How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!)

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How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!)

Post by brandrinn »

The other thread, about avoiding Euro-sounding phonologies, got me thinking about what you would do if you wanted to make a language that sounds European. But in a clever way. So here are my thoughts.

First off, consider the major linguistic provinces, what the areal features are in each, and how they might go together. Romanian shows what happens when a Romance language collides with Slavic languages. Some of these provinces will have very porous boundaries. For example, the uvular rhotic cuts scorss the Romance/Germanic provincial boundary.

Second, what are some historical trends you can exploit? If you went back in time you'd notice that many European languages distinguished apical and laminal coronal consonants (as Basque still does), an areal feature every bit as distinctive and bizarre as the lack of fricative in Australia or the two-vowel system(s) of the Caucasus. Preserving features like this might make a language stand out in modern Europe, but it will give it a wonderful continuity with European diachronics.

Third, don't just think about what makes European languages typical, but also what makes them unique and interesting in a world context. European languages often have baroque vowel inventories with lots of rounded front vowels, so go crazy with it! See how complex you can make it and still have it make sense.

What else would you say to someone who wanted to make a European-sounding phonology interesting?
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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by Astraios »

brandrinn wrote:If you went back in time you'd notice that many European languages distinguished apical and laminal coronal consonants
Oh?


brandrinn wrote:What else would you say to someone who wanted to make a European-sounding phonology interesting?
Don't just do a pick-and-mix from existing Eurolangs. Do a clever and working pick-and-mix.

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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by ná'oolkiłí »

brandrinn wrote:an areal feature [...] two-vowel system(s) of the Caucasus.

This isn't an areal feature; it's a feature limited to the NWC family, and strictly speaking probably only to one or two of them actually have only 2 phonemic vowels. There are 4 (living) NWC languages and 35-40 native languages of the Caucasus in total, a good number of which have 8 or more vowels.

What else would you say to someone who wanted to make a European-sounding phonology interesting?

Experiment. With Náles, I started out with a fairly standard European phonology, but I've played with the allophony so much that the current incarnation is essentially a distant daughter of the original. For example, I originally had /ð/, but when I read about the change *ðˠ→ɣ in Irish, I decided to merge it with /ɣ/. Faroese glide allophony and Galician gheada inspired the allophones [j] and [ʕ] for /ɣ/ before front and back vowels, respectively. Recently I decided to collapse by vowel inventory, thus making these allophones phonemes in their own right. And I'm sure everything will go through many more changes, causing the phonology to drift every farther from its SAEish roots.

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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by Nortaneous »

SAE conlangs aren't actually all that European; they tend to look a lot like English with five vowels. It's possible to make a European-looking conlang that's still interesting; I have a few Europeanish conlangs, although none of them have a voice distinction in plosives so I guess they're not actually that European. They're mostly inspired by Basque, though.

Astraios: Middle High German did, IIRC.

ná'oolkiłí wrote:Galician gheada

This. More people should do this.
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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by Herr Dunkel »

Nortaneous wrote:They tend to look a lot like English with five vowels


How the hell?
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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by WeepingElf »

Nortaneous wrote:SAE conlangs aren't actually all that European; they tend to look a lot like English with five vowels. It's possible to make a European-looking conlang that's still interesting; I have a few Europeanish conlangs, although none of them have a voice distinction in plosives so I guess they're not actually that European. They're mostly inspired by Basque, though.


Many beginners' conlangs indeed resemble English with the /a e i o u/ vowel system. But while almost all European languages have these vowels, many have more. Italian distinguishes between /e/ and /E/ as well as /o/ and /O/. German, of course, adds front rounded vowels, and so do most other Germanic and many Uralic languages. Not to mention French, which has 12 (or so) vowel qualities, not counting nasal vowels.

