The BG Language Creation Guide
This page was adapted from help for step 11 in the language creation series.
When a word is borrowed, it's pronunciation almost always has to change to fit in with the phonology of the new language.
Spanish and Japanese, for example, both borrowed the word 'strike' from English, and to keep our discussion lively, we'll also assume that Liqupa borrowed it, too. Here's how that was done:
- The first thing we have to do is see if all of the phonemes in the word we want to borrow are also phonemes in the new language.
'strike' has 4 consonants and one vowel phoneme:
/s/ /t/ /r/ /k/ and /aj/
Spanish has all of these. The /r/ phoneme is realized phonetically as an alveolar tap, however. This is the first place where the word's pronunciation will change slightly.
- On to syllable structure:
Spanish does not allow three consonants in a row at the beginning of a syllable. Two are ok, and you can have three if they are not word initial. Spanish will not allow syllables to end in /k/. So, as it stands, the word /strajk/ is unpronouncible. Its syllable structure is CCCVC. It has to be changed.
To fix the first problem, Spanish adds a word-initial /e/ segment. the technical term for this is epenthesis. It then deletes the final /k/. The technical term for that is apocope. You end up with
(As it happens, many Spanish speakers can, in fact, easily pronounce this final /k/ even though it's technically not allowed: I've heard plenty of spanish speakers pronounce the word with the final /k/... but few without that epenthetic /e/.)
- Here we go to Japanese:
- Phonemes: All of the phonemes in the word
/s/ /t/ /r/ /k/ /aj/
are also in Japanese. Once again, the /r/ is realized differently though.
- Syllable Structure: The Japanese syllable structure is different from that of Spanish.
It looks like this:
where G is a glide and N is a nasal. Lots of problems await the Japanese speaker trying to say a CCCVC word like /strajk/.
Japanese, like Spanish, starts with epenthesis to solve the problem. All of those word-initial consonants have to be separated by vowels. And, instead of deleting the final /k/ phoneme, Japanese adds a word-final vowel, creating another syllable. Which vowels should be added is difficult to say: you can't predict which ones a language will add exactly, but you can account for it afterward. Here's what the word looks like after all this epenthesis is done:
The glorious thing about this word is that Japanese actually borrowed it twice:
once for baseball and once for labor. In doing so, it changed the English homophones into two distinct words. Clever, I think.
Finally, we arrive at the mythical isle of Kasinicinala where the pine-tree worshipping synesthetes have discovered a cultural passion for baseball and thus join the torrent of languages which have borrowed the word 'strike'.
- The phonemes first once again:
/s/ /t/ /r/ /k/ /aj/
- /s/ is fine: Liqupa has an /s/ phoneme.
It is represented by allophone [S] though word initially, so to pronounce this word with a good Liqupa accent, you need to begin with [ʃ] (or [S] in SAMPA) not [s].
- /t/: Liqupa has no /t/: no voiceless alveolar stop. We look then, for something similar and find a /d/ (voiced alveolar stop).
Differing only in voicing, these segments are close enough. Note that we could as easily have picked /s/ which differs only in manner or /p/ which differs only in place. The choice is somewhat arbitrary... an artistic rather than scientific choice at that point.
- /r/: Once again, we find no /r/ and must go sniffing about for a decent substitute.
The other available liquid is /l/.
- /aj/: This one, thank goodness, is fine! Liqupa has /a/ and /i/ and will allow these to occur together. We'll keep writing the vowel as /aj/ since the real pronunciation difference between [ai] and [aj] is minimal.
- /k/: There is no /k/ phoneme, but we know that [k] is an allophone of /q/.
For now, let's leave the [k] alone an dsee how that goes.
So, our word so far in Liqupa is:
- Syllable structure: Alas, the maximum syllable in Luqupa is CVq.
Having worked hard to determine which segments to use, we are now going to have to get started either epenthesizing vowels or deleting consonants.
We can do anything we like here: languages solve this problem in all kinds of ways. Why not do one of each? I arrived at this solution by asking my 8 year old which she preferred. She told me to epenthesize a /u/ after the [S] and delete the voiced stop: (Ok, not in those words exactly...)
This gives us:
Almost done. Although Liqupa does allow a consonant at the end of a word, that consonant has to be a [q]. I could
Any of these choices is fine: I'm partial to the one with [ka] so that's the one I'll pick. another way to solve this might have been to see what the language has done before in similar situations and do that. Since this is not possilb ehere, we'll just stick with my whim.
- (a) epenthesize a vowel at the end of the word,
Since [k] is the allophone of /q/ that occurs before /a/, I'd epenthesize [a] and get this:
- (b) Delete the offending consonant and get this:
- (c) Use a word-final [q] and get this:
The English word 'strike' /strajk/ thus becomes:
depending on the requirements of the morphology and phonology of the language which borrowed it.
- (el) [estrajk]
Same word: three different languages with three different phonological systems taking it in.