SECTION II: SOUNDS

IIa – Letters

An approximate pronunciation guide for English‐speakers of most dialects:

m
is pronounced as in “mum
note that mm is a double sound, as in “room‐mate”
r
is pronounced as in “roaring” (and never dropped as in “myrrh”)
note that rr is rolled more strongly than ever occurs in English
n
is pronounced as in “nun” (or sometimes as in “anger”)
note that nn is a double sound, as in “unnamed”
l
is pronounced as in “lull” (and never dropped as in “half”)
note that ll is a double sound, as in “full‐length”
p
is pronounced as in “topspin” (not dropped as in “psalm”)
never “spat out” quite as forcefully as it is in “pea”
t
is pronounced as in “stilts” (not softened as in “nature”)
never “spat out” quite as forcefully as it is in “tea”
ch
is pronounced as in “church” (not as in “machine” or “loch”)
but again it's pronounced less abruptly than in English
k
is pronounced as in “skinks” (not dropped as in “know”)
never “spat out” quite as forcefully as it is in “key”
b
is pronounced as in “bib” (and never dropped as in “thumb”)
but in the middle of words it weakens almost to “v” as in “verve”
d
is pronounced as in “dud” (and never softened as in “gradual”)
but in the middle of words it weakens almost to “th” as in “other”
j
is pronounced as in “judge” (not as in “jojoba”)
but in the middle of words it's more like the “s” in “vision”
g
is pronounced as in “gag” (and never dropped as in “gnawing”)
but in the middle of words it weakens to a sort of “ugh” sound
f
is pronounced as in “fife” (and never as in “of”)
straightforward enough unless it's confused with “th”!
th
is pronounced as in “thirtieth” (not as in “the”)
straightforward enough unless it's confused with “f”!
s
is pronounced as in “sass” (not as in “visions”)
but may approach “sh” when there's an i nearby
kh
is pronounced as in Auchtermuchty, Scotland (and not as in “khan”)
but generally speaking an enthusiastic “h” will do
i
is pronounced as in “machine” (not “bide”, “business”, “bird”)
when unstressed, a semivowel (“y”) as in “boil”, “fiord”
e
is pronounced as in “ballet” (not “believed”, “ewe”)
when unstressed, more like “e” as in “bed”
a
is pronounced as in “balm” (not “blame”, “beauty”)
when unstressed, very weak (as in “abundant”)
o
is pronounced as in “bozo” (not “brow”, “colonel”)
when unstressed, more like “o” as in “born”
u
is pronounced as in “zulu” (not “bud”, “burn”, “bugle”)
when unstressed, a semivowel (“w”) as in “Saudi”, “iguana”

IIb – Syllables

English syllables can begin and end with great strings of consonant sounds (as in “scrounged, strengths”), but this language never ends a syllable with b, d, j, or g, and only allows very limited consonant clusters – it never gets any harder than the word aumkia “lazy”, pronounced roughly “OUM‐kya”.

Meanwhile, the vowels fall into two sets: e a o, the “open” vowels, and i u, the “close” vowels.  When unstressed, the “close” vowels tend to behave as semivowels (like English “y”, “w”); combinations of these sounds with “open” vowels produce diphthongs, which are perfectly straightforward if you think in terms of sequences of sounds – but be careful not to read them as if they followed English spelling rules for diphthongs:

It is possible for a particular vowel to occur twice with no intervening consonants, even if only in adjacent words.  When this happens, i‑i and u‑u may turn into “yee” and “woo” respectively, but the more common outcome is that the two vowels merge into a single drawn‐out instance of that sound (so e‑e is pronounced “ehh”).

The following rules determine which syllables are emphasised:

  1. Some words just aren't important enough to be stressed at all – lo “plural” for instance is most unlikely to be emphasised.
  2. If there is only one vowel in the word, that's obviously the only candidate for carrying the stress.
  3. If the word's first two vowels form a closing diphthong (one of ei, ai, oi, eu, au, ou), then the first vowel is stressed.
  4. Or, if the word's second and third vowels form an opening diphthong (one of ie, ia, io, ue, ua, uo) then the third is stressed.
  5. Otherwise, stress the second vowel.
  6. Grammatical endings don't count as part of the word for the purposes of stress assignment – a word jian would regularly be stressed on the a, but ji·an, “your king”, is stressed on the i.  That's why I use those · separators, to keep the affixes instantly recognisable for learners.
  7. Exactly the same goes for verb prefixes: meimmala would be stressed on the first syllable, but me·immala “didn't love” is pronounced “maim‐MAHla”.
  8. On the other hand, when words are built up of two equally important parts the compound is treated as a whole: ¿ daraf ? “where?” (from dar plus ¿ af ?, fused together – no ·) is stressed as a normal word, with the emphasis on the second syllable.
  9. The above rules determine “regular” word stress; however, many words disobey them in unpredictable ways, resulting in doublets like uma “onto” and úma “we” – the acute accent there signals stress placed irregularly on the first syllable.
  10. Very long words may need to have supplementary stress on other syllables.  The general idea is that there can be three unstressed vowels within a word, but the fourth (give or take a diphthong) is reemphasised.  Thus uitopas·ukh·oton (“you would hear”) has primary stress on the i and a “secondary” stress on the penultimate vowel: uítopasukhòton, “WEE‐taw‐pa‐soo‐HOE‐tawn”.

It should be noted that the pattern of stress that results from these rules is extremely counter­intuitive to English‐speakers; it's pleasant enough once you're used to it, but until then it can sound perversely syncopated.

IIc – Words

kuoise = [ˈkwojʃɛ]
The word for “town” is pronounced as a k followed by a semivowel u, a stressed o, a semivowel i, a palatalised s, and an unstressed e – put it all together and it's pronounced roughly “QUOY‐sheh”.  Well, as a matter of fact the normal English “oy” vowel isn't quite right there, but as long as you're pronouncing the final “eh” it'll probably do.
khoedok = [xɔˈeðɔk]
That's kh (a strong “H” is close enough) followed by unstressed o, stressed e, weak (softened) d, an unstressed o, and k; it means “old”, and it's pronounced “haw‐ATHE‐awk”, with an “ATHE” as in “bathe”.  Speakers of American accents where “Shaw” rhymes with “Shah” need to take special care to distinguish o, which has lip‐rounding, from a, which has none.
theinge = [ˈθej̃ŋɣɛ]
Thirdly consider “is allowed to”.  It's th, then stressed e followed by semivowel i (slightly nasalised), n, weak g, and finally unstressed e.  I hope it's obvious that the ng works as in “finger”, not “ginger”.  A g never softens like that – but within words like this it does tend towards a Spanish‐style “gh” sound.  The whole thing is thus “THAYNG‐gheh”, with a particularly clear diphthong in the first syllable; it starts out sounding just like the English word “thane”.
urjun = [urˈʒũn]
Or try this word, meaning “day” (as opposed to “night”): unstressed u, r, weak j, stressed u (slightly nasalised), and n.  The final “‐oon” sound is simple, but the j is a French‐style “zh” rather than a full “dzh” sound, and the first syllable has absolutely nothing in common with English “ur” – instead it's closer to “oor”.  Speakers of accents resembling “BBC English” (such as my own – details here) need to take special care to pronounce the r.