A guide to small consonant inventories

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Nortaneous
Sumerul
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A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by Nortaneous »

...mostly in the form of an inventory dump. By 'small' I mean 12 or fewer consonants, which isn't completely arbitrary since the smallest consonant inventory in Europe (Finnish) has 13, if you ignore the glottal stop and all the loan phonemes.

Inventory dump:

Code: Select all

Rotokas     p   b     t d             k g                                                     6   
Iau             b     t d             k          f     s                                      6
Buin        p         t               k g                            m     n         r        7
NW.Mekeo    p   b                     k g                            m     n     ŋ            7
Puinave     p         t               k                s           h m     n                  7
Akoye       p         t               k          f     s             m     n             w    8
Hawaiian    p                         k        ʔ                   h m     n       l     w    8
I'saka      p   b     t d             k                s                               j w    8     
Nasioi      p   b     t d             k        ʔ                     m     n                  8
N.Marquesan p         t               k        ʔ                   h m     n               v  8
N.Mekeo         b     t                 g                z           m     n       l       v  8
Piraha      p   b     t               k g      ʔ       s           h                          8
Rurutu      p         t                        ʔ                     m     n     ŋ   r     v  8
S.Isl.Maori p         t               k                            h m     n         r   w    8
S.Marquesan p         t                        ʔ f                 h m     n               v  8   
Taoripi     p         t               k          f     s           h m             l          8
Abau        p                         k                s           h m     n         r j w    9
AitaRotokas p   b     t d             k g                            m     n     ŋ            9
Carib (VZ)  p         t               k                s             m     n         r j w    9
C.Miyako    p         t               k          f     s             m     n         r     ʋ  9
Desano      p   b     t d             k g              s                               j w    9
E.Mekeo     p         t               k        ʔ f     s             m           ŋ l          9
Gadsup      p         t d             k        ʔ                     m     n           j   β  9
Girawa      p         t           ʤ            ʔ       s             m     n         r   w    9
Isaka       p   b     t d             k          ɸ     s                               j w    9
Isebe       p   bv    t  d  ʣ         k g                                              j w    9
Luangiua    p                         k        ʔ       s           h m           ŋ l       v  9
Namia       p         t               k                              m     n       l r j w    9
NW.Mekeo 2  p         t               k g                            m           ŋ     j w β  9     
Onondaga              t           ʤ   k        ʔ       s           h       n           j w    9
Pawnee      p         t     ʦ         k        ʔ       s           h                 r   w    9
Pukapukan   p         t               k                              m     n       l   ðʲw v  9
Rapoisi     p         t               k        ʔ       s         ɣ h                 r     β  9
Roro        p   b     t               k        ʔ                   h m     n         r        9
Tahitian    p         t                        ʔ f                 h m     n         r     v  9
Wayana      p         t               k                            h m     n         ɽ j w    9
Akurio      p         t         ʧ     k        ʔ                     m     n         r j w    10
'Are'are    p         t               k        ʔ       s           h m     n         r   w    10
Asuriní d.T p         t               k   kʷ   ʔ       s           h m     n     ŋ       w    10
Au          p         t               k                s         ɣ   m     n         r j w    10
Bari            b     t d             k                s           h m             ɾ r j      10
Bimin           b     t d             k          f     s             m     n     ŋ l          10
Cheyenne    p         t               k        ʔ       s   ʃ       h m     n               v  10
Crow        p         t         ʧ     k                s   ʃ   x   h m     n                  10
Edolo       p         t               k          f     s           h m             ɺ   j w    10
