Njaama Phonology

Njaama has a somewhat complex phonology. We'll start off with the consonants, and, time permitting, move onto the vowels. As with Zhyler, the only practical way to deal with Njaama orthographically, since it has its own script, and phonetic transcription is too cumbersome, is to use a half-way romanization. It shall be discussed below. Enough said. Onto the mighty consonants!


  Bilabial Labio-Dental Alveolar Palato-Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Stops p, mb, p'   t, nd, t' tʃ, ɲdʒ, tʃ'   k, ŋg, k' ʔ
Clicks ʘ   !   ‖*    
Fricatives ʍ° v s, z ʃ, ʒ   ʍ° h
Nasals m   n        
Approximants   l, r   j  
*This is a palatal-lateral click.
°These are labio-velar sounds which pattern with other velars.


  Front Central Back
High i, iː   u, uː
Mid ɛ, ɛː   ɔ, ɔː
Low   a, aː  


I had several options open to me when deciding on a romanization system for Njaama, and I've decided upon what I hope will be the simplest, most user-friendly solution. I'll now detail it:

  • The following letters are equivalent in both the phonetic transcription and the romanization: a, i, u, p, p', t, nd, t', k, k', !, v, s, z, h, m, n, l, r, and w.

  • Next, I'll list the letters that have one and only one change (well, mostly. You'll see what I'm getting at later): [ɛ] will be e; [ɛː] will be ee; [ɔ] will be o; [ɔː] will be oo; [aː] will be aa; [uː] will be uu; [iː] will be ii; [mb] will be mb; [nd] will be nd; [ŋg] will be ng; [ʔ] will be '; [ʘ] will be (note: it used to be #, but I came to my senses); [‖] will be ¢; and [j] will be y.

  • Lastly (well, for the consonants, anyway), the following consonants are either products of palatalization or labialization, so there are good phonological reasons for giving them the following forms: [tʃ] will be ty, unless it occurs before i, in which case it'll just be t; [ɲdʒ] will be ndy, unless it occurs before i, in which case it'll just be nd; [tʃ'] will be ty', unless it occurs before i, in which case it'll just be t'; [ʃ] will be s or h before i, depending on whether it's phonologically a palatalized [s] or a palatalized [h], otherwise it'll be either sy or hy, again, depending on whether it's phonologically a palatalized [s] or a palatalized [h]; [ʒ] will be z when it occurs after one vowel and before [i], or word initially (and in certain other contexts) as y before i; and, finally, [ʍ] will be hw.

  • Finally, Njaama is a pitch accent language, which means it has tone. There are only two tones in Njaama (and, yes, I know, it should be Ndyaama, in fact, as you'll soon learn, it really should be Ndyááma, but you know what? I just don't care. I'll continue to spell the name with a j because j is my favorite letter. The only reason I didn't include it in the romanization is because dy made more sense phonologically), and those tones are high and low. To mark tone, Njaama will use an acute accent for the high tone, and no accent at all for the low tone. This means that if you see a vowel without an accent mark, its tone will be low. Also, for long vowels, both graphs will be marked with an acute accent. Here are the vowels with acute accents: á, áá, é, éé, í, íí, ó, óó, ú, and úú.

  • Finally the second, there's a certain phenomenon discussed at the bottom of the tone page which requires separate marking for certain low vowels followed by either w or y (for further information, go here). These vowels will be written as follows: à, è, ì, ò, and ù.

Stress and Syllables

These are a couple of hot-button issue. Nevertheless, I'll press away at will.

First, I'd like to take a moment of your time to talk to you about stress. Stress can adversely affect your life—and not just in the work place. It can affect you at home, in the car, at the driving range, even at the local pub. The best way to deal with stress is to do like the French, and eliminate it entirely. By that, of course, I mean to say that Njaama has no stress. It'd be a revolutionary idea if French hadn't already done it (if there is stress on French words, it's not strong, and even then, it's location can change, depending on context). Tone is often a way a language can indicate stress, but in Njaama, tone is fixed (which means that, to many English speakers, all syllables with high tones may sound stressed), so it can't indicate tone. Another way to indicate tone is vowel length. Vowel length is phonemic in Njaama, though, so vowel length can't indicate stress. Another way is vowel quality. This, however, doesn't vary in Njaama. The last indicator is volume, but volume is used to indicate emphasis in Njaama, and so doesn't reliably indicate stress, since it can appear on any syllable. That said, sentences can have a main stress, usually on a long vowel, and especially if that long vowel occurs within the verb. Aside from that, there's not much I can say with regards to stress.