Most of my conlangs are European lostlangs, so I draw mainly from European models in their phonologies; and that does allow for interesting things! In Roman Germanech, for instance, Vulgar Latin /E/ and /O/ have leap-frogged /e/ and /o/ and have become /i/ and /u/ (that went via the diphthongs /ie/ and /uo/, and was something that accidentally fell out from the combination of Romance and German sound changes I used in the language!). Old Ivernic (a divergent dialect of Old Albic) has no phonemic vowels, though at the surface, it has a straighforward [a e i o u] vowel inventory and even long vowels.

Nortaneous wrote:Astraios: Middle High German did, IIRC.


I am not sure about Middle High German, but certainly Old High German. And Old Spanish.
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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by Nortaneous »

Hmm. Might be a good idea to make a list of odd/non-SAE things found in European languages. The apical-laminal distinction is one (although Basque has apical-laminal-postalveolar, which I stole for Enzielu), then:

* Germanic and Slavic tone
* gheada
* insane lenition in Manx
* preocclusion
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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by Jashan »

I'd suggest also determining either a genetic or areal relationship and play on those stereotypes. For instance:

"I want it to sound Romance-y" == stereotypically around 5-8 vowels, lots of open syllables and multisyllabic roots, palatalization
"I want it to sound Germanic-y" == stereotypically 10-15 vowels, lots of closed syllables and monosyllabic roots, velar sounds (/x/, /k/, /g/, /N/, /h/)

Of course, IMO most of the "sound" of a language comes from the patterns of the words/syllables, not from the sounds themselves. For instance, /?/, /N/, and /{/ are all perfectly valid English sounds (although granted, /?/ is not generally a phoneme), but the word nga? wouldn't sound remotely English.
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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by dunomapuka »

Nortaneous wrote:Hmm. Might be a good idea to make a list of odd/non-SAE things found in European languages. The apical-laminal distinction is one (although Basque has apical-laminal-postalveolar, which I stole for Enzielu), then:

* Germanic and Slavic tone
* gheada
* insane lenition in Manx
* preocclusion

And tuscan gorgia (in the same vein as gheada)

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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by Nortaneous »

dunomapuka wrote:
Nortaneous wrote:Hmm. Might be a good idea to make a list of odd/non-SAE things found in European languages. The apical-laminal distinction is one (although Basque has apical-laminal-postalveolar, which I stole for Enzielu), then:

* Germanic and Slavic tone
* gheada
* insane lenition in Manx
* preocclusion

And tuscan gorgia (in the same vein as gheada)

Then there's Slavic g :> ɦ.
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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by brandrinn »

Slavic languages just generally hate velars. They've done everything in their power to get rid of them for thousands of years.
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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by WeepingElf »

And don't forget the diachronic dimension. There can be interesting diachronics hidden behind a "bland" phoneme inventory.
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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by Ser »

Astraios wrote:
brandrinn wrote:If you went back in time you'd notice that many European languages distinguished apical and laminal coronal consonants
Oh?
Nortaneous wrote:Astraios: Middle High German did, IIRC.
And also Early Modern Spanish in ‹ç, z› /s̻/ and ‹s, ss› /s̺/.

But brandrinn claims there's "many", what are other examples?
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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by brandrinn »

Serafín wrote:But brandrinn claims there's "many", what are other examples?

Hungarian once had this distinction as well. That's why <s> and <sz> are the opposite of what you'd expect in modern Hungarian. I think some other Romance languages also had this feature, but I'm not sure how to find out.
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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by Nortaneous »

brandrinn wrote:Slavic languages just generally hate velars. They've done everything in their power to get rid of them for thousands of years.

European languages just generally hate /g/. Gheada, Slavic palatalization, Slavic debuccalization, French palatalization, Germanic lenition to /j/ or null...
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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by ---- »

Everybody hates /g/. In Inuktitut g (and the other voiced stop, the uvular) turns into some sort of fricative in most places it occurs, especially intervocally.

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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by Astraios »

Don't forget Hebrew fricatizing it.

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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by ---- »

And Arabic palatalizing it too
Man g is just not a popular guy

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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by Atom »

Theta wrote:And Arabic palatalizing it too
Man g is just not a popular guy

I think it's what he did to c at that one part, y'know?

