Béu : Chapter 1 : The Sounds

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..... The sounds of béu

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The full range of sounds heard in béu are given below according to the conventions of the I.P.A. (International Phonetic Alphabet)

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labial labiodental alveolar postalveolar palatal velar glottal
stops p b t d k g ʔ
fricatives f (v) s z (ð) ʃ ʒ (ɣ) h
affricates tʃ dʒ
nasals m n ŋ
liquids r l
glides w y


tʃ dʒ are the initial sounds of "Charlie" and "Jimmy" respectively. From now on they will be represented by c and j.

ʔ represents a glottal stop (the sound a cockney would make when he drops the "tt" in bottle). In béu this is a normal consonant ... just as real as "b" or "g" in English.

z is an allophone of s when inside a word and between two voiced* sounds.

ʃ is also an allophone of s when before the front vowel i. ʃ is found in English and is usually represented by "sh" (as in "shell")

ʒ is an allophone of s when the above two conditions apply at the same time. ʒ turns up in English in one or two words. It is the middle consonant in the word "pleasure".

ŋ is an allophone of n when followed by k or g. ŋ is found in English and is usually represented by "ng" (as in "sing").

l is a clear lateral in all environments.

r is an approximant in all environments.

p, t and k are never aspirated. And on the other hand b, d and g are more voiced than in English (i.e. the voice onset time is a lot earlier)

b, d and g between vowels and word internally are in free variation with (v) , (ð) and (ɣ). [ Note ... I will not be mentioning these sounds again. ]

* Actually all the phonemes are voiced, apart from p, t, k, s, f, h and ʔ.

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The béu phoneme inventory is shown below.

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labial labiodental alveolar postalveolar palatal velar glottal
stops p b t d k g ʔ
fricatives f s h
affricates tʃ dʒ
nasals m n
liquids r l
glides w y


There are 5 basic vowels ... a, e, i, o, u plus ə. However the schwa is only used in the grammar and does not appear in any actual words. There are 6 diphthongs ... ai, au, oi, eu, ia and ua. Note that while the sounds ia and ua are possible sound combinations in English, they each are realised as two syllables. In béu the two components are more intertwined ... the flow into each other more. And they each represent only one syllable. Certain people pronounce e and o more open, when in an open syllable, but for others, e and o are the same in all environments.

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béu differentiates between words using tone. All single syllable words have either a high tone (for example pás = "I") or a low tone (for example = me). All multi-syllable words lack tone (or can be said to have neutral tone). If a single syllable word, receives an affix making it into a multi-syllable word, its tone will become neutralised. If a word count was done on a typical béu text, it would be found that around 17% of words have a high tone, 33% have a low tone and 50% have the neutral tone.

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For non-monosyllables the main stress is always on the first syllable, and it is articulated by adding approximately 100 ms more length to the stressed vowel. Stress does not cause any measurable modifications in vowel quality (very much unlike English). However, stress is not strong and words appear evenly stressed.

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Don't let the tones put you off learning béu. The chances are vanishingly small that you will cause a misunderstanding by pronouncing one of the short words wrong. And even if you speak the language and put absolutely no effort into getting the tones right ... no problem, it will just mark you out as a non-native speaker, you will be understood virtually all the time.

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In the béu writing system a small dot is placed to the right of the word if it has a high tone. If single syllable words are come across that do not have a dot .... well then you know that they must be low tone.

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..... Some interjections

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All languages have a small set of interjections. Often these words fall outside the normal phonology of the language ; béu is no exception. These words are normally elucidated singly. Also they usually have a set pitch contour. The pitch contours of the interjections below are shown by the red lines and the interjection is shown in the next column in IPA (well ... sort of IPA). These interjections also have their own symbol.

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TW 844.png

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These words break the normal rules of béu phonology by ... (1) ʃ usually only occurs before i plus usually no consonants have double length (2) "x" (the sound in "loch) usually doesn't occur plus usually no vowels have double length (3) the glottal stop is usually not syllable final (4) the final i has double length (5) the final o has double length plus ... the initial o is longer than usual (6) the length of the l is longer than usual. In fact it is quite variable. Especially these days where you have video action replays. The commentator tends to match the length of the l to the length of the fail. Actually this interjection is probably related to the verb ulpa which means to make a mistake ... often used as the first element of a SVC to give a meaning similar to "mis" in "mis-hit" or "mis-pronounce" (7) ... ʔaa / ʔaaa ... usually no vowels have double or treble length (8) emm / eemm / mmm ... this consonant is not normally syllable final, the consonant is double length, the vowel can be double length on occasion.

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(9) and (10) are not normally considered interjections. However ʔaiwa is said when some good news materializes (compare to English "YES !" or "Oh yeah"). Also aiya is said when some bad news materializes (compare to English "Oh No").

