Notes on a Vaporware Conlang III: A Tentative Proto-Language Phoneme Inventory

A thing that’s always bothered me a little regarding Ayeri is that, so far, I haven’t come up with a proto-language which to draw irregularities and other neat and natural idiosyncracies from. For this conlang idea, I want to right those wrongs from the start, and by experimenting with a “fresh” language I can also learn how I could maybe retrofit Ayeri a little while avoiding noob mistakes … Since any sound can change to any other at least in principle, I thought I should just

  1. assume some phoneme inventory for the proto-language, maybe with some underspecification à la PIE’s laryngeals;1
  2. make up some phonotactics of course;
  3. make up some words in either system accordingly;
  4. morph the proto words to their recent shape and thus gain a bunch of sound changes to draw on and extend.

Furthermore, of course, I can also go backwards from the current shape and make assumptions on what may have happened to generate the current surface form. For example, given words like boď and šaňt, there may very plausibly have been a high front vowel following the palatalized sounds which was elided by apocope or syncope, so e.g. *bodiboď and *šanitšaňt.

For a proto-language inventory, how about this, for a start:2

Consonants

MOAlabialdentalvelarguttural
nasals*μ [m~n~ŋ]
plosives*t*k*q [q~ʔ]
*tʰ*kʰ
fricatives*s*x [x~h]
liquids*w*λ [r~l]

Vowels

HeightFrontMidBack
high*i*u
mid
low*a

Some possible words

Given the above phonemes and the phonotactic rules I sketched out here,3 here is a list of some possible words:

*i.ksu, *kak.tʰast, *kaks.μis, *kaλq.sa, *ksa, *ksaμ.tʰas, *ksi.λuq, *ksiq.sak, *ksə.taμ, *kuμs, *kə, *kʰak.xu, *kλa.sta, *kλu.sλi, *quλ.ksa, *qλa.tʰuλq, *qλax.wat, *saq.kiμs, *saλ.kʰəxt, *stu, *stə, *sxi.sa, *sλa.taλt, *sλa.λakt, *sμa.kəws, *ta.tʰaks, *tas.takt, *taλ.kʰaμt, *ti.kux, *tu.kʰaλt, *tuλx, *twu.μit, *tʰa.tʰuλk, *tʰaxk.tλu, *tʰu.kʰa, *tʰəλμ.kʰaμs, *tλu.tʰaqs, *tλu.λaxt, *waμq.λuk, *wikt.kʰu, *xax, *ə, *λa.μaμs, *λast.skə, *λat.μu, *λaλk, *λu.txu, *λus.tuq, *μa, *μaq.kλa.

Obviously, in order to reach the phoneme inventory posited in my previous blog article in this little series, there has to be some splitting of phonemes, and the underspecification of some of them will be useful there, I suppose, in that allophony (e.g. *λ → *r / #(C)_ but *λ → *l / _#, so *λəλk.λaλ*rəlkral) provides different contexts for sound change to operate on as complementary distributions get undermined. Also, there will have to be some playing around with vowels to generate /e/ and /o/ and to get rid of /ə/, and also to generate a length distinction.

  1. If you like some not totally serious but still good conlanging, look at Pthag’s Shapshiruckish with its series of voiceless fricatives *Ⅰ, *Ⅱ and *Ⅲ, with their sound value “reconstructed” as *​h~ʔ, *f, *θ, respectively.
  2. That is, this may be subject to changes, depending on whether I can make it work or not …
  3. This is a rule file for a little word generator I wrote some time ago, called Wharrgarbl. You can check that out, too, if you like.