Ekari       p   b     t d             k                              m     n       gʟ  j w    10
Gilbertese  p pˠ      t               k                              m   mˠn     ŋ   r     βˠ 10
Keuw        p   b     t d             k g              s                           l   j w    10
Iñapari     p         t                        ʔ       s           h m     n         r j w    10
Ingarikó    p         t               k        ʔ       s             m     n         r j w    10
Iwam        p         t               k                s           h m     n         r j w    10
Leti        p         t d             k                s             m     n       l r     β  10
Macuna          b     t d             k g              s           h                 r j w    10
Makuráp     p         t         ʧ     k                              m     n     ŋ   r j w    10
Makushi     p         t               k        ʔ       s             m     n         r j w    10   
Mandan      p         t               k        ʔ       s   ʃ   x   h                 r   w    10
Maori       p         t               k          f                 h m     n     ŋ   r   w    10
Maxakali    p   b     t d             k g      ʔ           ʃ       h                   j      10
Mekeo       p         t               k        ʔ f     s             m     n     ŋ l          10
Mekeo(Blust)p                         k g      ʔ f                   m     n     ŋ l       v  10
NaskapiCree p         t        ʧ      k                s           h m     n           j w    10
Niuean      p         t               k          f                 h m     n     ŋ l       v  10
Palauan         b     t               k        ʔ     ð s             m           ŋ l r        10
Parkateje   p         t               k        ʔ                   h m     n         r j w    10
Pemon       p         t               k        ʔ       s             m     n         r j w    10
Samoan      p                         k        ʔ f     s           h m           ŋ l       v  10
Sentani     p         t               k          f                 h m     n       l   j w    10
S.Barasano      b     t d             k g              s           h                 r j w    10
Tinputz     p         t               k        ʔ       s           h m     n         r     β  10
Trio        p         t               k                s           h m     n         r j w    10
Waimaha     p   b     t d             k g                          h                 r j w    10
Warao       p         t               k   kʷ           s           h m     n         r j w    10
W.Mekeo     p   b     t d             k g                            m           ŋ l     w    10
Wichita               t     ʦ         k   kʷ   ʔ       s           h       n           j w    10
Xavante     p   b     t d       ʧ ʤ            ʔ                   h                 r   w    10
Yameo       p         t               k                s   ʃ         m     n       l   j w    10
Ache        p   b     t d       ʧ ʤ   k g                            m             l       v  11
Akuntsú     p         t               k   kʷ   ʔ                     m     n     ŋ   r j w    11
Ainu        p         t     ʦ         k                s           h m     n         r j w    11
Alekano     p         t               k                s z       ɣ h m     n       l       β  11
Andoke      p   b     t d         ɟ   k          ɸ     s           h           ɲ     r        11
Aneme Wake      b       d             k g        f     s             m     n         r j w    11
Angaataha   p         t               k        ʔ           ʃ         m     n     ŋ   r j w    11
Arabela     p         t               k                s   ʃ       h m     n         r j w    11
Arára       p         t         ʧ     k                              m     n     ŋ l r j w    11
Arikapú     p         t         ʧ     k        ʔ                   h m     n         r j w    11
Asmat       p         t         ʧ     k          f     s             m     n         r j w    11
Auca        p   b     t d             k g                            m     n   ɲ ŋ       w    11
Awiyaana    p         t               k        ʔ                     m m:  n n:      r j w    11
Awtuw       p         t d             k                              m     n     ŋ l r j w    11
BarasanaEd. p   b     t d       c ɟ   k g                          h                 r   w    11
Binandere   p   b     t d             k g                            m     n         r j   β  11
Binumarien  p         t               k        ʔ ɸ     s             m     n     ŋ   r j      11
Carib (FG)  p         t               k        ʔ       s           h m     n       ɭ   j w    11