(11) is not an interjections. But is included here as it breaks the normal tone rules.

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(9) ... ʔaiwa meaning "yes". When said in isolation (i.e. nearly always) it takes a definite tone conture.

(10) ... aiya meaning "no". When said in isolation (i.e. nearly always) it takes a definite tone conture.

(11) ... ʔai is a sentence final yes/no question particle. Now other mono-syllables have either a high tone or a low tone. This one has a tone conture. From now on I will transcribe this as ? ... to stop it being confused with ?ài or ?ái.


ʔaiwa and aiya are written as words normally are. However ʔai with its rising contour is given a special sign. In my transcription of this sound, I will use ʔai? ... well I can not honestly transcribe it as either ʔài or ʔái.

There are two other words that can be called interjections. To encourage somebody that is physically straining in some task or competition you would say uhozo. Likewise exhorting/encouraging is yala ... meaning "come on" or "let's go". Actually copied from an Arabic word with the same meaning ... it fits in very neatly with béu morphology.

By the way ... as well as ʔaiwa and aiya being suitable responses to an ?ai? question, waron is often found [ I think so ]. Less commonly found is waron aiya [ I think not ]

[ Note to self : what president does this set for complementation ? ]

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Note ... there are no exclamations for Anger, Displeasure or Embarrassment. These emotions are suffered in silence. Related to the aforementioned is the fact that béu is a languages that has no swear words.

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..... Consonant clusters

Word initial

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The following consonants and consonant clusters can be found at the beginning of a word ;-

ʔ |
m my mw | m̩b m̩p
y |
j jw |
f fy fl |
b by bl bw |
g gl gw |
d dw |
l |
c cw |
s/ʃ sl sw |
k ky kl kw |
p py pl |
t tw |
w |
n ny | n̩j ŋ̍g n̩d n̩c ŋ̍k n̩t
h |

Above are 46 consonants/consonant-clusters. Actually there is a zero option as well. For example àu (black). So we can say there are 47 possibilities. The 38 on the LHS have a nice pattern to their distribution (only marred by mw ... well that's language for you ... messy). The 8 on the RHS have syllabic nasals as their initial element.

By the way ... from this point on I will not give the IPA diacritic for the syllabic nasals.

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Word medial

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The following consonants and consonant clusters can be found in the middle of a word ;-

ʔ m y j f b g d l c z/ʒ k p t w n h
lm ly lj lf lb lg ld lc lz/ lk lp lt lw ln lh
ny nj nf mb ŋg nd nc nz/ ŋk mp nt mw mn nh
zm ʒy sf zb zg zd zl sk sp st zw zn sh

Above are 62 medial consonants/consonant-clusters. Actually there is a zero option as well. For example kli.o (knife). So we can say there are 63 possibilities.

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Word final

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The consonants n, s and r can occur word finally.

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..... Vowel clusters

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The vowels and diphthongs are ... ai e eu u ua a ia i oi o and au.

When I write béu words using the latin alphabet, I will sometimes insert a dot "." to indicate syllable breaks. For example ...

iyo.ito (itsy-bitsy, tiny) is a 4-syllable word. If I had written it without the dot it would have been a 3-syllable word. Of course when written in the béu script there is no ambiguity.

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..... The plural and dual

Regular plurals

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Most multi-syllable nouns end in one of the vowels e u a i or o.

To show plurality, these are changed into eu ua ai ia and oi respectively. For example ...

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nambo = house, namboi = houses, ega namboi = four houses, ú namboi = all the houses

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A way for single-syllable nouns to show plurality is to put the word in front of the noun.

means number (well it does when it is not qualifying another noun). For example ...

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húa = head, nò húa = heads ..........TW 590.png

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Actually belongs to a small set of words that are never spelt out. They have a special "short hand" symbol. The symbol is shown above.

is not required if plurality is shown by a different way. For example ... ega húa = four heads, ú húa = all heads

However for monosyllable words which begin with b p j g d c k and t, they are pluralized by prefixing a syllabic nasal. For example "person", m̩pu "people" or "place", n̩da "places.

Notice that the plurals loose their tone, they are no longer monosyllables. For monosyllable words which begin with m or y the plurals begin with mw and ny respectively. For example "eye", mwá "eyes" or "duck, nyà "ducks".

Nottice that the plurals don't loose their tone, they are still monosyllables. As with these initial nasals (syllabic and non-syllabic) are not required if plurality is shown by a different method. For example ... ega dà "four places", ú pú "all the people".

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A number of words end in ai or au (also some end in oi and eu ... but these are a lot less common). For plurality they add a (that is another syllable ... a ... is suffixed to the word). For example ...