Next, syllables. Njaama can have the following syllables: (C)(y/w)V, (C)(y/w)Vː, (C)(y/w)V(n/l/y/w), (C)(y/w)Vː(n/l/y/w), (C)(y/w)V(y/w)(n/l), (C)(y/w)Vː(y/w)(n/l). So, you can have: a, aa, ka, kaa, ay, aay, kyaan, kwayl, etc. There are some restrictions, though:

  1. Labial consonants cannot be followed by [w] or [j]: *pw, *mbw, *pw', *mw, *ww, *‡w, *py, *mby, *py', *my, *wy, *‡y.

  2. The cluster *yy is impossible.

  3. The cluster *lw is impossible.

  4. Neither prenasalized consonants nor clicks may follow the phoneme /n/: *nnd, *nmb, *nng, *nndy, *n‡, *n!, *.

  5. The following are impossible: *Cyi, *Cwo, *Cwu.

  6. The sequence ns is a possible, though rare, sequence in Njaama.

Allophonic Rules

To follow will be the, when you come right down to it, relatively simple allophonic rules of Njaama. Here they are:

  1. The phoneme /n/ as a coda only appears as nasalization on the previous vowel. The nasalization spreads to the whole vowel, whether it's short or long, and includes the diphthongs ending in [w] and [j]. So, a word spelled yáán is pronounced [já̰ː] (traditionally, the tilde is supposed to go above the character to indicate nasalization, but the IPA specifies that if there's no room above the character, you can place it below). As a bonafied onset, /n/ has three allophones: First, it becomes [ɲ] before /j/ (spelled ny); second, it becomes [ŋ] before /w/ (spelled nw, as contrasted with ngw, which represents [ŋgw]); lastly, it can show up as just plain old [n].

  2. When prenasalized consonants occur intervocalically, the previous vowel becomes nasalized, and the prenasalized stop becomes a regular, voiceless stop. So a word spelled sángi is pronounced [sá̰gi].

  3. The phoneme /l/ undergoes two changes. First, /l/ becomes the trill [r] word-finally. So a word spelled in the orthography as kal is pronounced [kar] (it will be written in the romanization as kar, as well). Second, /l/ becomes [w] when it occurs before a prenasalized consonant (and also has a tendency to undergo a similar change before other nasal consonants). So if you had the word yelmbe, it would be pronounced [jɛ͂wbɛ].

  4. The phoneme /w/ becomes [v] when it occurs before the phonemes /o/ and /u/. For our convenience, it will also be spelled with a v, so the word for "city" is spelled vúntá.

  5. The phoneme /j/ > [ʒ] before the vowel /i/. It will still be spelled with a y, though.

  6. The phonemes /t/, /t'/, and /nd/ become [tʃ], [tʃ'], and [ɲdʒ] before /i/ and /j/. When they occur before the phoneme /i/, they will be spelled as normal (that is, as t, t', and nd). When they occur before the phoneme /j/. however, they will be spelled as follows: ty, ty', and ndy.

  7. The phoneme /s/ becomes [ʃ] before the phonemes /i/ and /j/. When it occurs before /i/, it will be spelled s, but when it occurs before y, it'll be spelled sy. Additionally, when an /s/ follows a coda nasal (even if the segment itself isn't there), an epenthetic stop is inserted in between the nasal and the fricative. This goes for the sounds [s] and [ʃ]. This epenthetic stop will be represented by t in the romanization.

  8. The phoneme that is s voices intervocalically. What does this mean? It means that if you have a word whose phonemes are masú, it will be pronounced [mazú], and spelled mazú. Similarly, if you have the word p'asi, it will be pronounced [p'aʒi] (this is because of rule 6), and spelled p'azi. However, if you have the digraph sy, in a word like hásya, then the word will be pronounced [háʃa]. This is because, if you'll notice, the phoneme s does not occur intervocalically, since y is not a vowel. So, even though phonetically the sound occurs intervocalically, since it does not phonologically, it remains voiceless.

  9. The phoneme /h/ does a couple things. First, it becomes a glottal stop [ʔ] intervocalically. But, no matter where it is in the word, if it occurs before a /j/, it becomes [ʃ]. Similarly, if it occurs before a /w/ it becomes [ʍ].

  10. The click phonemes /ʘ/, /!/, and /‖/ derived from prenasalized ejectives. As a result, each click is coarticulated with a nasal stop. As for the phonemes themselves, what is written as !y is pronounced simply [!], and what is written as ¢y is pronounced simply [‖].

  11. All consonants are naturally labialized before /u/ and /o/, and naturally palatalized before /i/. This presents no problems for the romanization.

That's All, Folks!

That'll do it for the Njaama phonology section. It wasn't that bad, was it? And if it was, I can always change it. Ahhh...power!

As a fun follow up, why not take a look at the orthography section? It'll be like a trip down Memory Lane that you never made...

Back to Njaama Main

This page was last modified on Friday, August 3, 2018.
This website was last modified on .
This page can be viewed normally, as a milk or dark chocolate bar, in sleek black and white, or in many other ways!
All languages, fonts, pictures, and other materials copyright © 2003- David J. Peterson.

free counters