The Bèshus Language: Phonology

This is a summary of the pronunciation of the Bèshus language, focusing on the standard language. Bèshus is a mora-timed language with pitch-accent. The phonemic inventory comprises 21 consonants and five vowels.

An introduction to the language can be found here.

Consonants

Broad transcription IPA is given in // where it differs from the romanisation system.

MannerLabialAlveolarPalatalVelarGlottal
Nasalmn
Stopp, bt, dk, g
Affricatech /t͡ɕ/, j /d͡ʑ/ *
Fricativefs, zsh /ɕ/, zh /ʑ/h
Approximantv /ʋ/r /ɹ/y /j/ w
Laterall

*In some analyses, affricates are considered stop coda plus fricative onset sequences since they only occur between two vowels and add an extra mora to the previous syllable.

The voiceless stops can be geminated: pp /pʰː/, tt /tʰː/, kk /kʰː/.

Allophones

Front vowels [i,ʏ,ɛ,e] and the semivowels [j,ɥ̈] cause the onset to become palatal:

OnsetAllophoneExample
/n/[ɲ]báneanu [bɐ̌ːɲéɑŋú] ‘stumble’
/k/[c]ke [ce] ‘fit’
/kʰː/[cʰː]nékker [ɲɛ̌cʰːɛ́ɹ] ‘to be expected’
/g/[ɟ]gés [ɟɛ̌s] ‘jungle’
/l/[ʎ]lelé [ʎɛ̀ʎɛ̌ː] ‘marketplace’
/kl/[cʎ]iklemef [icʎɛmɛf] ‘organic’
/kʰːl/[cʰːʎ]tékklettenalis [tɛ̌cʰːʎɛ́tʰːɛ́ɲɐ́ʎís] ‘auction’
/gl/[ɟʎ]gluglùn [ɟʎʏ́ɟʎʏ̂ɲ] ‘turkey’
/we/[ɥ̈ɛ]kezakwèn [cɛ́zɐ́cɥ̈ɛ̂ɲ] ‘cheese’

/n/ is also realised [ɲ] before other palatal consonants, and [ŋ] before velars consonants or back vowels [u,o,ɔ]: e.g. bángan [bɐ̌ŋgɐ́n] ‘only child’.

Word final /n/ is realised as [ɲ] after front vowels and [ŋ] after back vowels: e.g. ganshén [gɐ̀ɲɕɛ̌ɲ] ‘apathy’.

/m/ is realised as [ɱ] before labiodentals [f,ʋ]. Eg. dadémfen [dɐ̀dɛ̌ɱfɛ́ɲ] ‘primitive’.

However, labiodentals [f,ʋ] become bilabial [ɸ,β̞] before or after a rounded vowel: e.g. fúfu [ɸʏ̌ːɸʏ́] ‘flute’. In these cases, a preceding /m/ will be just realised as [m]: nemfòsh [ɲɛ́mɸôβɕ]. Also /ʋ/ becomes a fricative [v,β] after /m/: e.g. kemví [cɛ̀ɱviː̌] ‘primate’.

/ɹ/ is a tap [ɾ] between vowels: e.g. daré [dɐ̀ɾɛ̌ː] ‘forearm’.

Voiceless stops are usually unaspirated, but are aspirated if word final or geminate: e.g. tín [tǐɲ] ‘colleagues’, vútten [β̞ʏ̌tʰ:ɛ́ɲ] ‘endure’, yét [jɛ̌tʰ] ‘extroverted’.

Vowels

Vowel space chart of Monophthongs: i,u,o,e,a.
Audio provided below.
Vowel space chart of Bèshus’s monophthong vowels (Allophones in brackets)

/ʏ/ is realised as [u] either when word final or before a velar [k,g,ŋ]: e.g. sheáshukwopen [ɕěɑɕúkwɔ́pɛ́ɲ] ‘thermometer’; biku [biku] ‘Biku’ (a dance style). Word final /ʏ/ remains [ʏ] if accented or following a labial consonant: fu [ɸʏ] ‘to drink’.

/o/ usually has protruded rounding, but has compressed rounding [oβ] when next to a labial consonant. This also applies to the diphthongs /oi/ and /oɑ/, but only if preceded by a labial sound. The diphthong /wɔ/ always has protruded rounding.

