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Mx. Leah Velleman

Coder, linguist, singer, occasional blogger. See my Github profile or my résumé and how I build it.

The Latu language

Last update 30 Oct 2020

This is a conlang-in-progress, and a test of using static site generation tools to build a grammar sketch. Here’s a quick word about the technical side

Nema: hette kaku’[heʔte kakuʔ] /heʔte ka-kuʔ/ perch-IMP Hette ka (from hette sit, ka claw.CL, ) perch. pi/pi/ on Pi on. a’achi[aʔatʃi] /aʔat-i/ word-CON A’ata word. syisa[sɨisa] /sɨi-sa/ have-POS.SUBJ Syi have. chihjiniai[tʃihdʒinjai] /tihdinja-i/ line-CON Chihjinia line. shihlihte[ʃiɬːihte] /sihlihte/ dot.INDEF Shihlihte dot. whētō/ʍeːtoː/ below Whētō below. ’e/’e/ then ’e then. /woː/ will.INDIC will. tȳsa[tɨːsa] /tɨː-sa/ go-POS.SUBJ Tyna, tȳku’ go. whiabiki[ʍjabiki] /ʍjabik-i/ information-CON Whiabika information. niosah/niosah/ more Niosah more..

Note: Hover over words that have a dotted line under them for more information.

Phonology

Latu has a small inventory of sounds and a simple syllable structure: syllables can start with any one consonant, and can end only with /h/ or /ʔ/. Consonants that are left at the end of a syllable either vanish or reduce to one of those two glottal consonants. When consonants meet at syllable boundaries, some undergo sound changes.

Romanization is more phonetic than phonemic, and is similar to Hepburn romanization of Japanese. For instance, asshi[aʃːi] /ahsi/ drop.INDIC Asshi drop. drop.INDIC is phonemically /ahsi/, but its spelling reflects its pronunciation [aʃʃi].

Vowels

There are six basic vowels: the five cardinal vowels, spelled a e i o u, and /1/, spelled y.

  • dana/dana/ prize Dana prize. prize
  • wele/wele/ boot Wele boot. boot
  • chiwhi[tʃiʍi] /tiʍi/ little Chiwhi little. little
  • mono/mono/ lake Mono lake. lake
  • suttu/suʔtu/ problem Suttu problem. problem
  • kywy/kɨwɨ/ bite Kywy bite. bite

All six occur both short and long, and written with a macron when they are long.

  • āmala/aːmala/ poison Āmala poison. poison
  • tēlē/teːleː/ music Tēlē music. music
  • īhki/iːhki/ broken Īhki broken. broken
  • ōmō/oːmoː/ soap Ōmō soap. soap
  • ulū/ulū/ knife Ulūa knife. knife
  • whȳ’y/ʍɨːʔɨ/ island Whȳ’y island. island

There are three diphthongs, ia io iu, pronounced /ja jo ju/. Other than in these diphthongs, the [j]-sound does not occur.

  • mioto/mjoto/ see Mioto see. see
  • kiala/kjala/ open Kiala open. open
  • whiutu/ʍjutu/ point.out Whiutu point.out. point.out

The diphthongs also occur with the second element long.

  • kiūpu/kjuːpu/ hat Kiūpu hat. hat
  • niāda/njaːda/ night Niāda night. night
  • wiōlo/wjoːlo/ village Wiōlo village. village

Roots often have two identical vowels, like the examples in this section. Another common pattern is an i in the first syllable and a diphthong in the second.

Consonants

There are fourteen consonant phonemes.

  Bilabial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Voiceless stop p /p/ t /t/ k /k/ /ʔ/
Voiced stop b /b/ d /d/ g /g/  
Fricative   s /s/ wh /ʍ/ h /h/
Nasal m /m/ n /n/    
Liquid   l /l/ w /w/  

Before i, the consonants t d s palatalize to [tʃ dʒ ʃ]. Before a diphthong, these consonants palatalize and the first element of the diphthong becomes silent. These changes are reflected in writing: the palatalized consonants are written ch j sh.

  • tasa[tasa] /tas-a/ drink-INDEF Tasa drink. a drink
  • tashi[taʃi] /tas-i/ drink-CON Tasa drink. drink of…
  • kada[kada] /kad-a/ path-INDEF Kada path. a path
  • kaji[kadʒi] /kad-i/ path-CON Kada path. path of…

Syllables

A syllable’s core is a single vowel or diphthong, either long or short. It can be preceded by any single consonant, and followed by /h/ or /ʔ/.

  • mi/mi/ not Mi not. not
  • ah/ah/ hot Ah hot. hot
  • pio’[pjoʔ] /pjo-ʔ/ rice-DEF Pio rice. the rice
  • /weː/ if if. if
  • ūh/uːh/ up.DIR Ūh up.DIR. upward
  • sū’[suːʔ] /suː-ʔ/ handkerchief-DEF handkerchief. the handkerchief

Clusters

Syllable-final /h/ or /ʔ/ combine with the first consonant of the next styllable to form a cluster. Clusters sometimes have idiosyncratic pronunciations and often have idiosyncratic spelling.

