Khul languages

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Khulls has a very unusual phonology that speakers of surrounding languages say makes Khulls sound powerful. Even 4000 years on, it is still spoken in unchanged form by various communities as a second language, and by some animals as a first language. Few of the descendants maintain the same feel as the original, but some are unique and powerful in other weays. Common sound changes in languages descended from Khulls:


  • Loss of /g/ (a voiced velar fricative, IPA is /ɣ/). This change is very common even in unrelated branches of the family. Usuaully, the change is /g/ > /ʕ/ > /0/, meaning that it takes any preexisting /ʕ/ with it. However, [ʕ] can be retained allophonically as an inter-syllabic separator, and even go on to become a phoneme again later on, whereas [g] never is.
  • Loss of /p/ and its relatives, often paired with loss of /g/ above wherein the /g/ > /0/ shift happens first and creates diphthongs, and the /p/ > /0/ shift happens later and creates vowel sequences. Often, /p/ survives as the glottal stop [ʔ], but is not considered a phoneme because it can only occur intervocalically. This shift is commonest in northern dialects which were always deficient in /ṗ/, meaning that the shift was of /p/ > /ṗ/ > /ʔ/. Here, /ṗ/ is a plain unaspirated bilabial stop which was identified as glottalized due to lack of a contrast. This shift often also changes /b/ > /ʕ/ > /0/.
  • Shift of /p/ and its relatives to /f/. Often the shift is /p pʷ ṗ ṗʷ b bʷ/ > /f fʷ f fʷ v vʷ/, where the /fʷ vʷ/ are identified with the rare preexisting /hʷ ʕʷ/ phonemes. Often, the new phonemes are shifted to glottal fricatives, merging with the mostly rare /h ʕ hʷ ʕʷ/. This shift is often found in "P-Khulls" languages which restore /p b/ by shifts from /kʷ ḳʷ ġʷ/.
  • Shift of labialized consonants to true bilabials and labiodentals. This shift is found even in languages that have a pure intact labial series inherited from Khulls. Thus, for example, in Ogili, /b bʷ ṗ ṗʷ ḳʷ ġʷ gʷ/ all merge as /b/. Like Poswobs they "refused to balance" increasing labials with increasing anything else.
  • Shift of ejective consonants to voiced stops, along the path of them first changing to plain voiceless stops. Thus /ḳ/ > /kʕ/ > /ġ/. Here the "ʕ" is a makeshift symbol that shows blocking of aspiration, since in all languages voiceless stops are assumed aspirated by default.
  • Merger of all labialized consonants with the corresponding plain consonants, usually with some change to the surrounding vowels. In Ogili, this included syllable-final consonants; i.e. /əpʷ/ became /o/. Most of the time, however, syllable-final labialized consonants are smoothed out to plain ones without affecting the preceding vowel, since there was almost no contrast to be made here (i.e. there were many words ending in /pʷ/ but very few ending in /p/). In Proto-Moonshine, syllable-final labialization was lost almost immediately, even before Khulls had reached its classical stage.
  • Palatalization of plain velar consonants, usually quickly followed by a shift of labiovelars to plain velars. In Moonshine, there were two palatalizations of velars, a "shallow" one which took place early and occurred in only a few environments, and a much later "deep" one which was unconditional. At first, the labiovelars remained in place, meaning Moonshine had /kʲ kʷ/ without /k/. However, even then, [k] occurred as an allophone of /h/ because the deep palatalization did not affect fricatives. It did affect affricates, however: /kh/ > /č/. Note that palatalizations in Khul languages mostly affect dorsal consonants, not coronals, but that /j/ is more likely to affect coronals than /i/ is.
  • Loss of all syllable-final consonants, with or without changes of tone for the preceding vowel. Ogili lost all final consonants and did not change these tones, as the tones had been shuffled around considerably leading up to this change, meaning that there was little information lost.

The spread of /r/

Most languages that unconditionally shift the ejectives to voiced stops, and the voiceless aspirates to plain voiceless stops quickly undergo an additional unconditional shift. Namely, the four-way merger of the phonemes /ṭ r z d/ as /r/. In the early stages of this shift, some consonants came to affect surrounding phonemes, and thus the four could be represented as /r̀ r ř ŕ/.

This shift happened because, in Khulls, the four phonemes were mostly in complementary distribution: /ṭ/ occurred mostly after high tones, /r/ occurred mostly after low tones, /z/ occurred mostly at the edges of words (it was formerly syllabic only), and /d/ occurred mostly after nasals. There were some words exhibiting exceptions to these rules, but few minimal pairs. Thus /r/ came to stand on firmer ground.

Some languages that did not lose the ejectives still undergo a milder version of this shift, a three-way merger of /r z d/ as /r/, since the same three phonemes were also in near-complementary distribution.

Growth of dental consonants

Khulls, like its parent language Gold, and like the contemporary neighboring languages such as Babakiam, Thaoa, and Ihhai, had no consonants produced with the teeth; there were neither dentals nor labiodentals. Some of the daughter languages acquired one or both of these sets of consonants, however, through various means.

