Notes on a Vaporware Conlang V: Sound Changes, Part 2

Review of Stage I

Last time, I assigned a bunch of phonemic values to my underspecified proto-phonemes , *q, *x and , and they are currently in complementary distribution. What we’re starting out with for the changes from Stage I to Stage II is the following phoneme inventory:

MOA bilabial alveolar velar uvular glottal
nasals *m *n
plosives *t *k *q
*tʰ *kʰ
taps/flaps *r
fricatives *s *x *h
approximants *w *l

The vowels stayed all the same:

Height Front Central Back
high *i *u
low *a

Stage I to Stage II

For the record, I’m leaving out the syllable delimiter $ when it is not strictly part of the condition of the sound change. It doesn’t matter for most of the changes.

1. Generating bilabial plosives in partial analogy to *m:

  • [+plosive +oral] > *p / _ w

The oral plosives *t, *k, *q produce *p when before *w; remains . This is maybe stretching things somewhat, but let’s just go with *tʷ merging with the result of a merger of *kʷ and *qʷ, all into *pʷ, and then becoming *p. Example words that get affected by this: *kwəs*pəs; *twá.kwa*pá.pa; *qwá.tra*pá.tra.

2. Homorganic nasals (assimilation of nasals’ POA to the following plosive):

  • [+nasal] > *m / _ [+bilabial +plosive]
  • [+nasal] > *n / _ [+alveolar +plosive]
  • [+nasal] > *ŋ / _ [+velar +plosive]

Currently, the relevant plosives are just the voiceless ones, so we get *mp, *nt, *ŋk from this change for combinations that aren’t congruent, e.g. *húwm.txa*hó:n.dja.

3. Retract *r to *x after *q:

  • *r → *x / q _

This means, *qr merges with *qx (see section 6 below). This would be a possible move through a [+back] allophone of *r (maybe via ?[ʐ] for *r), let’s call it .[1. Regrettably, 〈ρ〉 looks too much like 〈p〉 to stay with the Greek letters I’ve used before.] Then, devoices after the voicless stop, leaving us with what we might reasonably refer to as *qx₂ if we assume that due to the merger with original *qx₁, the association of *x₂*ʀ̥ with *r disappears over time.

4. Resolve *Vw sequences into monophthongs or diphthongs, respectively:

  • *iw → *eː / _ … a
  • *iw → ɨː elsewhere
  • *uw → *oː / _ … a
  • *uw → *uː elsewhere
  • *aw → *oː


  • *tʰíw.qak*tʰé.kak;
  • *tra.qíws*dra.kɨ́ːs;
  • *húwm.txa*hóːn.dja;
  • *ruws*ruːs and
  • *aʔ.ráwk*a.róːk.

5. Simplify coda clusters in unstressed syllables:

  • C → Ø / [–stress] _ C $

In unstressed syllables, clusters of two consonants in final position simplify to leave only the latter, e.g. *ask.tʰíln*as.tíɪn.[1. Originally, I had this result in vowel reduction: *i, *u and *a; I decided against this, though, probably because too many syllables would reduce to zero too quickly. I didn’t take notes besides commenting this part out.]

6. Partial reduction of word-initial *q, *qx:

  • *q(x) → *x / # _ [+high]

Examples: *qis*xis, *qxú.kʰu*xú.ku.

7. Merger of remaining *q with *k:

  • *q → *k

Examples: *qə.rán*gə.rán.

8. Vowel lowering before glottal stop:

  • *iʔ → *e
  • *uʔ → *o
  • *əʔ → *a
  • *aʔ → *a / [–stress] _
  • *aʔ → *aː

All of the original non-low vowels drop to the next lower tier[1. Conlanger Ragnar K. noted in another place: “Pharyngeals I would say are the most likely candidates to do that [i.e. lowering of previous vowels], and one could argue that /q/ could be thought of as a ‘pharyngeal’ /k/ in some languages, so that works too, and /ʔ/ also occurs.” He cites Klallam as an example of where this happens, cf. Montler 300–310.] while *a gets extra treatment: in unstressed syllables it just remains *a while it gets lengthened everywhere else. The glottal stop gets elided in all cases. Examples include:

  • *síʔ.stu*sé.stu;
  • *ti.súʔ*di.só;
  • *tʰu.qə́ʔ*du.ká;
  • *wák.tʰaʔ*wá.ta and
  • *háʔ.ska*háː.ska.

Note that the list above does not include ?*eʔ and ?*oʔ, since they do not occur. So far, we get our *e and *o from *iw and *aw, respectively (see section 4), which means that since *q only turns into syllable-finally after vowels, and *w is considered a consonant for this purpose, *iwq and *awq stay *iwq and *awq until *q eventually merges with *k (see section 7).