Cayuga                t     ʦ         k   kʷ   ʔ       s           h       n         r j w    11
Cherokee              t     ʦ         k        ʔ       s           h m     n       l   j ɰ    11
Cubeo       p   b     t d       ʧ     k              ð             h                 r j w    11
Daga        p   b     t d             k g                            m     n         r j w    11
Dera        p   b     t d             k g                            m     n     ŋ     j w    11
Fasu        p         t               k          ɸ     s           h m     n         r j w    11
Gavião Pará p         t         ʧ   kʰk                            h m     n         r j w    11
Hewa        p         t               k          ɸ     s       x     m     n       l   j w    11
KarapanãSi. p   b     t d             k g              s           h                 r j w    11
Karitiâna   p         t               k                s           h m     n   ɲ ŋ   r   w    11
Karitiâna2  p         t               k                s           h m     n     ŋ   r j w    11
Kilenge     p         t               k                s         ɣ   m     n     ŋ l r     v  11
Klao        p   b     t d       c ɟ       kp gb  f     s                                 w    11
Koiari          b     t d             k g        f   ð             h m     n         r        11
Kokama      p         t     ʦ   ʧ     k                        x     m     n         r j w    11
Iquito      p         t               k   kʷ           s           h m     n         r j w    11
Irantxe     p         t               k        ʔ       s           h m     n       l   j w    11
Iwam        p         t               k                s           h m     n     ŋ   r j w    11
Jarawara        b     t           ɟ   k          ɸ     s           h m     n         r   w    11
Maranao     p         t               k        ʔ                     m     n     ŋ l r j w    11
Matae       p         t     ʦ         k                s             m     n       l r   w v  11
Maybrat     p         t               k          f     s       x     m     n         r j w    11
Menominee   p         t         ʧ     k        ʔ       s           h m     n           j w    11
MiamiIll    p         t         ʧ     k                s   ʃ       h m     n           j w    11
Mohawk                t     ʦ         k   kʷ   ʔ       s           h       n         r j w    11
Nuaulu      p         t               k                s           h m     n       l r j w    11
Nukak       p   b     t d       ʧ ʤ   k g      ʔ                   h                 r        11
Oneida                t     ʦ         k   kʷ   ʔ       s           h       n       l   j w    11
Panará      p         t               k        ʔ       s           h m     n         r j w    11
Pisamira    p   b     t d       ʧ     k g                          h                   ʝ ɰ β  11
Sabanê      p   ɓ     t   ɗ           k        ʔ       s           h m     n       l          11
Sanumá      p       tʰt     ʦ         k                s           h m     n       l     w    11
Seimat      p         t               k                s       x   h m     n     ŋ l     w    11
Seneca                t       ʣ   ʤ   k        ʔ       s   ʃ       h       n           j w    11
Shawnee     p         t         ʧ     k        ʔ   θ       ʃ         m     n           j w    11
TanimucaRe. p   b     t d             k        ʔ       s           h                 r j w    11
Tatuyo      p   b     t d       c     k g                          h                 r j w    11
Tigak       p   b     t               k g              s             m     n     ŋ l r        11
Tuscarora             t         ʧ     k        ʔ   θ   s           h       n         r j w    11
Tuyuca      p   b     t d             k g              s           h                 r j w    11
Wyandot               t               k        ʔ   θ   s       x   h       n         r j w    11
Yagua       p         t     ʦ   ʧ     k                            h m     n         r j w    11
Yabarana    p         t               k                s           h m     n   ɲ     r j w    11
Yãroamë     p         t         ʧ     k                        x   h m     n   ɲ     r   w    11
Yurutí      p   b     t d             k g              s           h                 r j w    11
Ama         p         t               k   kʷ     ɸ     s           h m     n       ɭ   j w    12
Apalaí      p         t               k        ʔ       s z ʃ         m     n         r j w    12
Apiaká      p         t               k        ʔ       s           h m     n     ŋ   r j w    12
Arapaho         b     t         ʧ     k        ʔ   θ   s       x   h       n           j w    12
Araweté     p         t d       ʧ     k        ʔ                   h m     n         r j w    12