In Moonshine, dental and labiodental consonants arose from palatalized instances of the alveolar and bilabial consonants, respectively. This shift occurred fairly recently in Moonshine's history, however, and was not shared with any other Khul daughter language. However, it was shared with Poswa and explains sound correspondences in Poswa such as /t/ > /f/ and /r/ > /b/. Moonshine was very unusual here in that even the palatalized alveolars /s z/ were fronted to dentals /ṣ ẓ/ (this is the standard Moonshine Romanization of these sounds) rather than being pulled back as postalveolars, as happened in nearly all other languages. This can be explained in part by the fact that Moonshine already had a series of postalveolar consonants, and that even those had distinct palatalized forms.

In other Khul languages, however, dental consonants tended to come from pharyngealized consonants rather than palatals. Additionally, an unconditional shift of the rounded bilabial fricatives /ʕʷ hʷ/ to /v f/ was very common in unrelated branches of the family. Less commonly, the bilabial stops /p ṗ b/ also shifted to labiodental fricatives, leaving only the rounded bilabials behind.


  • Change to a vertical vowel inventory. The parent language vowel setup was /a e i o u/, but with /e/ and /u/ rarer than the others. Thus must words can be spelled with just the three vowels /a i o/. In many unrelated child languages, the vowel inventory compresses itself to a vertical one: /a ɜ ɨ/. Sometimes, the five vowels are changed using the rule /a e i o u/ > /a jɜ ɨ ɜ ʷɨ/, usually unconditionally. This is then padded out by squeezing the preexisting labialized consonants, thus meaning that all vowels can be pre-labialized, and the preexisting /j/+vowel sequences. However this leaves a gap at */ja/. Most daughter languages lose the /j/+vowel sequences entirely and leave labialization as the only contrast.
  • Moonshine takes the unusual initiative of compressing downwards instead, leaving stressed vowels mostly alone but changing unstressed ones (and some stressed ones) according to the rule /a e i o u/ > /a a i a u/. This is partly due to the influence of Bābākiam loanwords and their much greater use of /u/, making the early Moonshine vowel system somewhat more symmetrical. Even so, a huge number of words had /o/ and were merged with /a/ even, in most cases, in stressed syllables. Note that Moonshine broke off from the other languages about 1000 years earlier, and thus still had a full vowel inventory of /a e i o u ja je ji jo ju/, so there was not as much imbalance. On the other hand, Moonshine /e/ was even rarer than in the oither languages, because the shifts of /ja je jo/ > /e/ did not happen here.
  • Loss of unstressed vowels. Not very common, unconditional only in Moonshine. Khulls was already a heavily monosyllabic language, with many sentences of nothing but stressed one-syllable words (though grammatical inflections usually add one unstressed syllable.) Moonshine is the "Pfalz" to the other languages' "Palatinate".
  • Loss of vowels in immediate pretonic position in a word of three syllables or more. This sound shift is interesting because it will mostly affect the inflected forms of nouns that had a redundant vowel, e.g. lokaŋà. However it will also affect nouns where the vowel was not redundant.
  • /ă ĭ ŏ/ > /a i u/, but /à ì ò/ > /ə e o/ or something similar. Found only in the far East, where tonelessness languages surrounded the Khulls speakers.


  • Simple loss of all tones.
  • Loss of tones, but retention of the automatically inserted glottal stop [ʔ] that occurs after high tones, which thus becomes phonemic. This also happened in Thaoa, a distant relative of Khulls, several thousand years earlier.
  • Merger of the low and mid tones. Very common.
  • Change of the pharyngealized tone into a plain low tone. Nearly universal.
  • Merger of the ā and á tones. Happened already in Khulls itself except for the sandhi effects on surrounding vowels. Moonshine merged these two tones early on, but later developed a new á tone, which made it look like it was unusually conservative.


The evolution of the gender system was directed by phonological developments, but also influenced by cultural associations.

Moonshine gender

Moonshine, for example, originated as a feminist revolt from the mainline Khulls culture in the 3840's. They were also very pacifistic, however, and preferred to retreat from the male-led cultures they were seceding from rather than face them in head-on combat. The combination of feminism and pacifism led males to have a very reduced role in their society, and the speakers made no conscious effort to resist the loss of the masculine gender from the language. Even though this change had been an expected consequence of phonological drift, unlike many other cultures the Moonshines did not "repair" it by reassigning masculine words to another gender high on the animacy hierarchy. Instead, men in the Moonshine language came to inhabit the lowest of the three animate classes, such that they could not be the subject of most transitive verbs without an additional infix in the verb showing which female gave them permission to do so.

Central languages

Many languages spoken in Nama simply lost gender altogether, even if they remained otherwise grammatically complex. In some languages, animacy disappeared as well, whereas in others, the four higher genders simply merged into a single animate gender.

Branches of the family