9. Metathesis of *xs:

  • *xs → *sx / _ [–alveolar] and !#

Except before alveolar consonants and word-finally (*t, *d, *n, *r, *s, *l), *xs switches around into *sx, e.g. in *ílx.san*íls.xan*íɪ.sjan (*rat.síxs*ra.zíːs).

10. Merger of initial *ts and *ks:

  • *ts, *ks → *s / $ _

Examples of this simplification include: *tsa.káls*sa.káɪs and *tʰíx.ksə*tʰíː.sə.

11. Reduction of *ts:

  • *ts → *z / [+voiced] _ [+voiced]
  • *ts → *s elsewhere

Between voiced sounds in general (both voiced consonants and vowels), *ts turns into *z; all remaining instances of *ts now also become *s (see section 10). Examples:

  • *rát.sra*ráz.da;
  • *ká*káɪ.zu and
  • *húlt.stu*húɪs.tu.

11. Metathesis of *ks:

  • *ks → *sk

Note that *ks doesn’t appear at the beginning of syllables anymore at this stage, as per section 10. Example: *rúqs.ra*rúks.ra*rúsk.da.

12. Reduction of *sx:

  • *x → *j / s _

*sx is now further eroded to *sj (see section 9), exemplified by the previously quoted *ílx.san*íls.xan*íɪ.sjan.

13. Elision of *x:

  • *x → *Øː / V _ C

As *x is dropped between a vowel and a consonant, it only leaves compensatory lengthening behind. Note that this is not supposed to lead to long diphthongs like ?*aʊː! Also, we now have created ourselves a bunch of long vowels. Example: *ruʔ.tʰíxk*ro.tʰíxk*ro.tʰíːk.

Furthermore, *x gets lost at the end of syllables – though without triggering lengthening – where the previous change hasn’t yet deleted it:

  • *x → Ø / _ $

Example: *rux.tʰálx*ruː.tʰálx*ruː.tʰál.

14. Reduction of word-initial *kx:

  • *kx → *x / # _

Example: *kxí.kʰal*xí.kal.

15. Simplification of two plosives in succession:

  • *[+plosive -aspirated] → Ø / _ [+plosive +aspirated]
  • *[+plosive ±aspirated]₁ → Ø / [+plosive ±aspirated]₁ _
  • *[+plosive -aspirated] → Ø / _ [+plosive -aspirated]

An unaspirated plosive (*p, *t, *k) gets elided before an aspirated plosive (*tʰ, *kʰ). Generally, if two instances of the same plosive are in succession, they simplify to one. If two unaspirated plosives follow each other, only the second one is kept while the first drops out. Examples:

  • *ít.kʰa*í.kʰa*í.ka;
  • *kúsk.qaxt*kúsk.kax*kúsk.ka*kús.ka;
  • *sák.tri*sá.tri*sá.dri.

16. Reduction of *x after plosives:

  • *x → *j / [+plosive] _

The same thing as in section 12, except now with plosives as well. Example: *krí.txə*krí.tjə*krí.djə.

17. *l vocalization:

  • *l → *ɪ / V _ (C) !#

After vowels, vocalize *l to in syllable codas (except at the end of words if no consonant is present at the end), creating rising diphthongs, for example: *qál.sku*kál.sku*káɪ.sku.

18. raising, lowering:

  • *ə → *ɨ / [+stress] _
  • *ɨ(ː) → *ə / [-stress] _

In stressed syllables, raise to ; do the opposite in unstressed syllables and reduce long *əː to short . Examples:

  • *sa.kə́s*sa.kɨ́s and
  • *tʰílq.tiws*tʰílq.tɨːs → … → *tʰíɪ.dəs

19. Make *ŋx become *ŋk (and simplify *ŋkŋ):

  • *x → *k / *ŋ _

Example: *saŋ.xáŋk*saŋ.káŋk. Where we now get *ŋkŋ (or originally already had it), simplify further to *ŋk:

  • *ŋkŋ → *ŋk

Example: *táŋk.ŋawm*táŋk.ŋoːm*táŋ.koːm*táŋ.goːm.

20. Generate *b from *w:

  • *w → *b / m _

Example: *kʰám.wəʔ*kʰám.wa*kʰá

21. Dissimilation of *r … r:

  • *r → *d / r … V _
  • *r → *j / r … C _

If *r precedes in the previous syllable, turn *r into *d after a vowel and *j after a consonant. Examples: *srá.rat*srá.dat; *trá.sra*trá.sja.

