The sounds of Ákat

If you asked a native Ákat speaker how many basic sounds there were in their language, they would probably tell you that there are 6 vowels and 15 consonants, though some of the sounds change a bit depending on where they appear in a word.

Unfortunately, the native Ákat speaker would be wrong. There are in fact 10 vowels (6 of which can be lengthened) and 2 semivowels, alongside 24 (or 27, depending on how you count them) separate consonants.

The Ákat vowel system

The six basic vowels of the language are:

The above values for each vowel are the base-marked values. In addition, each vowel can be front-marked, back-marked and shift-marked. Front-marking a vowel places a labial-velar approximant in front of the vowel. Similarly, to back-mark a vowel a palatal approximant is placed before the vowel. Shift-marked vowels have different values:

The Ákat alphabet takes account of these stress movements by adding diacritics above the vowel. Ramajal transcriptions tend to follow the same route, showing front-mark with an accute accent, back-mark with a grave accent and shift-mark with a circumflex. Alternatively, front-mark can be shown with a letter "w" before the vowel, back-mark with a letter "j" fronting the vowel, and shift-mark with the letter "h" before the vowel. In this grammar, accents are used wherever possible.

One final quirk of the vowel system is that when a back-marked vowel follows the consonant r (see below), the consonant and the palatal approximant are both dropped and the vowel is lengthened. This is known as long-mark.

So to summarise:

base-mark front-mark back-mark shift-mark long-mark
i [i] í [wi] ì [ji] î [ɪ] [i:]
e [e] é [we] è [je] ê [ɜ] [e:]
a [æ] á [wæ] à [jæ] â [ɜ] [æ:]
y [a] ý [wa] [ja] ŷ [ʌ] rỳ [a:]
o [ɑ] ó [wɑ] ò [jɑ] ô [ɒ] [ɑ:]
u [ʊ] ú [wʊ] ù [jʊ] û [ʌ] [ʊ:]

The Ákat consonant system

The native Ákat speaker considers there to be 15 consonants in the language, because there are 15 consonant letterforms in the native script. These are:

In certain positions within a word - particularly around the action locus - voiceless consonants become voiced. This is shown in the native common (and monumental) script by adding a horizontal line above the voiceless letter:

One oddity of the ramajalisation of the native scripts is the use of hm [] to represent a syllabic bilabial nasal. The native scripts do not mark whether [] is part of a syllable or forms a syllable on its own, but the syllabic consonant was considered so exotic by the first Ramajal linguists to study the Telik languages that they decided to mark the difference in their transcriptions.

When two similar stops come into contact with each other across a syllable boundary within a word, the first stop is likely to weaken in favour of a fuller articulation of the second stop. When the two stops are the same (pp, kk, tt, qq, bb, gg, dd or hqhq) then the first stop will be reduced to a glottal stop in the spoken language. This phenomenon is ignored in the orthography - both native and Ramajal.

There are some additional consonant sound changes that occur before certain vowel types which again are not marked in the orthography. The following examples use 'a' to demonstrate the change, but the changes are true for all six vowels:

Finally, ii [i:] - is a single, long vowel, not a dipthong or disyllable

Note that all these phonological changes operate across syllable boundaries, but not across word boundaries. When Nakap philosophers get into arguments about what constitutes a word, the arguments always centre around dialectical variations which permit or disallow phonological changes across certain morpheme boundaries.

Phonological constraints and syllable formation

Syllables generally follow the model of (C)(C)V(C)(C). One major exception is the syllabic m - hm - which can form a syllable in its own right.

In theory, all adjacent vowels should be pronounced separately with a syllable boundary placed between them. In practice, people speaking Ákat will more often than not demonstrate their native language's dipthongisation preferences in such situations - even though they will swear to others that they are separating the second vowel into its own syllable.

Stress in the Ákat clause

Ákat can be spoken as either a syllable-timed language (with equal time given to each syllable) or as a stress-timed language (where stressed syllables are spoken at regular intervals with the unstressed syllables made to fit in to the space left available to them). Syllable timing is the preferred option for the Nakap philosophers - and moving towards a syllable-timed diction is considered to mark a more formal register of speech; however most native speakers use a stress-timed diction in most situations.

In either case, the speaker is expected to mark stressed syllables, usually by pronouncing them more clearly, forcibly and (often) with a raised tone.

Tone is generally higher at the start of a clause and falls as the clause proceeds. Stressed syllables at the start of a clause will generally have a higher tone than those at the end of a clause. Note that stress can also be shown by lowering the tone of the stressed syllable compared to adjacent syllables - this is more likely to happen near the end of the clause, on secondarily stressed syllables, or on short words (such as the pro-verb 'vz').

In the examples below, primary (key) stress is indicated thus, while secondary stress is shown like this.

Stress rules: noun phrase words

Stress rules: verb phrase words

Stress rules: other words

This page was last updated on Tecunuuntuu-15, 527: Jafcuu-41 Gevile