Advice on behemoth vowel system

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Aelwyn
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Advice on behemoth vowel system

Post by Aelwyn » 10 Jan 2014 18:49

Häy to all from an Italian conlanger who's just come out, so to speak. I've been working on my personal conlang nawrean on and off since I was about 16 and abandoned it a couple of years ago (I'm now 28). I'm now thinking of getting to it again. Its vowel system had grown bloody colossal, dwarfing any natlang, I suspect. This arose from a disgraceful combination of the fact that I wanted any possible diacritic ever conceived (and was prepared to introduce a sound just to have it) and the fact that my mouth seems to allow me to utter quite exotic sounds with realtive ease.

With quite a lot of pain I've been able to trim my phonology to comprise 'only' 14 distinct vowel sounds:

i y -- -- u
ɪ -- -- ʊ
e -- -- o
-- ə --
ɛ œ -- -- ɔ
æ -- --
a -- -- ɒ

ɛ goes to ə when unstressed (to e in final position), ɔ goes to o when unstressed and the other sounds can exist in any position.

I say with pain because I had grown used to some of the ditched sounds. The language has short, mostly mono-disyllabic words and could be at first glance similar to a germanic language, with no vowel harmony, no tones, no pitch accent and since now no vowel length. The question is: how unnatural is such a rich system? How could I trim it or polish it, while still keeping on the very high end of the possible natural number of vowel sounds (think danish, swedish)?

PS: My phonological dexterity in fact has caused me some other trouble. When I talk to German or Spanish people they assume I am quite fluent in their language and they soon overload my linguistical capability. It seems that I pronounce the couple dozens words I know really, really well! [:P]
Së húk 'zyed mih z' asyl luy sem äsyd baril.
/se hʊk zjɛd mih 'zasɪl luj sə'mæsɪd 'baril/
You'll catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than with a barrel of vinegar.

Ambrisio
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Re: Advice on behemoth vowel system

Post by Ambrisio » 10 Jan 2014 21:51

14's not bad. It's just one more than Dutch.

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Xing
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Re: Advice on behemoth vowel system

Post by Xing » 11 Jan 2014 11:34

Ambrisio wrote:14's not bad. It's just one more than Dutch.
IIRC, dutch vowels also differ in length.

Salmoneus
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Re: Advice on behemoth vowel system

Post by Salmoneus » 11 Jan 2014 14:37

Yeah, that's not an unusually large vowel inventory.

Well, it is unusually large compared to the world average, but it's not remarkably unusually large. I mean, I speak English, and I've got at minimum of 12 monophthongs. I'd say probably 14 (counting schwa, and counting the moor-vowel, which I sometimes use and sometimes don't). Then on top of that I've got two triphthongs that are increasingly realised as monophthongs and will end up that way (though I think they'll merge into one along the way), plus one diphthongs that's often realised as a monophthong, and two diphthongs that are monophthongs in other dialects. So I probably have as many vowels as your language, and I could meet someone with 19 monophthongs and not instantly recognise them as odd-speaking. With a whole bunch more diphthongs still to spare.

The only thing I'd say is that it's a bit unusual to have the rounded version of /E/, particularly when there isn't the rounded version of /e/. But while that's a little remarkable, it's not impossibly so.

Ambrisio
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Re: Advice on behemoth vowel system

Post by Ambrisio » 14 Jan 2014 08:35

Allophony to the rescue! Just make it /œ~ø/ <ö>. Same with ü.

Valosken
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Re: Advice on behemoth vowel system

Post by Valosken » 14 Jan 2014 21:21

This isn't unusually large. It seems pretty standard to me really. I like it.
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Y ahora aprendo Español.

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DesEsseintes
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Re: Advice on behemoth vowel system

Post by DesEsseintes » 17 Jan 2014 17:02

Show us the system you had going before you trimmed it down! :mrgreen:

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Ear of the Sphinx
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Re: Advice on behemoth vowel system

Post by Ear of the Sphinx » 17 Jan 2014 19:28

Fourteen vowels? It's very unusual for a language to have more than ten vowel qualities and fourteen seems to be the upper limit.
Yes, Northwestern Europe seems to be abundant in shitload-o-vowels natlangs, but it seems to be a geographically and historically motivated oddity.

And, despite what the other folks say, it is an unusually large system, just maybe not for a conlang.
Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.

Esmelthien
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Re: Advice on behemoth vowel system

Post by Esmelthien » 18 Jan 2014 00:51

Xing wrote:
Ambrisio wrote:14's not bad. It's just one more than Dutch.
IIRC, dutch vowels also differ in length.
Only allophonically and in loanwords.