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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by ---- »

Hey c is a total gossiper, he kind of had it coming, and everyone was expecting it.

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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by Mr. Z »

Japanese also hates g, turning it into a nasal.

And Hebrew g is now longer fricatized!



BTW, c is a really nice guy. I think everybody likes him, it's just that he's so similar to some other guys that people keep confusing them. And his look-alikes are so inconsiderate, they pretend to be him so people would talk to them as well! Could you believe them?
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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by Skomakar'n »

Nortaneous wrote:
brandrinn wrote:Slavic languages just generally hate velars. They've done everything in their power to get rid of them for thousands of years.

European languages just generally hate /g/. Gheada, Slavic palatalization, Slavic debuccalization, French palatalization, Germanic lenition to /j/ or null...

Modern Icelandic doesn't have any of /b d g/ at all. :D The former two have become /p t/ (as opposed to <p t> which represent /pʰ tʰ/ most of the time, but can be /p t/ too, depending on position), and /g/ has become /k/ (as opposed to <k> /kʰ/ with the same exceptions as the other historically voiceless stops) initially before back vowels, and /c/ initially before front vowels, which also goes for <gg> (previously /ɡː/), and former /g/ before other voiceless stops (such as in the word <sagt>); word final and intervocalic /g/ has become /ɣ/ (as in <dagur>), except for intervocalically before /ɪ/, where it has become /j/ (<daginn>, <degi>). After a velar nasal, it is /k/ before back vowels and /c/ before front vowels.

<gata> /ˈkaːta/ (cf. <kaka> /ˈkʰaːka/)
<gluggi> /ˈklʏcɪ/ -› <glugga> /ˈklʏka/ (cf. <klukka> /'kʰlʏ(h)ka/)
<dagur> /'taːɣʏr/ -› <degi> /'tɛjɪ/
<leggja> /'lɛca/

I'm fairly sure some scholars would rather represent these as /b̥ d̥ ɡ̊/, though.

Ég get flogið þangað á morgun!
/jɛːɣ cɛːt ˈflɔjɪð ˈθau̯ŋkaːð au̯ ˈmɔrkʏn/
I can fly there tomorrow!

Faroese has been a little nicer to it, keeping it initially before back vowels and /ø/, but getting rid of it in most intervocalic and final positions, usually by turning it into some other sound such as /v/ or /j/. It has usually become /dʒ/ before front vowels (except for /ø/), but also /j/ in some positions (generally in the same place as where Icelandic does it). It is generally kept before other consonants, though, such as the clusters /gv/ and /gd/ (but */gj/ is /dʒ/).

<gøta> /ˈgøːta/
<skuggi> /ˈskʊdʒɪ/ -› <skugga> /ˈskʊga/
<dagur> /ˈdɛavʊr/ -› <degi> /ˈdɛjɪ/, <dagar> /ˈdɛavar/ (I may be wrong about <degi> and <dagar>, though)
<eg> /ɛː/

Eg fleyg hagar í gjár.
/ɛːØ flɛi̯j ˈhɛavar ʊi̯ ɔar/ (I think)
I flew there yesterday.
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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by finlay »

Skomakar'n wrote:
Nortaneous wrote:
brandrinn wrote:Slavic languages just generally hate velars. They've done everything in their power to get rid of them for thousands of years.

European languages just generally hate /g/. Gheada, Slavic palatalization, Slavic debuccalization, French palatalization, Germanic lenition to /j/ or null...

Modern Icelandic doesn't have any of /b d g/ at all. :D The former two have become /p t/ (as opposed to <p t> which represent /pʰ tʰ/ most of the time, but can be /p t/ too, depending on position), and /g/ has become /k/ (as opposed to <k> /kʰ/ with the same exceptions as the other historically voiceless stops) initially before back vowels, and /c/ initially before front vowels, which also goes for <gg> (previously /ɡː/), and former /g/ before other voiceless stops (such as in the word <sagt>); word final and intervocalic /g/ has become /ɣ/ (as in <dagur>), except for intervocalically before /ɪ/, where it has become /j/ (<daginn>, <degi>). After a velar nasal, it is /k/ before back vowels and /c/ before front vowels.

