The BG Language Creation Guide

#5: Phonological Variation

Now that you have your segment inventory established and some words made, let's make it look a little more like a real language by adding some systematic complexity and by describing more technically what you have already established.

Part 1: Allophones

When doing morphology, usually we don't worry about the phonetic or phonological details more than necessary to get rough pronunciations of the words and morphemes. You've been using SAMPA to write your words, and those segments represent sounds, and hopefully you've been pronouncing your words as you create them.

Now, think of each segment as a phoneme in your language. We use slashes like this / / to surround phonemes.

As a reminder: you can think of phonemes as categories of sounds rather than sounds themselves. The individual sounds which comprise each category are called allophones and are written in brackets [ ]. Some phonemes have several allophones: In english the phoneme /t/ (notice the slashes) has several variants including [t] (as in the first /t/ in 'start') and glottal stop [?] (as in the last sound in some pronunciations of 'start'. Thus, the word 'start' is transcribed phonemically as /start/ and is pronounced [star?] by many speakers. /t/ has several other allophones in English, too. For other phonemes, though, it may be hard to identify more than one allophone.

Your assignment is to choose two of your phonemes and specify their allophones and the distribution of those allophones. To do this, answer these questions for each. That means, go through the list of questions twice, once for each segment you choose: Word to the wise: this will be MUCH easier if you choose consonants. If you left a few gaps in your segment inventory as was suggested, you'll be glad of these. Now is the time to fill those in.

Part 2

Every language has rules about how syllables are formed. You implicitily made rules for this in step 3 when you chose how to build words. Go back now, examine the words you made, and answer the following questions about those words: Note that you may choose at this point to make some modifications to your words or to impose rules on future words.
  1. What is your maximum syllable? Your answer will be something like:
    where C stands for any consonant and V for any vowel. A CV language permits syllables like these:
    ta li bu
    but not
    at lip bru
    You may wish to visit The friday Night Linguistics Ling Resources page for practice identifying maximum syllable.
  2. Given your maximum syllable, think about what might happen if two of those syllables come together: how many consonants will you permit in a row?
  3. Is there a rule about what consonants or groups of consonants may begin a word?
  4. Do you permit sequences of two vowels?
  5. What consonants or groups of consonants can end a word?
  6. Are there other restrictions you wish to impose at this point? Describe them if so. Note this is not the place to talk about grammar or semantics of any kind.

Part 3

Finally, make some choices about prosody, or the rhythm of your language.

Do you have tone or do you have stress? If you have tone, how many tones are there? Describe them. How will you mark them on words? If you have stress, what are the rules for its placement? You must choose either tone or stress.

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Updated 2/16/2011