AváCanoeiro p         t         ʧ     k   kʷ                     ʁ   m     n     ŋ   r j w    12
Awa         p   b     t     ʦ         k g      ʔ                     m     n         r j w    12
Bamu        p   b     t d             k g              s           h m     n         r   w    12
Bandjalang  p         t         c     k                              m     n   ɲ ŋ l r j w    12
Biloxi      p         t d       ʧ     k                s       x   h m     n           j w    12
Cabiyarí    p     ṱ   t         ʧ     k        ʔ                   h m     n         r j w    12
Cacua       p         t         ʧ     k        ʔ ʍ                 h m     n     ŋ l     w    12
ChanéChi.   p         t         ʧ     k   kʷ           s             m     n     ŋ   r ʝ β    12
Chuave          b     t d             k g        f     s             m     n         r j w    12
Comanche    p         t     ʦ         k   kʷ   ʔ       s           h m     n           j w    12
Cree        p         t         ʧ     k                s   ʃ       h m     n         r j w    12
Dawan       p   b     t           ʤ   k        ʔ f     s           h m     n       l          12
Djeoromitxi p         t         ʧ ʤ   k                            h m     n         r   w    12
Doromu-Koki     b     t d             k g        f     s             m     n         r j   β  12
Erave       p   b     t d             k g              s             m     n       l   j w    12
Fas         p         t               k        ʔ f     s             m     n         r j w ʙ  12
Fore        p   b     t d             k g      ʔ       s             m     n           j w    12
Gimi        p   b     t d                   ʔ: ʔ       s z         h m     n         r        12
Guajá       p         t         ʧ     k   kʷ   ʔ                   h m     n         r j w    12
Gumawana    p   b     t d             k g              s             m     n       l   j   β  12
Huaorani    p   b     t d         ɟ   k g                            m     n   ɲ ŋ       w    12
Ikpeng      p         t         ʧ     k g                            m     n     ŋ l r j w    12
Irarutu         b     t d             k g        ɸ     s             m     n         r j w    12
IzoceñoChi. p   b     t d             k g kʷ gʷ        s                             r ʝ β    12
Jamamadi        b     t           ɟ   k        ʔ ɸ     s           h̃ m     n         r   w    12
Júma        p         t               k g      ʔ                   h m     n     ŋ   r j w    12
Kanoé       p         t     ʦ         k                        x     m     n   ɲ     r j w β  12
Kapau       p         t               k      q ʔ                   h m     n     ŋ     j w β  12
Karaja          b       d ɗ     ʧ ʤ   k            θ       ʃ       h               l r   w    12
Katukína    p   b     t d       ʧ ʤ   k                            h m     n   ɲ   l          12
Kaxuiâna    p         t         ʧ     k        ʔ       s           h m     n         r j w    12
Ket             b     t d             k      q         s   ç       h m     n     ŋ ɮ          12
Krahô       p         t     ʦ       kʰk                            h m     n     ŋ l   j w    12
Latunde     p         t               k        ʔ       s           h m     n       l   j w β  12
Managalasi  p         t         ʧ ʤ   k        ʔ       s           h m     n         r     β  12
Nagovisi    p   b     t d             k g      ʔ       s             m     n         r     β  12
Nimboran    p   b     t d             k g              s           h m     n     ŋ   r        12
Nukak       p   b     t d       c ɟ   k g      ʔ                   h                 r   w    12
Oro Win     p         t tʙ            k        ʔ       s             m     n         r j w β  12
Parakanã    p         t         ʧ     k   kʷ   ʔ                   h m     n     ŋ   r     β  12
Rarotongan  p         t               k        ʔ f     s           h m     n     ŋ   r     v  12
S. Kiwai    p   b     t d             k g      ʔ       s             m     n         r   w    12
Taushiro              t         ʧ     k   kʷ   ʔ               x   h       n   ɲ     r j w    12
Tifal           b     t d             k          f     s             m     n     ŋ l   j w    12
Tongan      p         t               k        ʔ f     s           h m     n     ŋ l       v  12
Umotína     p         t               k                  z ʃ ʒ       m     n       l r j w    12
Waorani     p   b     t d             k g                            m     n   ɲ ŋ     j w    12
Yanomami VZ p       tʰt               k                s   ʃ       h m     n         r j w    12
Yekwana               t         ʧ     k        ʔ       s           h m     n   ɲ     r j w    12
Yukpa Irapa p         t         ʧ     k        ʔ       s   ʃ         m     n         r j   ʋ  12