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Re: Advice on behemoth vowel system

Post by Salmoneus » 18 Jan 2014 14:14

Ear of the Sphinx wrote:Fourteen vowels? It's very unusual for a language to have more than ten vowel qualities and fourteen seems to be the upper limit.
Yes, Northwestern Europe seems to be abundant in shitload-o-vowels natlangs, but it seems to be a geographically and historically motivated oddity.

And, despite what the other folks say, it is an unusually large system, just maybe not for a conlang.
Depends what you mean by 'unusual'.
'Outside statistical averages', certainly.
'Remarkably divergent from normal trends', certainly not. Nobody sees a 14 vowel language and goes "wow, that's weird". They may say "that's a little distinctive, it reminds me of Germanic".

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Ear of the Sphinx
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Re: Advice on behemoth vowel system

Post by Ear of the Sphinx » 18 Jan 2014 14:48

Depends what you mean by 'unusual'.
By ‘unusual’ I mean ‘only a few natlangs use 14 or more vowel qualities and all of them are Germanic’.
'Remarkably divergent from normal trends', certainly not. Nobody sees a 14 vowel language and goes "wow, that's weird".
How's that? Isn't it the same as seeing a language with 20+ case endings, four or more number categories, or no labial consonants?
Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.

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Avo
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Re: Advice on behemoth vowel system

Post by Avo » 19 Jan 2014 14:40

Ear of the Sphinx wrote:
Depends what you mean by 'unusual'.
By ‘unusual’ I mean ‘only a few natlangs use 14 or more vowel qualities ...
Yes
Ear of the Sphinx wrote:... and all of them are Germanic’.
No.

But I generally agree with you here.

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Re: Advice on behemoth vowel system

Post by Nortaneous » 20 Jan 2014 04:50

Kensiu has 15 vowel qualities, though one is a diphthong.

That said, this looks Germanic -- between the apparent tense-lax distinction (i/ɪ etc.) and the presence of front rounded vowels + lack of back/central unrounded vowels besides schwa. That's not a point against it, but it's something to be aware of. I don't think it's *unrealistic* -- I wouldn't be surprised to see that exact vowel system in a dialect of German -- but if you want to make it less Germanic, read up on non-European languages with large vowel systems: Kensiu, Rotuman, Khmer, Vietnamese, Tangut... this paper is relevant if you're interested in diachronics, and there's also Khanty, though I don't know anything about that beyond what's in the post.

Aelwyn
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Re: Advice on behemoth vowel system

Post by Aelwyn » 20 Jan 2014 15:10

Thank you all for the interesting input. In the end, I have more or less decided to move /œ/ to /ə/ and /y/ to /ɨ/, which somehow sounds more 'natural' or 'easy' to my ear. It might well not be so. The tense/lax distinction is mantained, but with lengthening of the lax vowel, so it becomes maybe even more germanic in this respect. This is not a problem, I want to make a conlang that suits my taste, my goal isn't to impress anybody. It now looks more or less like Welsh with two open vowels (/æ/ added).

ɪ i: -- ɨ ɨ: -- ʊ u:
ɛ e: -- ə ə: -- ɔ o:
æ æ: -- a ɒ:

/ɔ/-/o/ and /ɛ/-/e/ are indistinguishable if unaccented, possibly going to /o̞/ and /e̞/ like in my native Italian.

Written in accented position: < i\ei í - y\ie ý - w ú - e\ai é - u eu - o\au ó\aw - æ ǽ - a á >. In unaccented position, <u> is /ʊ/ and <e> is /ə/ (but <ai> is still /e̞/). Orthography is complex all over, but still not nonsensical as in English! [xP]

The consonants are not that usual and still quite European: /m, n-ŋ, p, b, t, d, k, g, s, z, ʃ, ʒ, f, v, θ, ð, ç, x (χ possibly in some dialect), ɾ, tʃ, dʒ/ plus /ɣ, ɸ, β/ lost to /x, f, v/ apart from some more conservative dialects.
Së húk 'zyed mih z' asyl luy sem äsyd baril.
/se hʊk zjɛd mih 'zasɪl luj sə'mæsɪd 'baril/
You'll catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than with a barrel of vinegar.

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Ear of the Sphinx
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Re: Advice on behemoth vowel system

Post by Ear of the Sphinx » 20 Jan 2014 17:20

It's so much better now.

Solarius
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Re: Advice on behemoth vowel system

Post by Solarius » 26 Jan 2014 06:45

Yeah, wacky huge vowel systems are not just a Germanic thing- think of French! Of course, there are plenty out of Europe too- I believe SE Asia is another concentration, as are some parts of Melanesia.
Check out Ussaria!

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