Sheli Phonology

The phonology of Sheli is, by and large, not all that exciting. The synchronic segmental phonology, anyway. For that reason, I'm going to start with the synchronic segmental phonology and then move on to other topics. If I feel the topics are getting too large, I'll make them separate pages. As of now, I don't know what's going to happen. Live the moment.


  Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar
Stops Regular p, pʰ, b t, tʰ, d c, cʰ, ɟ k, kʰ, g
Palatalized pʲ, pʰʲ, bʲ tʲ, tʰʲ, dʲ cʲ, cʰʲ, ɟʲ kʲ, kʰʲ, gʲ
Labialized pʷ, pʰʷ, bʷ tʷ, tʰʷ, dʷ cʷ, cʰʷ, ɟʷ kʷ, kʰʷ, gʷ
Fricatives Regular f, v s, z ç, ʝ x, ɣ
Palatalized fʲ, vʲ sʲ, zʲ çʲ, ʝʲ xʲ, ɣʲ
Labialized fʷ, vʷ sʷ, zʷ çʷ, ʝʷ xʷ, ɣʷ
Nasals Regular m n ɲ ŋ
Labialized     ŋʷ
Approximants w* l j, ʎ w*

* This is technically a labio-velar, but in Sheli, it acts like a velar.


  Front Mid Back
High Tense i, y   ɯ, u
Lax ɪ   ʊ
Mid Tense e, ø   ɤ, o
Lax ɛ ə ɔ
Low   a  

Consonantal Allophony

How 'bout these colors, huh? It's like a vision of the 1980's future. Woosh! (Well, unless you click here.)

The consonant table up there looks fairly large. This is because I chose to list clusters of, say, [k] and [j] not as consonant clusters, but as single consonants. I believe this will make things easier in the long run. Anyway, the consonants listed above is a phonetic reality at a given point of time in the development of Sheli. Things may shift (for example, those palatal consonants are highly unstable), but this is a nice picture for the time being. The purpose of this section here is to show how the phonology produced the phonetic reality above, and also to show how it's all going to be spelled in the romanization (this will prove painless for the consonants, but quite painful for the vowels).

Historical situations produced a series of palatalized and labialized consonants (as well as some diphthongs). For example, the old word *kue became [kʷe], "pair". The same happened with the palatalized consonants. Example: *axi became [aj], "to fly". While on the subject, sequences of [l] and [j] produced [ʎ]; sequences of [n] and [j] produced [ɲ]; and sequences of [n] and [w] produced [ŋʷ].

Beyond these examples, and other historical changes, the only consonantal allophony or phonological rules that apply are when two consonants come next to each other in compounds. Here's a quick list. Before we begin, the maximal phonological unit is a syllable, and the maximal syllable is CVC. Thus, the only clusters that can occur are a coda preceding an onset in a compound. Here's the list:

  1. All word-final nasals assimilate to the place of articulation of the following consonant. Example: /tan/ + /po/ = [tampo].

  2. All word-final stops become a duplicate of a followng onset stop. Example: /tak/ + /po/ = [tappo].

  3. In instances where [-sonorant] consonants occur next to one another and their voice qualities don't match, different things happen to rectify the situation.

    1. If the two consonants are stops, the result is a voiceless geminate. Examples: (a) /lig/ + /po/ = [lippo]; (b) /tak/ + /ba/ = [tappa].

    2. If one consonant is a stop and the other is a fricative, then the voicing of the fricative determines the voicing of the cluster. Examples: (a) /lig/ + /se/ = [likse]; (b) /guz/ + /tan/ = [guzdan]; (c) /kas/ + /ba/ = [kaspa].

    3. Certain word-final instances of [f], [s] and [ç] are actually instances of /pʰ/, /tʰ/ and /cʰ/. In those cases, the fricatives act like stops when they occur before other stops. Otherwise, they act like fricatives. Here are some examples: (a) /katʰ/ [kas] + /po/ = [kappo] not *[kaspo]; (b) /katʰ/ [kas] + /fi/ = [kaffi].

    4. If two fricatives occur next to each other, the first fricative becomes a duplicate of the second fricative. If the two don't match in voicing, though, the voicing of the second member determines the voicing of the first. Here are some examples: (a) /mev/ + /fi/ = [meffi]; (b) /teç/ + /za/ = [tezza].