There are a number of things you can do in small consonant inventories.

Voicing in plosives:
May be totally absent, as in the Polynesian languages (sometimes they have /v/ but I grouped that as a form of /w/).
May be fully present, as in Xavante or Rotokas.
May be present for only some of the plosives. Note that you can eliminate voicing contrasts for any one POA, though if you eliminate it only in the labials, you'll end up with /b/, not /p/. Piraha, Awa, and Tigak have /p b t k g/ with no /d/; I'm guessing it became /r/. (Iau /d/ is notable within the Lakes-Plain languages for *not* allowing flapping of /d/ -- most of them do.)

POAs:
May have no labials, as with Oneida and Tuscarora -- but this is a strongly areal feature, appearing only in North America. Comanche is the only language here to have both labials and /kʷ/, but it's spoken in the general vicinity of languages with /kʷ/ and no labials.
Xavante and Tahitian have no velars. I'm guessing /k/ backed to /ʔ/ in Tahitian and /k g/ fronted in Xavante, but I don't know.
It is not necessarily the case that you need three stop POAs. Abau only has /p k/, but /r/ has a wide range of allophones, including [t]:
word-initially, it is [l], after /n/ it is [d], [r] intervocalically, and [t] or [ɺ] word-finally.

All stops voice after nasals, so it could also be analyzed as /t/ -- but most of its allophones aren't stops.
Samoan merged its alveolars into velars, except /l/. Chain shift in the stops: t :> k > ʔ. It already had /ŋ/ when /n/ merged into it though.
Affricates only appear in American languages in this sample. Most of the American languages made it onto the list by having no labials. No longer true -- Asmat is Papuan, and many of the American languages here are South American.
Maximum of three non-glottal POAs except in Bandjalang, which is the only Australian language here. No longer true -- Cubeo, etc.

Fricatives:
Bandjalang has the largest inventory here with no fricatives, and it's Australian.
The presence of fricatives usually implies /h/, but some have /s/ as their only fricative. If there's a fricative that isn't /s/, there's also /h/ -- except in Cubeo, which only has /x/. /f/ won't be the only fricative -- except in one of those analyses of Mekeo, and that one is by far the oddest.
None of these languages has more than three fricatives except Mandan (which doesn't have nasals), unless you count Polynesian /v/ as a fricative. Tuscarora has /θ s h/, Seneca has /s ʃ h/, and Koiari has /f ð h/, but the most common three-fricative inventory by far is /f s h/. /x/ doesn't appear in any of these languages except Cubeo. Arapaho, Mandan, and Crow.

The glottal stop:
Not as necessary as you might think: about a third of the languages here don't have it. Of the ones that do, some (Polynesian) got it through debuccalization of another plosive.

Nasals:
Nasals imply /n/. Samoan is the only language here to have nasals without /n/, and it merged its alveolars into velars.
/ŋ/ implies /m/. /p n/ also imply /m/.
Many of the languages here with missing nasals are Amazonian languages with a full inventory of nasal vowels -- nasals are allophones of voiced stops around nasal vowels. In Piraha, nasals [m n] are allophones of /b g/ word-initially. In Keuw, voiced stops vary freely with nasals, and voiceless stops can be freely prenasalized. Rotokas and Iau really do have no nasals.

Liquids:
Surprisingly, /w/ (or /v/) is more common than /j/ -- the only language with /j/ and no /w/ is Maxakali.
Ekari has a velar lateral affricate /gʟ/. Matae contrasts /v w/.
/l r/ contrast is more common than you might think, even in these small inventories. It's really not that European a feature.

Iau:
...is worthy of special mention here for being probably the most phonologically bizarre language on the planet. It has six consonants, /b t d k f s/. /f/ is [ɸ~h] word-initially, but is [x] preceding /i/; word-medially it's [h]; and word-finally (/f/ is the only consonant that can occur word-finally) it's an unreleased stop [p]. /b d/ vary with nasals, and can be implosive before /ã/; /d/ can also be [l], but is never flapped.
There are eight vowels: /ã æ~ɛ ɪ i ɔ ʊ u/ and a fricated vowel /i̝/. /ã/ is always nasalized.
Despite all this, most words are monosyllabic -- and the reason Iau can pull this off is that, well, not only does it have eight tones (two level and six contour), it has tone clusters -- more than one tone can appear on a word. There is an extensive system of tone-based verbal derivation:
tai2 'pull'
tai3 'has been pulled off'
tai21 'might pull'
tai43 'land on'
tai24 'fell to ground'
tai23 'fall to ground (incompletive)'
tai34 'pull off'
tai243 'falling to ground (durative)'
tai21-34 'pull on, shake' (nb: two *different* contour tones)
tai21-3 'have pulled on, have shaken'
Last edited by Nortaneous on Sun Jan 18, 2015 3:29 pm, edited 14 times in total.
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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by zompist »

That's a neat presentation of the data. Also, Iau sounds insane, I love it.

