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A guide to small consonant inventories
http://www.incatena.org/viewtopic.php?f=10&t=42540
Page 1 of 6

Author:  Nortaneous [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 5:36 pm ]
Post subject:  A guide to small consonant inventories


Author:  zompist [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 5:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

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.

Author:  2+3 clusivity [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 6:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Hung! Had not heard of Lau before.

Great survey. What did you use USPID?

Author:  Nortaneous [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 6:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

^ 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 -- /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.

Author:  Imralu [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 6:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories


Author:  Drydic [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 6:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories


Author:  Nortaneous [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 6:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

IlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIlIwhat the fuck they are exactIy pixeI-for-pixeI identicaI

Author:  KathTheDragon [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 6:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

In your font maybe. Not in mine.

Author:  Pogostick Man [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 6:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories


Author:  ObsequiousNewt [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 7:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

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?

Author:  ---- [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 7:59 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

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! :)

Author:  Salmoneus [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 8:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

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...)

Author:  Nortaneous [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 9:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

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

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.

Author:  2+3 clusivity [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 9:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories


Author:  cromulant [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 10:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

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/

Author:  Drydic [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 10:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories


Author:  ObsequiousNewt [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 10:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories


Author:  Drydic [ Tue Dec 10, 2013 11:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

That's just what they want you to think!

Author:  Yaali Annar [ Wed Dec 11, 2013 2:20 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

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.

Author:  gach [ Wed Dec 11, 2013 5:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories


Author:  kodé [ Wed Dec 11, 2013 11:47 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

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.

Author:  Nortaneous [ Wed Dec 11, 2013 12:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories


Author:  cromulant [ Wed Dec 11, 2013 12:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

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

. Dyirbal just misses it with 13

Author:  Click [ Wed Dec 11, 2013 12:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

You missed Bandjalang, which Nortaneous included in the OP.

Author:  Nortaneous [ Wed Dec 11, 2013 12:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A guide to small consonant inventories

Dyirbal, Wik-Munkan, Yidiny, and Gugu-Yalandyi all have 13. Note that they all have two rhotics, which Bandjalang doesnt.

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