced consonants /m n ŋ l r b d dʒ/ become voiceless [m̥ n̥ ŋ̥ l̥ r̥ p t tʃ] when
  • word-final, after a voiceless sound
    • sexesn 'savanna' /sɛʕesn/ → [sɛ̰ʕɛsn̥]
  • word-internally (after derivation) when surrounded by voiceless sounds)
    • lek-bsen 'stir-stick' /lɛk-bsɛn/ → [lɛkpsɛn]

  • /ˀn ˀl/ may also devoice word-initially (free var.)
    • tlaso 'flatbread' /ˀɺäsʌ/ → [ˀɺ̥äsʌ]

Voiceless fricatives /f s ʃ/ may voice [v z ʒ] between two vowels (free var.).

Vowels /i ɛ ä ʌ ʊ/ become creaky-voiced /ɪ̰ ɛ̰ ä̰ o̰ ṵ/ before /ʔ/ or /x/
  • /biʕin/ 'baby' → [bɪ̰ʕin]
  • some speakers will apply this to vowels immediately following as well, therefore [bɪ̰ʕɪ̰n]

Vowel mutations

Vowels change height in a variety of environments.
  • /ʊ ʌ/ → /u o/ before N, if they are in the second+ syllable
    • /tsʊn/ 'bolt of lightning' → [tsʊn]
    • /qimʊn/ 'king' → [qɪmun]
    • /tilʌm/ 'suck' → [tsilom]
  • /ʊ/ → [u] word-finally
    • /mäsʊ/ → [masu]
  • /i/ → [ɪ] when before or after /q/
    • /qim/ 'hay' → [qɪm]
  • /i/ → [ɪ] before a final stop, if the preceding vowel was lax [ɪ ɛ ʌ]
    • /tʌʃik/ 'deny' → [tʌʒɪk]


/t/ changes to [t͡s ~ t͡ʃ] before /j/ or front vowels, and /j/ deletes after palatalized sounds:
  • /t/ → [t͡s] before /i ɛ/
    • /tɛmbä/ → [t͡sɛmbä]
    • /rʊti/ 'island' → [rʊt͡si]
  • /tj/ → [t͡ʃ]
    • /tjan/ 'bite' → [t͡ʃän]

[top]Phonotactics & Morphophonology

  • CV(C) is highly preferred and reflects most syllables.
  • Initial C is mandatory.
    • Some lexemes may lack initial C in underlying form but present with /ʔ-/.
    • Clicks and <tl> may only appear word-initially (or stem-initially).
  • Consonant clusters are a maximum of 2-3 consonants.
    • Word-initially, clusters can be ʔCC or CC.
    • At syllable boundaries, CCC can form.
      • Even at syllable boundaries, geminates are not permitted.
      • In codas, CC is greatest size.
    • Illegal clusters (4+) are broken up by epenthetic vowels at the syllable break.
      • /u/ is inserted before labials
      • /i/ is inserted before alveolars and palatals/postalveolars, except /r/.
      • /ä/ is inserted elsewhere.

  • Excluding phonemic diphthongs, hiatus is disrupted.
    • If /i/ is involved, it becomes /j/.
    • If there is no /i/ in the cluster, /x/ is inserted between the vowels.

Permitted initial clusters
  • Nasal + stop
    • Homorganic: mb, mp ; nt, nd ; ŋk ; ŋq
    • Other: mt
  • Obstruent + liquid
    • Homorganic: tr, sr ; ʃr, ʃj, d͡ʒr
    • Other: br, pr, kl
    • note: initial /tl/ has become the phoneme /ɺˀ/
  • /ʔ/ + anything one thing, in any order
    • ht, bh, rh, etc
    • /ʔ/ + NP, e.g. hnt, hmb ; but not other orders
  • /s/ after any one other nasal or stop
    • ts, ns, ks, ms, etc

Permitted final clusters
  • /m/ or homorganic nasal + stop
  • fricative or liquid + stop
  • stop + /s/
  • /s/ or /ʃ/ + nasal or stop


Stress is typically trochaic, with the rightmost foot holding primary stress. However, there are several exceptions:

  1. The pharyngeal fricative /x/ casts stress on syllables it begins.
    • kaxá, xáxa, kàšixá
  2. Coda nasals and liquids (non-clustered) are weighted.
    • kási, kasín
  3. Rule #2 can cause the stress of the entire word to shift to iambic.
    • tàsunlíta, karìmatál
  4. Rule #2 takes precedence over #1, but #1 still causes secondary stress and disrupts #3.
    • xàsín, xàlasín, xàtuyasín

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