Do you have info on the phonetics? It sounds like (as I'd expect) Iau has a wide set of allophones for each phoneme, and I wonder if that holds up for the others.

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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by 2+3 clusivity »

Hung! Had not heard of Lau before.

Great survey. What did you use USPID?
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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by Nortaneous »

^ You've never heard of Lau because it's not actually a langu--dammit yes it is. But it has over twice as many consonants as Iau -- /b t d k g kʷ gʷ f s m mʷ n ŋ l r/. Sans-serif fonts make certaln ianguages dlfficuit.

Iau source: http://sealang.net/archives/nusa/pdf/nu ... p29-42.pdf

I didn't get into allophony because I can't track down detailed phonologies of many of these languages, but my vague impression is:
* Voiceless plosives don't actually vary all that much, except the Polynesian languages that have t~k variation. /t/ usually affricates or assibilates before /i/, moving into whatever space is open -- [s] if no /s/ and so on. If there are no voiced plosives, voiceless plosives can voice. In some Lakes-Plain languages, voiceless plosives can voice and voiceless plosives fricate or prenasalize or nasalize to get out of the way.
* Voiced plosives vary heavily. In Rotokas, /b d/ are usually [β ɾ]. If there are no nasals, voiced plosives have nasal allophones, except in Rotokas. Freely-varying prenasalization is common.
* Fricatives can voice and palatalize.
No idea what happens with liquids.

Allophony in Lakes-Plain consonants: http://www.langlxmelanesia.com/LLM%20vo ... 281%29.pdf

Also: the thing about smaller inventories having simpler phonotactics is not necessarily true, though there may be a statistical correlation. Some American languages have CCC initial and final clusters and CCCCC medial clusters, and Keuw allows CCG initial clusters, where CC = stop+stop, stop+liquid, nasal+stop, or sC.
Last edited by Nortaneous on Tue Dec 10, 2013 6:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by Imralu »

2+3 clusivity wrote:Hung! Had not heard of Lau Iau before.

l hate the font here. Capital l looks like lower case I. Oh fuck ... l mixed them aIl up and noone noticed!
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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by Drydic »

Imralu wrote:
2+3 clusivity wrote:Hung! Had not heard of Lau Iau before.

l hate the font here. Capital l looks like lower case I. Oh fuck ... l mixed them aIl up and noone noticed!

Lmralu? :O
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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by Nortaneous »

IlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIwhat the fuck they are exactIy pixeI-for-pixeI identicaI
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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by KathTheDragon »

In your font maybe. Not in mine.

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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by Pogostick Man »

Nortaneous wrote:IlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIwhat the [expletive deleted] they are exactIy pixeI-for-pixeI identicaI

I think there might be a spacing difference…let's see:

textlo – lowercase L
textIo – capital I

It's slight but it's there, at least for me.
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ObsequiousNewt
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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by ObsequiousNewt »

For me, lowercase L is taller than capital i. (Perhaps we should go anti-Clıck and use İ.)

Moving back onto subject: Nort, which ones of those are conlangs?


Ο ορανς τα ανα̨ριθομον ϝερρον εͱεν ανθροποτροφον.
Το̨ ανθροπς αυ̨τ εκψον επ αθο̨ οραναμο̨ϝον.
Θαιν. Θαιν. Θαιν. Θαιν. Θαιν. Θαιν. Θαιν.

----
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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by ---- »

I'll do a bit of contribution to this thread--Arapaho is a nice example for 'small' inventories because even with its small size it has a lot of interesting characteristics and there's plenty of allophony and mergers and whatnot going on. Arapaho's basic phoneme inventory consists of 12 consonants:

/b t tʃ k ʔ θ s x h n w j/

Now immediately there's a couple unusual things apparent here:
-/b/ is the only officially voiced plosive in the inventory. It's unvoiced in clusters with unvoiced consonants and word-finally, but it's distinguished from the phonemically unvoiced plosives because those are aspirated in similar environments instead. However, all plosives are voiced to some degree intervocally. Even /tʃ/ is effected by these processes; i.e. [dʒ] intervocally and so on, although apparently not for all speakers.
-The near complete lack of liquids and sonorants: /n/ is the only nasal present and /r/ and /l/ type sounds never occur even as allophones. However, it does have a good number of fricatives, and an interesting distribution of them: /ʃ/ is not present even though we have /tʃ/, and yet there's still two alveolar fricatives and 4 in total (apparently in contrast to all of those in Nort's data set). A lot of people expect things to be a bit more balanced (or usually make them that way in their conlangs) but you can still have some interesting gaps in small inventories.