22. Abolish phonemic aspiration in unstressed syllables:

  • *t → *d / ([+sonorant]) [–stress] _ !#
  • *k → *g / ([+sonorant]) [–stress] _ !#
  • *tʰ → *t / [–stress] _
  • *kʰ → *k / [–stress] _

Since the introduction of the voiced unaspirated plosives *b and *d, we’re stuck with a three-way distinction between [+voiced –aspirated] (*b, *d), [–voiced +aspirated] (*tʰ, *kʰ) and [–voiced –aspirated] (*p, *t, *k). We’re now gradually simplifying this into a [±voiced] distinction, starting with unstressed syllables.[1. Seriously, this. Very much this. I had a problem, tried to solve it with regular expressions and wound up with two problems instead. I think I may have spent an hour testing and fixing the regular expressions I used for the first two rules in this part as I was writing this up for the website. While I was doing so, I noticed that I had gotten something wrong and my original regex was overly greedy, i.e. not well formed for what I intended it to do. I eventually arrived at these ugly, ugly expressions to match *t (analogous for *k) in the right environments:


This matches ‘t’ not preceded by ‘h’, ‘k’, ‘p’, ‘q’, ‘s’, ‘t’, ‘x’ at the start of a line if it is also not followed by ‘ʰ’. For the word-medial case, I have:


This matches a full stop (i.e. syllable divider) not preceded by ‘h’, ‘k’, ‘p’, ‘q’, ‘s’, ‘t’, ‘x’, then ‘t’ not preceded by an apostrophe (i.e. stress marker) and not followed by ‘ʰ’.]

Examples for this particular change are:

  • *tʰáxt.xuln → … → *tʰáː.tjul*tʰáː.djul;
  • *tsə́l.kaʔ → … → *sɨ́ɪ.ga;
  • *tʰa.kwá*tʰa.pá*ta.pá and
  • *kʰa.kʰít*ka.kʰít*ga.kʰít.

23a. Fix: Undo newly created plosive-plosive sequences:

  • *[+voiced]₁ > Ø / [–voiced]₁ _
  • *[–voiced]₁ > Ø / [+voiced]₁ _

Example: *rást.ras*rást.das*rás.tas.

23b. Fix: Another round of homorganic assimilation:

  • *[+nasal] > *m / _ [+bilabial +plosive]
  • *[+nasal] > *n / _ [+alveolar +plosive]
  • *[+nasal] > *ŋ / _ [+velar +plosive]

See section 2.

23c. Fix: Delete instances of gemination:

  • *C₁ > Ø / C₁ _

Example: *rís.tsa*rí*rí.sa.

Phonemic Inventory for Stage II

A whole lot has changed (and maybe too much for cramming this all into one stage), and especially *x was extremely unstable.


MOA bilabial alveolar palatal velar glottal
nasals *m *n
plosives *p *b *t *d *k *g
*tʰ *kʰ
taps/flaps *r
fricatives *s *z *x *h
approximants *w *l *j


Height Front Central Back
high *i *u
mid *e *o
low *a

These all can appear as rising diphthongs, however, in my list of 2000 generated and processed words, ?*eɪ and ?*oɪ did not appear, since there is no ?*ʔλ coda in the Proto Language. For diphthongs we thus get this smaller chart:

Height Front Central Back
high *iɪ *ɨɪ *uɪ
mid *əɪ
low *aɪ

Similarly, there are long versions of all vowels, except for ?*eː, however this seems only due to my word generator not generating ‘Ciwx.Ca sequences by chance (*Cíwx.Ca*Ce:.Ca), so ?*eː should be possible. The chart for long vowels looks like this, accordingly:

Height Front Central Back
high *iː *ɨː *uː
mid *eː *oː
low *aː

Note the absence of ?*əː.

  • Montler, Timothy: “Vowel Retraction before Glottal Stop in Klallam.” Studies in Salish Linguistics in Honor of M. Dale Kinkade. Ed. Donna B. Gerdts and Lisa Matthewson. Missoula: U of Montana P, 2004. 300–310. Print. Occasional Papers in Linguistics 17. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. ‹›.
  • Seems like I can’t publish anything without having to edit it later … 😩 I updated section 4 and 18 to hopefully make more sense now.
  • More corrections in section 11: my regexes weren’t covering all cases here either. I also decided to just have *ts turn *s everywhere that remains instead of just before voiceless sounds in analogy to the change in section 10.
  • There’s no *əː coming out of this because of the update in section 18. Corrected the vowel chart at the end accordingly.
  • Reader Hallow XIII suggested to me that a change like *kʰák.tʰa*kʰá.ga (“A plosive gets elided after another plosive.”) seems strange and he would rather expect *kʰá.tʰa as the outcome. I modified the rule in section 15 accordingly by adding some alternations based on the original rule. Aspiration is still lost in unstressed syllables, though, so it becomes *kʰá.ta now.