  4. If a stop occurs before a nasal, the stop becomes a duplicate of the nasal that follows it. The same happens when an aspirated stop occurs before a nasal. When a fricative comes before a nasal, no change at all occurs. Examples: (a) /lig/ + /mo/ = [limmo]; (b) /katʰ/ [kas] + /mo/ = [kammo]; (c) /guz/ + /mo/ = [guzmo].

  5. Approximants don't affect any consonant in any way. Here are some examples: (a) /kam/ + /la/ = [kamla]; (b) /paw/ + /su/ = [pawsu]; (c) /al/ + /ne/= [alne].

That's really all there is to say about consonantal allophony. There's a bit more to say diachronically, but I'll leave that for the historical section.

Romanization of Consonants

I decided to break up the romanization explanation into two separate sections because the vowels are going to be difficult. So, first come the consonants. I think I'll do this in bullet format:

  • The following consonants are identical to their phonetic transcription: p, b, t, d, k, g, f, v, s, z, x, m, n, w and l.

  • The following consonants are slightly different: [c] will be spelled č; [ɟ] will be spelled j; [ç], for the sake of simplicity, will be spelled š; similarly, [ʝ] will be spelled ž; [ɣ] will be spelled ğ; and [j] will be spelled y.

  • Palatalized characters will be spelled as Cy, where C stands for any consonant. [Note: This includes [ʎ], which will be spelled ly.] Similarly, labialized consonants will be Cw, and aspirated consonants will be Ch. [Note: Palatalized aspirated consonants will look like this: Chy.]

  • As phonemes, only /n/ and /m/ appear word initially, even though each of the nasal phones listed above can appear as an onset. Word-finally, however, each of the four nasal phones listed appear as actual phonemes. For that reason, they will be spelled differently. So, word-initially, there will be n and m, and also ny [ɲ] and nw [ŋʷ]. Word-finally, however, there will be ñ for [ɲ], and ng for [ŋ].

That's how the romanization works for the consonants of Sheli. Now onto the vowels...

Vocalic Allophony

Now for the vowels. Sheli started out with a simple 5 vowel system. This system gave birth to 9 other vowels, and now Sheli has a 14 vowel system. These vowels arose in specific historic contexts, so there aren't fourteen words that differ only in vowel quality (there probably aren't even four).

The vowels above can be separated into tense and lax pairs. Then the tense vowels can, in turn, be separated into short and long pairs. Here's the breakdown:

  • Tense Vowels: [i], [e], [o], [u], [a]. Lax Counterparts: [ɪ], [ɛ], [ɔ], [ʊ], [ə].

  • Short Tense Vowels: [i], [e], [o], [u], [a]. Long Counterparts: [iː], [eː], [oː], [uː], [aː].

In addition to the vowels above, there are the opposite rounding vowels [y], [ɯ], [ø] and [ɤ].

All the above vowels are phonemes, though one won't always be able to find a minimal pair using them all. Anyway, at this point, there really isn't much to say about the vowels, save the fact that if two vowels come together in a compound, they're separated by [j] (unless both vowels are high and front, in which case they're separated by [w]).

Romanization of Vowels

In an ideal word, the romanization of the vowels would be able to carry the tone markers via diacritics. Such can never be, though, I'm afraid. Even though the roman orthographies devised for languages like Vietnamese and the glory of Unicode gave me hope, the characters just aren't there (the sticking point was the use of four vowels of opposite rounding, rather than three). As a result, I've simply created one roman character for each vowel, and I've been made to do frightening things with the various tones.

Here's the romanization system I've developed for Sheli. It's not balanced, per se, but it should look similar to the other romanization systems I've developed for use with this website:

  • Short Tense Vowels: a, e, i, o, u.
  • Long Tense Vowels: á, é, í, ó, ú.
  • Short Opposite Rounding Vowels: ü, ÿ, ö, ë.
  • Long Opposite Rounding Vowels: û, ŷ, ô, ê.
  • Lax Vowels: à, è, ì, ò, ù.

That's really the extent of what can be said about the vowels at this point in time. To learn more on how this vowel system came in to being, go to the historical section. To learn the romanization system for the different tones, go to the section on tone.

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