/ɛ/ is realised [e] when word final and unaccented.

Vowels can also be lengthened when accented, see Pitch Accent and Timing for more details.

Diphthongs:

Descending diphthongs consist of nucleus vowel and a glide which is slightly shorter than the preceding vowel but not as short as a semivowel. These diphthongs always count as two moras.

Vowel space chart of Descending Diphthongs: 
ei, eu, oi, ea, oa
Audio provided below.
Descending diphthong vowels

There are also a limited set of semivowel plus vowel combinations that could be analysed as ascending diphthongs. Unlike the set above, these only count as two moras if they follow a consonant; They count as one mora when word initial.

Vowel space chart of ascending diphthongs: ye, yo, we, wo
Audio provided below.
Ascending diphthongs

Pitch Accent and Timing

Bèshus is a mora-timed language with a pitch accent system.

In each word, one syllable may be accented with a contour tone (either rising or falling); this determines the pitch of the other syllables in the word. There are three accent patterns:

  • Rising (acute accent): Low pitch before the accent, and high pitch after.
  • Falling (grave accent): High pitch before the accent, and low pitch after.
  • Unaccented (unmarked): No change in pitch, every syllable has a medium pitch.

Syllable weight is determined by several factors:

  • Descending diphthongs count as two moras.
  • If a syllable has a consonant in the coda or followed by a geminate consonant or affricate, then it has an additional mora.
  • In formal standard Bèshus, if a syllable has a consonant plus approximant (including semivowels) cluster in the onset, then it has an additional mora. However, in casual and dialectic speech, this rule is usually ignored.
  • If an accented vowel has a monophthong, and has no coda consonant or onset cluster, then the vowel is lengthened. So accented syllables will always have at least two moras.

External Sandhi

Within a single prosodic unit, segments at word boundaries may affect each other. If a word ends with a stop and the next word begins with a stop, then the first word’s stop is dropped and the second stop is geminated. For example: ‘gàgat ke’ is pronounced like one word in rapid speech: gàgat-ke [gâ:gɐ̀cʰ:è]. This rule also produces voiced geminates if the second stop is voiced.

Unaccented words will carry the pitch that the previous word ends in; i.e. if an unaccented word is preceded by a word in the rising pitch, then the whole word will be high pitched.

Phonotactics

Bèshus’s syllable structure can be summed up as: (C)(l,r,j,w)V(i,y,ɑ)(C)

Geminates, affricates cannot occur at the beginning of a word, in a coda or after another consonant.

/ɹ/ cannot be word initial, but may occur in a word initial onset cluster: eg. hré [hɹɛ̌] ‘to pull’

Only nasals can occur in a mid-word coda, but voiceless obstruents and approximants may occur in a word final coda. Voiced stops, voiced fricatives and /h/ are not permitted in a word-final coda.

If a syllable is not word final, then the coda can only be a nasal that is homorganic with the following syllable’s onset (if present). However, any nasal can precede /h/ or another nasal.

/l/ and /ɹ/ may follow any stop or voiceless fricative in an onset cluster. Semivowels are considered to be part of acceding diphthongs (see above: Vowels Diphthongs)

Diphthongs cannot occur in syllables with affricates, voiced fricatives, approximants, or nasal in the onset. A diphthong can follow a nasal, but only if it’s the coda of the previous syllable. The consonants /m, t, d, s, k, g/ cannot be followed by the diphthongs /jɛ, jœ, ei, eÿ, eɑ/.̠

Spoken Samples

note: | is being used to mark a minor prosodic break and not a metrical foot. ‖ represents a major break.