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nandau = word, nandau.a = words, ega nandau = four words, ú nandau = all words

moltai = doctor, moltai.a = doctors, ega moltai = four doctors, ú moltai = all doctors

kludomau = clark, kludomau.a = clarks, ega kludomau = four clarks, ú kludomau = all clarks

These words behave sometimes like the nambo class, and sometimes like the húa class.

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Also a small number of multi-syllable nouns ending in -s or -n. These behave as the húa class.

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yildos = storehouse,barn, nò yildos = barns, ú yildos = all barns

seklas = a glass, nò seklas = glasses (not spectacles)

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The dual

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There are a few nouns (mostly body parts) that have a dual form as well as a plural form. All the word that can take a dual end in a. The dual form is made by changing the a to au.

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eye or eyes wáu a pair of eyes mwá eyes
elza ear or ears elzau a pair of ears elzai ears
mba arm/hand mbau a pair of arms/hands mbai arms/hands
poma leg/foot pomau a pair of legs/feet pomai legs/feet
gluma breast or breasts glumau a nice pair glumai breasts
jwuba buttock or buttocks jwubau an arse jwubai buttocks
ploka cheek or cheeks plokau cheeks plokai cheeks
olna shoulder or shoulders olnau a pair of shoulders olnai sholders
kloga shoes or shoe klogau a pair of shoes klogai shoes

(horn, tusk, antler)

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Actually the plural forms of the above are hardly ever encountered. For these words, the dual form is by far the most commonly encountered form.

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There is one word that doesn't end in a that has a dual form ...

= "person" and has the regular plural form mpu, however it also has a dual form ...

páu = "two people" or "a couple" (not necessary married but the word gives a very strong connotation that the couple are intimate/having sexual relations)

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Irregular plurals

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Four single-syllable words have irregular plurals. These are ...

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bàu man bawa men
glá woman gala women
cái fairy * cai.a fairies
number nòi numbers

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* Actually a fairy-like creature. It is the only supernatural creature in the culture of béu ... so no elves, dwarves, goblins etc. etc. cai.a on the whole are neutral as far as the good/bad continuum is concerned although certain individuals are considered naughty and other individuals are considered kindhearted.

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..... Thread writing

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béu has 17 consonants.

For some of these the form differs slightly, depending upon whether the letter is at word initial, word medial or word final.

The three forms are shown below.

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TW 391.png


béu has 5 vowels and 6 diphthongs.

The form of these doesn't change with their position.

These are shown below.

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To give you better idea of what thread writing looks like, I have listed below the 12 colours of béu.

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Nice, eh ... sort of organic

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..... Saying the letters

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When speaking out the letters, each letter has a word associated with it. This is a bit like when we say "sierra tango echo ..." to spell out a name over the telephone.

letter associated name meaning
ʔ ʔusfa a giraffe
m moŋgo a gibbon
y yeme a frog/toad
j jamba a pelican
f fanfa a horse
b biabia a butterfly
g gaifai a flamenco
d duzu an oryx
l lata a cow
c compa a palm tree
s sadu an elephant
k kiŋki a fir tree
p pikau a peacock
t tauta a hammerhead shark
w wenye a scorpion
n nùa a mouse/rat
h habian* a bee

We use a different system for the vowels. We add the vowel to san to speak out the vowels. For example ...

To spell naike (sharp) we would say nùa sanai kiŋki sane dù

To spell a vowel that has left.dot (high tone) you substitute dit for san. For example ...

wías (we) would be spelt wenye ditia sadu dù

r is designated by huka (which means hook)

is a particle, used with numbers and when spelling, that indicates you have finished a word.

Note ... there is a word dito which means "dot" or "point". Also there is a word santai which means vowel.

táu = letter, character, "symbol used to represent a sound, syllable, word or number"

When a letter is mentioned by itself ( i.e. not as part of a string) it takes the form produced by word building with the above. For example ...

táu gaifai = the symbol given to the sound "g" in béu

táu nùa = the symbol given to the sound "n" in béu

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* This word has an interesting etymology. alha = flower : alhabian = the one attracted to flowers

So habian can be seen to be a rubbed down version of alhabian

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..... Printing

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Punctuation and Page Layout

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The letters in a word are always contiguous, that is there is always a line running right through the word. Writing is primarily from top to bottom and secondarily from left to right.

Between words there is a small "break" in the line. The break should be 25% the height of a letter.

Between some words there is a gap. This represents a pause. In béu every place an orator draws breath (or could draw breath) should be reflected in the writing system with a "gap". A gaps hould be 75% the height of a letter.

There are occasions where the grammar of béu demands a gap. I will represent in in my transcription as an underscore.

