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:
- i [i] - close front unrounded vowel
- e [e] - close-mid front unrounded vowel
- a [æ] - near-open front unrounded vowel
- y [a] - open back unrounded vowel
- o [ɑ] - open-mid back rounded vowel
- u [ʊ] - near-close near-back rounded vowel
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:
- î [ɪ] - near-close near-front unrounded vowel
- ê, â [ɜ] - open-mid central unrounded vowel
- ŷ, û [ʌ] - open-mid back unrounded vowel
- ô [ɒ] - open back rounded vowel
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:
|i [i]||í [wi]||ì [ji]||î [ɪ]||rì [i:]|
|e [e]||é [we]||è [je]||ê [ɜ]||rè [e:]|
|a [æ]||á [wæ]||à [jæ]||â [ɜ]||rà [æ:]|
|y [a]||ý [wa]||ỳ [ja]||ŷ [ʌ]||rỳ [a:]|
|o [ɑ]||ó [wɑ]||ò [jɑ]||ô [ɒ]||rò [ɑ:]|
|u [ʊ]||ú [wʊ]||ù [jʊ]||û [ʌ]||rù [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:
- p [p] - voiceless bilabial plosive
- m [m] - bilabial nasal
- f [f] - voiceless labiodental fricative
- t [t] - voiceless alveolar plosive
- s [s] - voiceless alveolar fricative
- n [n] - alveolar nasal
- hr [r] - alveolar trill
- r [ɹ] - alveolar approximant
- l [l] - alveolar lateral approximant
- x [ʃ] - voiceless postalveolar fricative
- k [k] - voiceless velar plosive
- hn [ŋ] - velar nasal ~ uvular nasal
- q [q] - voiceless uvular plosive
- c [χ] - voiceless uvular fricative
- ' or ! [ʔ] - glottal stop
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:
- b [b] - voiced bilabial plosive
- v [v] - voiced labiodental fricative
- d [d] - voiced alveolar plosive
- z [z] - voiced alveolar fricative
- hx [ʒ] - voiced postalveolar fricative
- g [g] - voiced velar plosive
- hq [ɢ] - voiced uvular plosive
- hc [ʁ] - voiced uvular fricative
One oddity of the ramajalisation of the native scripts is the use of hm [mˌ] to represent a syllabic bilabial nasal. The native scripts do not mark whether [mˌ] 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:
- hrá [rræ] - trill is lengthened, semivowel is dropped
- hrà [ræ] - semivowel is dropped
- rá [ʀæ] - semivowel is dropped, approximant changes into a voiced uvular trill
- rà [æ:] - approximant and semivowel are dropped, vowel is lengthened
- lá [æ] - approximant and semivowel are dropped
- là [ɫæ] - semivowel is dropped, approximant changes into a velarized alveolar lateral approximant
- tà [ʧæ] - semivowel is dropped, stop aquires fricativeness
- dà [ʤæ] - semivowel is dropped, stop aquires fricativeness
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
- The class particle of the head object is heavily stressed, with every other syllable thereafter receiving secondary stress until another key stress point is reached.
- Where the class particle is disyllabic, the first syllable of the core root receives secondary stress, otherwise it tends to be unstressed.
- Modifier particles do not receive stress if they are followed by a class particle.
- Prefixes such as 'cu', 'xa' and 'hm' are heavily stressed regardless of what follows; the exception being the 'cuxa' disyllable where the first syllable is stressed.
- à.ke!.ti.á.fus.hne! nil.á.kis.ki.ny.fek.hnest
Stress rules: verb phrase words
- The syllabic hm at the head of a verb tends not to be stressed; otherwise, the initial syllable is heavily stressed with every second syllable thereafter receiving secondary stress until a key stress point (eg an incorporated object class particle or the verb class particle) is encountered.
- The first syllable of the modal disyllable tends to be stressed regardless of what patterns precede it.
- A modifier particle before a case particle is not stressed.
- The syllabic hm as an agentive particle is always stressed.
- ó.vud.ù.dhxe.hm sin.si.na.set.fùx evz ne.i.ke!.ti.tu.kat.ci.naset.fùx xihn.ke!
Stress rules: other words
- Stress the initial syllable and every second syllable thereafter; such words tend to recieve a weaker stress than noun or verb phrase words unless the speaker wants to emphasise them (such as any prefixes attached to the pro-verb).