[ʑɐ̌ɲjɛ́s fɐ̌s | he fɛ̌ːɲɛ́ɕʏ́s | hjɛ̌dɐ́ʋɛ́ɲ he ɕɐ̌ːplɐ́ʎɛ́ɲ hlɐ́s | toɹ zɛ́nzɐ́ɲɛ̂ː | ɕjɛ̌fɛ́s gɐ̂ːgɐ̀s ‖]
Zhányes fás he féneshus h’yédaven he sháplalen h’las tor zenzanè shyéfes gàgas.
all POSS.FEM and finery and-lace and ribbon-PL and-feather SR.ACC pack.away-PST.MASS trunk in.FEM
All her finery, lace, ribbons, and feathers, was packed away in a trunk.
[ɐ̀bɐ̌: | hjɛ̌kʰːó hé cɛ̀tɐ̌n to bɛ̂ɲ | te fɐ̌ːβ̞óβŋ cɛ́ŋgɐ̂ːɲɛ̀ndɛ̀ɲ ɲɛ̌ɲ | te ɕɛ̌ː fɛ̌mhíɲʎɛ́s wɔ̌ːdɛ́ɲ ‖]
Abá h’yékko he ketán to bèn, te fávon kengànenden nén te shé fémhinles wóden.
every and-spring and autumn SR at.time REL POSS.1.PL cousin-PL.ERG pay-MASS REL long visit PRO.1.PL.DAT
Every spring and autumn, our cousins pay us a long visit.
[ɲɛ́zɛ́ɕîː gɐ̂ːgɐ̀cʰːè bɹɐ́ndɐ̂ː tɛ̌nzɐ́n | fɛ̀ɲɟɛ̌ɲ gân ‖]
Nezeshì gàgat-ke brandà ténzan fengén gàn.
line in.NEUT first boy stop-PST.MASC entrance at.MASC
The first boy in the line stopped at the entrance.

Dialectal Variations

This is a list of some sound changes which are common in non-standard dialects of Bèshus:

  • /g/ can become [ɣ] between two vowels (northern).
  • /p/, /t/, or /k/ can become [ʔ] between two vowels (western).
  • Voiced stops can become nasals between two vowels.
  • /f/ and /ʋ/ are always realised as [ɸ] and [β] respectively (eastern).
  • Fricatives become affricates after vowels.
  • /h/ is realised as /ç/ before a front vowel.
  • A nasal plus liquid sequence becomes a geminate nasal (western) or geminate liquid (eastern).
  • A nasal plus fricative sequence becomes a nasal plus affricate sequence (western), or just an affricate (eastern).
  • /ɹ/ is realised as ʁ (eastern).
  • Word-final fricatives are lost, cause the final vowel to lengthen, and give the final mora a low pitch (southern).
  • Word-final stops are lost, cause the final vowel to lengthen, and gives the final mora a high pitch (southern).
  • [oβ] can be fronted: [ø]
  • Word final /ʋ/ becomes compress-rounded glide with the same quality as the previous vowel. If the preceding vowel is rounded, then it is lengthened:
    • /iʋ/ → [iy]
    • /ʏʋ/ → [ʏː]
    • /ɛʋ/ → [ɛœ]
    • /ɐʋ/ → [ɐœ̞̈]
    • /oʋ/ → [oβː]
    • /eiʋ/ → [ey]
    • /eyʋ/ → [ey]
    • /oiʋ/ → [oy]
    • /eɑʋ/ → [eɒβ]
    • /oɑʋ/ → [oɒβ]
    • /jɛʋ/ → [jœ]
    • /jœʋ/ → [jœ]
    • /ɥɛʋ/ → [ɥ̈œ]
    • /wɔʋ/ → [wɔ]

Additional Notes on Romanisation

The romanisation system for Bèshus is intended to aid pronunciation and is not supposed to reflect spellings in the native Wèmban script.

An apostrophe can be used to indicate a clitic, eg. F’Wén ‘Wén’s’. This does not affect pronunciation, i.e. F’wén should sound identical to Fwén [fɥ̈ɛ̌n]

If one cannot use diacritic marks, they may be substituted for slashes placed after the vowel: e.g. mèrezhen me\rezhen, zhembút → zhembu/t.

Lemmas

In the lexicon, words are presented with the full stem. However, some inflectional forms are formed by shortening the stem. These are presented in the dictionary with a bar, |, before the deleted segments. Sometimes a vowel can be lost in the long stem; this is shown using brackets.

Certain consonants may change when they become word-final:

  • Semivowel → closed vowel: e.g. bámbemy|e bámbemi
  • Voiced obstruent → voiceless obstruent: e.g. hléjud|e → hléjut

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