Spem has the following phonemes (sounds that are treated by the language as indivisible, and in this case all of them are). Where there's not an unambiguous English letter that corresponds, I'll indicate the sound by giving an example word and highlighting the relevant letters.
The non-ASCII letters use IPA symbols; there is a transliteration scheme for writing in pure ASCII.
|symbol||English equivalent if necessary||Unicode hex number|
|ɵ||put. Note this is a different sound from cup. The rhotacized version in were does not get a separate symbol; I'm deciding not to distinguish the two.||U+0275|
|o||This is the o sound typical of other languages, but pronouncing it as in note is acceptable. I recommend pronouncing it the way other languages do though, because it's faster.|
|y||y (note the relationship to i)|
|w||w (note the relationship to u)|
|j||vision (not joke; that's dj)|
|ŋ||sing. Spem does not discriminate against this minority sound; it appears in some situations where it's not allowed to in English like at the beginning of a word.||U+014B|
You can see I've chosen basically the same phenome as English. This may indicate a bias on my part, but I think English as a basis has strategic advantages because if Spem succeeds, it will likely spread to English-speaking communities first.
There are a few digraphs; in theory these are composed of the sounds of their letters, but I'll list them anyway:
- e + y = way
- ɑ + y = hi
- ʌ + y = tight (note the difference from hi)
- a + w = ow
- o + y = boy
- e + w = (I don't know of this dipthong existing in any language except Latin, but it's pronounced as a normal
- t + ʃ = ch
- d + j = jet
Any combination of vowels not listed there, such as -ui-, is to be pronounced as two syllables.
Pronunciation guidelines and open questions
What r sound should I go with? I like the English one more aesthetically, but I know it's very hard for people to pronounce that didn't grow up with it and even English-speaking children often master this sound last, which indicates that it's not a good sound for a designed human language. I could use the Japanese one, which doesn't seem to be as hard for English-speakers to learn as vice versa (the English 'weak d' sound like in pedal is very close to it), and I find it natural to substitute that sound during song.
No squishing duplicate sounds
When you have a word that starts with the same sound as the previous word ends with, pronounce them separately (double length). Squashing them together as if they're a single letter may result in a torrent of ambiguities because I'm not making any effort to avoid it.
Voiceless stops stay voiceless
In English, voiceless stops become voiced if they're between a fricative and a vowel. For example, most people don't notice it but spell is actually pronounced as sbell. Spem should not be pronounced this way because it limits our phenome space. If a word is supposed to be pronouned sbell, it will be written that way. (And hence the name of the language is Spem, not Sbem.)
Intervocalic unstressed stops
Something similar happens to intervocalic (between two vowels) unstressed stops. icky when said by an English speaker is pronounced as something I'd write as ikgy.
I'd like to do away with that practice as well because it's inconsistent and wrong in principle, but that it seems to happen in every natural language I've studied suggests that this might be inherently easier for the human mouth, in which case I shouldn't try to force it. Thoughts? (I don't think allowing this reduces the phenome space.)
In English l is pronounced differently if it's before a consonant or at the end of the word. It's normally the dental lateral approximant (Wikipedia mislabels it as alveolar) but if you pronounce a word like 'milk' your tongue probably never touches your teeth. I have the same feelings and the same ambivalence about this as I do about intervocalic unstressed stops.
I haven't thought too much about this, but there are a few rules I want to point out that are for the better.
Two-syllable words are always stressed on the first.
Non-substantial words (
o, 1-syllable prepositions) are always unstressed unless semantically stressed.
These rules reduce ambiguity because in lots of 2-syllable verbs the first syllable is another word.