The Spem conlang

The Spem conlang: the phenome and alphabet

Spem has the following **phonemes** (sounds that are treated by the language as indivisible, and in this case all of them are). The non-ASCII letters use IPA symbols; I give the unicode numbers for them.

ASCII transliteration scheme

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:

Any combination of vowels not listed there, such as -ui-, is to be pronounced as two syllables.

Pronunciation guidelines and open questions

r sound

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.)

Dark *l*s

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* 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.

Dental lateral approximant (Wikipedia mislabels it as alveolar)


I haven't thought too much about this, but there are a few rules I want to point out that are for the better.

These rules reduce ambiguity because in lots of 2-syllable verbs the first syllable is another word.


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