  • a’[ak] /aʔ/ tree Aka tree. + wa/wa/ hedge Wa hedge. = aqua[aʔʍa] /aʔ+wa/ bush Aqua (from aka tree, wa hedge, ) bush. bush
  • ah/ah/ fire Aha fire. + lo/lo/ CRAN Lo CRAN. = ahlo[aɬːo] /ah+lo/ light Ahlo (from aha fire, lo CRAN, ) light. light

Glottal stops in clusters were heard by English-speakers as oral stops in matching locations, and that is how they are written. In further influence from English, the combination that would regularly be kw is instead written qu.

  • hette/heʔte/ sit.INDIC Hette sit. sit.INDIC, not he’te
  • katlama’e[kaʔlamaʔe] /kaʔ+lamaʔe/ wandering Katlama’e (from kada path, lama’e trail, ) wandering. wandering, not ka’lama’e
  • poquē/poʔʍeː/ pot Poquē pot. pot, not po’whē

When a coda /h/ is followed by a fricative, it assimilates to it and is written using the same letter.

  • asshi[aʃːi] /ahsi/ drop.INDIC Asshi drop. drop.INDIC, not ahsi
  • nawwhala[naʍʍala] /nahʍal-a/ eagle-INDEF Nawwhala eagle. eagle-INDEF, not nahwhala

The consonants /w/ and /ʍ/ are not distinguished in clusters. So both /hw/ and /hʍ/ are pronounced [ʍʍ] and written wwh, and both /ʔw/ and /ʔʍ/ are pronounced [ʔʍ] and written qu.

All consonants

The full set of consonant sounds, alone and in clusters, looks like this. The table reflects palatalization, assimilation of /h/ to fricatives, and the partial merger of w and wh, as well as the simply irregular spelling qu.

Alone After /ʔ/ After /h/
/p/ p [p] pp [ʔp] hp [hp]
/t/ t [t] tt [ʔt] ht [ht]
ch [tʃ] tch [ʔtʃ] hch [htʃ]
/k/ k [k] kk [ʔk] hk [hk]
/b/ b [b] bb [ʔb] hb [hb]
/d/ d [d] dd [ʔd] hd [hd]
j [dʒ] dj [ʔdʒ] hj [hdʒ]
/g/ g [g] gg [ʔg] hg [hg]
/s/ s [s] ts [ʔs] ss [ss]
sh [ʃ] tsh [ʔʃ] ssh [ʃʃ]
/ʍ/ wh [ʍ] qu [ʔʍ] wwh [ʍʍ]
/w/ w [w]
/l/ l [l] tl [ʔl] hl [hl]
/m/ m [m] pm [ʔm] hm [hm]
/n/ n [n] tn [ʔn] hn [hn]

Morphology

Latu is not a highly inflected language. Nouns inflect for state, a feature that includes definiteness. Verbs inflect for mood and can form a verbal noun that is like the English gerund. Other distinctions, including person, number, tense, and aspect, are made by word choice instead of inflection.

Words can be derived by prefixing and suffixing,

  • katlama’e[kaʔlamaʔe] /kaʔ+lamaʔe/ wandering Katlama’e (from kada path, lama’e trail, ) wandering. wandering
  • katlama’ewī[kaʔlamaʔewil] /kaʔ+lamaʔe-wiː/ fixed Katlama’ewī (from kada path, lama’e trail, ) fixed. fixed

by reduplication,

  • se’[set] /seʔ/ round Se’ round. round
  • setse’[seʔset] /seʔ+seʔ/ spinning Setse’ (from se’ round, se’ round, ) spinning. spinning

by noun incorporation,

  • hette/heʔte/ sit Hette sit. sit
  • ka/ka/ claw.CL Ka claw.CL. claw.CL
  • hette ka/heʔte ka/ perch Hette ka (from hette sit, ka claw.CL, ) perch. perch, literally sit with claws.

or by compounding.

  • ku’i/kuʔi/ long Ku’i long. long
  • nȳo/nɨːo/ short Nȳo short. short
  • ku’inȳo[kuʔinɨːo] /kuʔi+nɨːo/ length Ku’inȳo (from ku’i long, nȳo short, ) length. length

What’s going on here?

A preprocessor is a nice tool for conlanging. If I have code that derives and inflects words, I can write source like this,

The word {{ perch-IMP }} is the 
imperative of {{ perch | f }}.

run it through Jinja, and have it render to HTML like this:

The word hette kaku’[heʔte kakuʔ] /heʔte ka-kuʔ/ perch-IMP Hette ka (from hette sit, ka claw.CL, ) perch. is the imperative of hette ka/heʔte ka/ perch Hette ka (from hette sit, ka claw.CL, ) perch. perch.

The object perch is providing several things here. It represents a compound noun, and I can automatically derive its form from its component words.

sit = Verb("he7te", "sit")
claw = Noun("ka", "claw")
perch = Verb(sit+claw, "perch")

It inflects itself automatically: perch-IMP adds the correct imperative suffix. And when it renders to HTML it adds extra context: hover over hette kaku’[heʔte kakuʔ] /heʔte ka-kuʔ/ perch-IMP Hette ka (from hette sit, ka claw.CL, ) perch. for a tooltip that gives pronunciation details and so on.