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
- i: as in k*ee*p
- u: as in r*oo*f
- e: as in k*e*pt
- a: as in t*a*p
- ɑ: as in t*o*p (U+0251)
- ɪ: as in t*i*p (U+026A)
- ʌ: as in c*u*p (U+028C)
- ɵ: as in p*u*t (U+0275). The rhotacized version in w*e*re does not get a separate symbol; I'm deciding not to distinguish the two.
- o: This is the *o* sound typical of other languages, but pronouncing it as in English "no" is acceptable. I recommend pronouncing it the way other languages do, because it's faster.
- y: consonant y (note the relationship to *i*)
- w: consonant w (note the relationship to *u*)
- ʃ: *sh* (U+0283)
- j: as in vi*s*ion (NOT *j*oke; that's *dj*)
- θ: *th*ing (U+03B8)
- ð: *th*e (U+00F0)
- ŋ: as in si*ng* (U+014B). This sound appears in some situations where it's not allowed to in English like at the beginning of a word.
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 = w*ay*
- ɑ + y = h*i*
- ʌ + y = t*i*ght (note the difference from h*i*)
- a + w = *ow*
- o + y = s*oy*
- e + w = (I don't know of this dipthong existing in any language except Latin, but it's pronounced as a normal *e* with a *w* sound after)
- t + ʃ = *ch*
- d + j = *j*et
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* 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.
- Two-syllable words are always stressed on the first.
- Non-substantial words (ki, nu, i/o, 1-syllable prepositions) are always unstressed unless semantically emphasized.
These rules reduce ambiguity because in lots of 2-syllable verbs the first syllable is another word.
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