Arapaho also has some interesting allophony going on. /b/ and /w/ are almost entirely in complementary distribution, and they're only distinguished before /o/ and in the coda. However, in codas they are often subject to morphology and switch between each other in that environment as well (cf. neté3iib my dog vs. hité3iiw his dog). A similar situation happens with /k/ and /tʃ/ word finally; they tend to vary with each other as well in codas when morphology is applied. /k/ seems to be nonexistent or at least very rare before /i/ as well. Another thing that happens is that [h] appears word-initially very frequently, although it's possibly not precise to call it /h/ in this case because it varies with null after almost anything, except in certain words where it can also alternate with /t/ and /n/. I also think it's interesting that Arapaho distinguishes /x/ and /h/ in all coda environments, and the language also has overlong vowels, but I suppose those are less minor details.

Good thread idea, Nort. When people do small or so called minimalist conlangs they're often very similar to each other, but in real life there's so many differences that actually occur, and it's cool to see all of it splayed out here together. Nice work! :)

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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by Salmoneus »

Maybe worth pointing out that Abau is the only counterexample there to the ptk? rule - otherwise, everything lacking one of p, t or k has ?.

Yes, at least in austronesian small inventories often means that 'voiceless' vs 'voiced' is really just a naming convention - the voiced stops are often fricatives, nasals, prenasalised, or funky tongue stuff. Some people just call these series 'strong' and 'weak' stops.


[For a moment there I got confused, and thought that Iau was IaaI (ok, it's actually called Iaai, but that's less symmetrical). Surely, I thought, a language as insane as Iaai couldn't also be phonologically insane? But then I realised Iau was actually something from a long, long way from Iaai.

(But then I looked up the phonology of Iaai. Damn you, Iaai. You couldn't be sensible, could you? Ten phonemic vowel qualities, in two lengths, including both front rounded and back unrounded vowels. No plain labials, and instead series of palatalised labials and labiovelarised labials. Coronal, retroflex, prepalatal and velar stops series, where a stop series has voiced and voiceless stops, and nasals, and voiceless nasals. No labiovelarised labial voiceless stop... but also no palatalised labial voiced stop. Simple fricatives - one palatalised labial, one prepalatal, one velar, all voiceless... but then three coronal fricatives, including both a POA distinction not otherwise found (s vs T) AND a random voicing contrast between T and D, for no apparent reason. /h/, and a flapped rhotic, and then SIX APPROXIMANTS. Which six? Well, obviously, a lateral-alveolar (pronounced at the same POA as /s/ and a different one from all the other coronal sounds), a labiovelarised labial, and a palatalised labial. But that's only three? Ah yes, but of course Iaai has voiced and unvoiced approximants at all three POAs. But wait, isn't that seven? Because apparently /h/ is a glottal approximant in Iaai. Then again, on the other hand, the palatalised labial approximants (voiced and unvoiced) are apparently often turned into fricatives, although naturally these palatalised labial fricative-approximants, voiced and unvoiced, still contrast with the normal voiceless palatalised labial fricative, which is even more fricative.
Meanwhile, the retroflex and prepalatal stops are semi-affricated, but the coronal stops are very abrupt, and the coronal voiceless stop has an unusually 'short' VOA (this means it's more 'voiced', yes?).
Shorter version: languages with ten nasals shouldn't exist. They certainly shouldn't exist in the Pacific...)
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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by Nortaneous »

Could be worse: the Faia dialect of Kirikiri has a phonemic voiceless alveolar nasal... and it's a Lakes-Plain language.