<gata> /ˈkaːta/ (cf. <kaka> /ˈkʰaːka/)
<gluggi> /ˈklʏcɪ/ -› <glugga> /ˈklʏka/ (cf. <klukka> /'kʰlʏ(h)ka/)
<dagur> /'taːɣʏr/ -› <degi> /'tɛjɪ/

I'm fairly sure some scholars would rather represent these as /b̥ d̥ ɡ̊/, though.

I dunno, I much prefer describing it as an aspiration contrast, but at the same time it feels a little wrong to say that it "doesn't have /g/" because it still represents the lenis member of the pair. It's all wankery at this level of analysis, anyway. Besides, while native Icelandic doesn't really have [g], I refuse to believe that it never, ever occurs, and if a foreigner came in saying words with [g] instead of [k], would it not still be interpreted as the same phoneme, albeit perhaps with an accent?

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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by Skomakar'n »

finlay wrote:
Skomakar'n wrote:
Nortaneous wrote:
brandrinn wrote:Slavic languages just generally hate velars. They've done everything in their power to get rid of them for thousands of years.

European languages just generally hate /g/. Gheada, Slavic palatalization, Slavic debuccalization, French palatalization, Germanic lenition to /j/ or null...

Modern Icelandic doesn't have any of /b d g/ at all. :D The former two have become /p t/ (as opposed to <p t> which represent /pʰ tʰ/ most of the time, but can be /p t/ too, depending on position), and /g/ has become /k/ (as opposed to <k> /kʰ/ with the same exceptions as the other historically voiceless stops) initially before back vowels, and /c/ initially before front vowels, which also goes for <gg> (previously /ɡː/), and former /g/ before other voiceless stops (such as in the word <sagt>); word final and intervocalic /g/ has become /ɣ/ (as in <dagur>), except for intervocalically before /ɪ/, where it has become /j/ (<daginn>, <degi>). After a velar nasal, it is /k/ before back vowels and /c/ before front vowels.

<gata> /ˈkaːta/ (cf. <kaka> /ˈkʰaːka/)
<gluggi> /ˈklʏcɪ/ -› <glugga> /ˈklʏka/ (cf. <klukka> /'kʰlʏ(h)ka/)
<dagur> /'taːɣʏr/ -› <degi> /'tɛjɪ/

I'm fairly sure some scholars would rather represent these as /b̥ d̥ ɡ̊/, though.

I dunno, I much prefer describing it as an aspiration contrast, but at the same time it feels a little wrong to say that it "doesn't have /g/" because it still represents the lenis member of the pair. It's all wankery at this level of analysis, anyway. Besides, while native Icelandic doesn't really have [g], I refuse to believe that it never, ever occurs, and if a foreigner came in saying words with [g] instead of [k], would it not still be interpreted as the same phoneme, albeit perhaps with an accent?

I'm sure it becomes [g] from time to time, because Icelanders tend to speak in a very sloppy manner in general, haha, but it is definitely a very voiceless language when it comes to these consonants. I remember one particular time when I was walking around Reykjavík with my Icelandic friend, and it took me several seconds and one request for him to repeat himself until I could properly parse 'mörg' (many) as 'mörg', rather than as 'mörk' (ground[s]).
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#undef FEMALE

I'd love for you to try my game out! Here's the forum thread about it:
http://zbb.spinnwebe.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=36688

Of an Ernst'ian one.

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Re: How to Design a European Phonology (in Interesting Ways!

Post by finlay »

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirah%C3%A3_language
The Piraha phonological inventory on wikipedia highlights something I think is pertinent here: Piraha is often claimed to have "no nasals", but as Wikipedia points out, you could reanalyse it as having "no velars" instead, because it has [k g] and [m n] all as allophones of something or other. I think both analyses are very misleading because the language phonetically has both sounds, and it's just in phonological/theoretical terms that it doesn't have one or the other.

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