Shemspreg sounds

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In this chapter, I give a brief sketch of the phonology of Shemspreg. I do not discuss the principles used in adapting PIE roots to Shemspreg; this is taken up in the first appendix, although some of these principles appear as productive phonological alternations in Shemspreg.


Unsurprisingly, the phonological inventory of Shemspreg is very similar to that of PIE. As in PIE, segments are divided into three types: i) obstruents, ii) sonorants, and iii) vowels. These are introduced below with explanatory notes concerning the transcription conventions adopted here.

Obstruents are consonantal sounds which are made with a certain degree of constriction or blockage of airflow somewhere in the mouth. There are three series of obstruents in Shemspreg: voiceless stops, voiced stops, and fricatives. There are six places of articulation: i) labial, ii) dental, iii) alveolar, iv) palato-alveolar, v) velar, and vi) rounded velar. The obstruents are shown in the table below in the transcription which will be used throughout this grammatical sketch.

labial dental alveolar palato-alveolar velar rounded velar
voiceless stops p t ch k kw
voiced stops b d j g gw
fricatives f/v th/dh s sh/zh kh/gh khw/ghw

The digraph ch represents a voiceless palato-alveolar affricate, while j represents a voiced palato-alveolar affricate. Although these sounds are not technically stops, I include them in the stop category since they behave as stops in Shemspreg. Kw and gw are voiceless and voiced rounded velar stops, respectively. The digraphs th and dh represent voiceless and voiced interdental fricatives; sh and zh are voiceless and voiced palato-alveolar fricatives; kh and gh are voiceless and voiced velar fricatives. Khw and ghw represent voiceless and voiced rounded velar fricatives.

Fricative voicing is predictable and will be discussed in the section on common phonological processes.

Sonorants are consonants produced with a relatively open passage for airflow. The sonorants in Shemspreg include the nasals, liquids, and glides (m, n, l, r, y and w). The transcription of the sonorants is fairly straightforward; y represents a palatal glide and r can be an apical trill (as in Spanish) or a retroflex approximant (as in English). All other symbols receive their IPA values.

There are five distinctive vowel qualities in Shemspreg. They are i, e, a, o and u.

Length is also a feature of Shemspreg vowels and is represented in the orthography by doubling; however, long vowels only occur in stressed syllables. The mid vowels e and o may be pronounced open when short (ɛ ɔ) and closed when long (eː oː). Other vowels receive conventional IPA values.

Shemspreg also contains a number of diphthongs consisting of a mid or low vowel followed by a glide (written in diphthongs as i or u); the diphthongs are eu, oi, au and ai.

There are no long diphthongs in Shemspreg.

Common phonological processes

Fricative voicing

Fricatives other than s come in voiced/voiceless pairs which alternate depending on their position within a word. When a fricative occurs at the beginning or the end of a word, it is voiceless; elsewhere it is voiced. The examples below show this alternation pattern. Below, both 'brother' and 'daughter' begin with a voiceless fricative since they are word-initial. These fricatives are voiced in the compounds 'brother-in-law' and 'sister-in-law' since in those compounds they fall between vowels.

fraater ‘brother’

swekru-vraater ‘brother-in-law’

thugater ‘daughter’

swekru-dhugater ‘daughter-in-law’

The examples below show words derived from alternate stem forms which are related to each other. When the palato-alveolar fricative is initial, it is voiceless sh; when it is medial, it is voiced zh.

shem ‘person, human’

dezhom ‘earth, ground’

shuu ‘fish’

dezhu ‘fish’

Below are examples of present and past tense verb forms. The past tense here is signalled by both affixation and by stem-shortening. When the e- prefix or the reduplicative prefix is attached to the stem, the following fricative is voiced; otherwise, when the root-initial prefix is initial in the word, it is voiceless.

fendes ‘ties, is tying’

evindi ‘was tying’

thes ‘puts, is putting’

edhi ‘was putting’

sheres ‘encircles, is encircling’

ezhri ‘was encircling’

khaves ‘grasps, takes; is grasping, taking’

eghvi ‘was grasping, taking’

khwenes ‘hits, is hitting’

eghuni ‘was hitting’

Vocalization of rounded velars

When a stem-final rounded velar comes to stand immediately before a consonant, the rounding of the rounded velar is vocalized as a short [u], and the rounded velar consonant becomes a plain velar. This occurs mainly in the reduced grade of verbal stems.

khwenes 'hits, is hitting'

eghuni 'was hitting'

khweghuni 'has hit'

Simplification of diphthongs

There are a number of verbal roots which end in a diphthong ei or ou. When the syllable containing the diphthong is closed (e.g. by afixation of present tense -s), the diphthong becomes a long vowel.

so khoos echwosom

so khou -s echwo -s -om
3s:NOM -PRES horse - PL -OBL

'He watches after the horses.'

In open syllables the diphthong is retained.


au- ei
away go:IMP

'Go away!'


Syllable structure

Syllables in Shemspreg consist of a vowel optionally preceded by one or more consonants and optionally followed by one or more consonants. This means that syllable structure in Shemspreg can be rather complex. Like other Indo-European languages, syllables in Shemspreg can contain clusters of consonants, but these clusters are limited by a few general principles.

Clusters of two consonants occur frequently. If the first consonant of such a cluster is s, it may be followed by any sonorant or any of the voiceless stops p, t, k, kw. If the first consonant of a two consonant cluster is not s, it must be another obstruent and the second consonant must be a liquid or glide. The sequences tl, dl, pw, and bw are not allowed in syllable initial position.

A syllable may also begin with a cluster of three consonants, but the first consonant must be s, the second consonant must be one of p, t, k, and the third consonant must be y, w, r, l. The same restrictions which hold for two consonant clusters also hold for the consonants following s in three consonant clusters.

Clusters may also occur at the end of a syllable. Generally, such a cluster will have two members the first of which will be a sonorant and the second of which will be an obstruent. There are a few cases where two obstruents close a syllable; these generally involve s.

deks 'right'

moks 'soon'

sweks 'six'

aisk 'clear, bright, shining'

osp 'aspen'


Stressed syllables in Shemspreg are higher in pitch and louder than neighboring syllables. Words are stressed on the first syllable of the root.

stáas 'stands, is standing'

estái 'was standing'

statái 'stood'

When the root contains no vowel (as is often the case with past tense verb forms), the stress falls on the syllable immediately preceding the root.

némes 'takes, is taking'

énmi 'was taking'

nénmi 'took'

In compounds, each element of the compound is stressed in accordance with the principles given above, with the initial constituent receiving primary stress and the following constituents receiving secondary stress.

swékru-vràater 'brother-in-law'

shém-sprèg 'human language'

There are other phonological processes in Shemspreg, primarily involving the insertion or deletion of vowels, but they are all connected with noun and verb morphology and will be explained in those sections.


  1. Introduction to Shemspreg
  2. Shemspreg sounds
  3. Shemspreg nouns
  4. Shemspreg pronouns and other particles
  5. Shemspreg verbs
  6. Shemspreg adjectives
  7. Shemspreg sentences