This paper lists languages with <11 consonants, though some of the inventories it gives are different than what I have. I erred on the side of sanity where analyses differed (so /l/ instead of /d/ in Sentani) but they have /p t ʧ k ʔ mb nd nʤ ng h/ for Maxakali so there's that.
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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by 2+3 clusivity »

Nortaneous wrote:^ You've never heard of Lau because it's not actually a langu--dammit yes it is. But it has over twice as many consonants as Iau


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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by cromulant »

Excellent post/thread.

Ainu has /p t ts k s h m n r j w/.

Paluan, another /n/-less language: /b t d k ʔ s m ŋ r l/
Last edited by cromulant on Tue Dec 10, 2013 10:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by Drydic »

Salmoneus wrote:[For a moment there I got confused, and thought that Iau was IaaI (ok, it's actually called Iaai, but that's less symmetrical). Surely, I thought, a language as insane as Iaai couldn't also be phonologically insane? But then I realised Iau was actually something from a long, long way from Iaai.

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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by ObsequiousNewt »

Nessari wrote:
Salmoneus wrote:[For a moment there I got confused, and thought that Iau was IaaI (ok, it's actually called Iaai, but that's less symmetrical). Surely, I thought, a language as insane as Iaai couldn't also be phonologically insane? But then I realised Iau was actually something from a long, long way from Iaai.

Ïa! Ïa! Shub-Niggurath!

Nessari, Irish doesn't have diaereses. We've been over this.


Ο ορανς τα ανα̨ριθομον ϝερρον εͱεν ανθροποτροφον.
Το̨ ανθροπς αυ̨τ εκψον επ αθο̨ οραναμο̨ϝον.
Θαιν. Θαιν. Θαιν. Θαιν. Θαιν. Θαιν. Θαιν.

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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by Drydic »

That's just what they want you to think!
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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by Yaali Annar »

In case anyone wondered about the frequency of each phonemes listed, here are them:

k - 39
t - 38
p - 30
n - 30
w/v - 29
h - 26
m - 26
ʔ - 25
s - 24
j - 21
l - 17
r - 17
b - 16
d - 13
f - 12
ŋ - 12
g - 8
ʦ - 6
ʧ - 5
ʤ - 4
kʷ - 3
θ - 2
ʃ - 2
x - 2
ʣ - 1
ð - 1
ɲ - 1

Edit: Added Palauan and Ainu into the count.
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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by gach »

Let's add I'saka to the list. It has the eight consonants /p t k b d s w j/. The allophony includes /b d/ > [m n] before nasal vowels and free variation of /p/ between [p ~ ɸ ~ f].

Nortaneous wrote:Nasals imply /n/. Samoan is the only language here to have nasals without /n/, and it merged its alveolars into velars. /ŋ/ implies /m/. /p n/ also imply /m/.


Don't forget Taoripi which also has /m/ as its only nasal.

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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by kodé »

One way small inventories "fill out" the articulatory space is through allophony (as pointed out); another way is to blur the categories. For example, in a phonetic study of Hawai'ian I did, /w l/ are actually pronounced midway between fricatives and approximants (/w/ is between [v] and [v\], and /l/ is between [l] and [K\]). In other words, there are only three MoAs in Hawai'ian: stop, nasal, and fricative/approximant.
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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by Nortaneous »

gach wrote:
Nortaneous wrote:Nasals imply /n/. Samoan is the only language here to have nasals without /n/, and it merged its alveolars into velars. /ŋ/ implies /m/. /p n/ also imply /m/.


Don't forget Taoripi which also has /m/ as its only nasal.

Are Taoripi and Toaripi different languages?
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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by cromulant »

Hurrian: /p t k ts) f s x m n l j w/.

No Australian languages make the cut. Dyirbal just misses it with 13

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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by Click »

You missed Bandjalang, which Nortaneous included in the OP.

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Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Post by Nortaneous »

Dyirbal, Wik-Munkan, Yidiny, and Gugu-Yalandyi all have 13. Note that they all have two rhotics, which Bandjalang doesnt.
Siöö jandeng raiglin zåbei tandiüłåd;
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Chei. Chei. Chei. Chei. Chei. Chei. Chei.

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