Side Note ... [ Presumable in English, commas originally were always used for pauses in speech. However nowadays in English many pauses are not represented in any way ... in these places when comma's are not necessary for reading comprehension. Also in English, in a surprising amount of text comma's are found where they shouldn't be. ]

Side Note ... [ When listing items, béu is similar to English ... there is pause between every item except the last two items. Between these items, béu has and English has "and" ]

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TW 595.png ............................... suna_dunu_celai lé àu = "orange, brown, pink and black" ... [ notice the 2 gaps and the 2 breaks in the béu script ]

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By the way, this would be spelled out as ... sadu sanu nùa sana jù_duzu sanu nùa sanu jù_compa sane lata sanai dù_táu lé_sanau dù dù ... [ for a break and for a gap ]

Note that the word has a special symbol ... táu lé. There are about 30 common words that have short-hard symbols. They are never written out in full.

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Single gaps are very common. Occasionally you can have "double gaps" and even "treble gaps". These rare creatures represent "pregnant pauses" which are sometimes used for comic effect.

Note the single point used in the "double gap" and the pair of points used in the "treble gap".

For a "double gap" there should be 75% letter height space above and below the dot. For a "treble gap" it is the same 75% letter height above and below the dots plus a 25% letter height between the dots.

There is also a punctuation mark called the koipa "sunmark" ( kòi = sun faspa = mark koipa = "sunmark" ) ... always red infill. This is basically a full-stop. The koipa has double the diameter of omba (omba means "circle" and is used as a decimal point).

There are also punctuation marks called deupa "moonmark" ( dèu = moon faspa = mark deupa = "moonmark" ) ... always gold infill. These are basically brackets. The opening one is called deupa damau and the closing one is called deupa dagoi.

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The deupa are solely used as quotation marks. For other sorts of bracketing the form shown above on the RHS should be used. .......... to be named ... "above shelf" / "below shelf" ???

Usually everything is written in "textblocks". Three and a bit "textblocks" are shown on the demonstration page below ... [ I could note be arsed wording all the textblocks, so reverted to dotted lines towards the RHS ]


TW 573.png

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This is the first page in a "chapter" in a paperback book. Notice the symbol at the top left hand side of the first "textblock". This is called a "tile" and is always the first thing in a chapter.

Textblocks fit in between "rails" (the dark horizontal lines) about 4 inches apart. The width of a block should be between 60% and 90% * of the block height. Of course it is best to start a new block when the scene of the narrative changes or there is some other discontinuity of the action, but this is not always possible. One then just must arbitrarily split the text into two blocks. The standard practice is to stretch the text a bit so that the tops and bottoms of every column line up.

There is no way to split a word between two lines as we can do in the West by using two hyphens. A koipa starts of every textblock.

The first text block starts at the top left (as you would expect). The second textblock starts below where the first text block stops. In fact the vertical space between the stop and the start of the two textblocks is equal to the horizontal "interblockspace"). Between textblocks there is a one culumn gap.

In every textblock, one word or short noun phrase is highlighted in blue. The shape of the highlighted area is rectangular with rounded edges. Usually a noun is chosen and the more iconic the better. Statistically these highlighted words tend to come towards the beginning of the "textblock".

There are two sizes for books. For all hardback books the size is about 8 inches by about 11 inches. For all paperback books the size is about 5 inches by about 8 inches. They are stored as shown in the figure below.

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Books.png

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Unlike books produced in the West, these books are held with the spine horizontal when being read. The hardback page has two "rails" per page (i.e. three dark horizontal lines instead of two).

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TW 576.png

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On the paperback book, the title is written on the spine and on the front of the book. On the hardback book the title is written on the front, also there is a flap that slides into the spine. However when the book is stored on a shelf, it is pulled out and hangs down. Hence the hardback books can be easily located, even when they are in the bookshelf.


A book will be divided into chapters. A chapter will have a number and usually a title as well. Either at the end of the book or just after the chapter, there will be a page, in which all the highlighted words for a chapter are listed in order. Instead of referencing things by page number, things are reference by chapter and textblock (indictated by the highlighted word(s) ).

Any particular word in a book can be reference by 5 parameters ...

1) "title of book"

2) number of the chapter .... will perhaps have a title as well

3) the highlighted word(s) ... these will be numbered ... [ number corresponds to textblock ]

4) the number of koipai passed.

5) the number of the word in the sentence

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..... Index

  1. Introduction to Béu
  2. Béu : Chapter 1 : The Sounds
  3. Béu : Chapter 2 : The Noun
  4. Béu : Chapter 3 : The Verb
  5. Béu : Chapter 4 : Adjective
  6. Béu : Chapter 5 : Questions
  7. Béu : Chapter 6 : Derivations
  8. Béu : Chapter 7 : Way of Life 1
  9. Béu : Chapter 8 : Way of life 2
  10. Béu : Chapter 9 : Word Building
  11. Béu : Chapter 10 : Gerund Phrase
  12. Béu : Discarded Stuff