Tepa Phonology

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In this section, I will describe some important phonological processes of Tepa as well as stress and prosody.


The full range of sounds heard in Tepa is given below.

labial dental alveolar palatal velar glottal
stops p b t d tš dž k g (ʔ)
fricatives ɸ β θ ð s z š ž x ɣ h
nasals m n ñ ŋ
liquids r l
glides w y

Based on alternation patterns, these sounds can be grouped into the following twelve consonantal phonemes:

labial dental alveolar palatal velar glottal
stops p t k
fricatives s h
nasals m n ŋ
liquids l
glides w y

Only these symbols will be used in the practical orthography (with the addition of <j>, which is explained in the section De-syllabification), although I will more narrowly transcribe examples given to illustrate phonological and morphological phenomena.

Common Phonological Processes


Lenition, or the weakening of consonants, is the most pervasive phonological process in Tepa. Lenition affects the voiceless stops /p,t,k/ and /l/. Between vowels within a word, the voiceless stops become corresponding voiced fricatives ([β,ð,ɣ]), and /l/ becomes [r].

/supi/ → [suβi] 'breast'

/pitɨ/ → [piðɨ] 'eye'

/tuku/ → [tuɣu] 'animal'

/huli/ → [huri] 'be blue'

In derived contexts, a voiceless stop may come to stand between a vowel and a sonorant (nasal, glide, or /l/). In this environment, it also lenites to a voiced fricative; /l/ however, does not change.

/puplu/ → [puβlu] 'pick:PAUC'

/kakwɨ/ → [kaɣwɨ] 'bite:PAUC'

After nasals and /l/, stops remain stops but become voiced; /l/ does not change. In addition, nasals assimilate to the place of articulation of the following stop.

/tunpa/ → [tumba] 'belly'

/tɨntɨ/ → [tɨndɨ] 'name:PAUC'

/anki/ → [ʔaŋgi] 'fish'

/tɨlpa/ → [tɨlba] 'talk:L'

Before obstruents (other stops, /s/ and /h/), stops become voiceless fricatives; /l/ does not change. Additionally, /t/ before /s/ becomes [s] rather than [θ]; this creates a geminate [ss].

/piptɨ/ → [piɸtɨ] 'eye:PAUC'

/tɨtka/ → [tɨθka] 'talk:PAUC'

/piktɨ/ → [pixtɨ] 'eyes:COLL'

/tɨtsɨ/ → [tɨssɨ] 'flower:PAUC'


Palatalization is another common process in Tepa; it affects the consonants /t,s,n/. Before /i/ or /y/, /t/ becomes [tš], /s/ becomes [š], and /n/ becomes [ñ].

/tiwi/ → [tšiwi] 'bird'

/pɨsi/ → [pɨši] 'cut'

/uni/ → [uñi] 'snake'

Palatalization affects sounds which result from lenition as well. Thus, a [ð] preceding an [i] or [y] becomes [ž], and [d] becomes [dž] (the [n] preceding the [d] is also palatalized to [ñ]).

/sati/ → [saži] 'be full'

/nunti/ → [nuñdži] 'wing:PAUC'

A /t/ which preceds an /s/ which is palatalized (becoming [š]) is itself palatalized to [š].

/tutsi/ → [tušši] 'rub:PAUC'

When /t,s,n/ precede a /y/ the resulting cluster becomes a geminate palatalized consonant:

/titya/ → [tšižža] 'singe:PAUC'

/sasya/ → [sašša] (gloss uncertain)

/nɨnyɨ/ → [nɨññɨ] 'be old'


A vowel is optionally devoiced at the end of a word following an obstruent if it is short, unstressed and not part of a diphthong. The preceding consonant is also devoiced if possible.

/tutku/ → [tuθku] or [tuθku̥] 'animal:PAUC'

/anki/ → [ʔaŋgi] or [ʔaŋki̥] 'fish'

/supi/ → [suβi] or [suɸi̥] 'breast'


Nasalization of vowels occurs before nasal consonants without exception. It is not indicated in the orthography, and will not be transcribed. If an /n/ occurs word-finally, the vowel preceding it is lengthened and nasalized and /n/ is deleted.

/pɨn/ → [pɨ̃ɨ̃] 'child'

In the practical orthography, the final <n> is retained to show that the syllable is closed with a consonant and thus heavy (see the section Prosody and Stress), even though the <n> is not pronounced as such.


The high vowels may lose their status as syllabic peaks in morphologically conditioned cases. When this happens, /u/ becomes [w], and /i/ and /ɨ/ become [y]. However the [y] resulting from a nonsyllabic /ɨ/ does not palatalize a preceding consonant, while the [y] resulting from a nonsyllabic /i/ does. To distinguish between the two kinds of derived [y], I adopt the orthographic convention that <y> denotes a nonsyllabic (and palatalizing) /i/, while <j> denotes a nonsyllabic (and non-palatalizing) /ɨ/.

/tutwa/ → [tuðwa] 'person:PAUC'

/titya/ → [tižža] 'singe:PAUC'

/tɨtja/ → [tɨðya] 'day:PAUC'

Glide Fortition

The glides /w/ and /y/ become respectively [ɸ] and [š] when following a high vowel [i,ɨ,u] and preceding an obstruent. This occurs only in morphologically conditioned environments.

/tawiwtu/ → [tawiɸtu] 'horn:PAUC' /yɨyka/ → [yɨška] (gloss uncertain)

Prosody and Stress

The description of the prosody and morphology of Tepa is heavily bound up with the notions of heavy and light syllable. A heavy syllable in Tepa is a syllable which contains a diphthong or long vowel, or which is closed by any cosonant. A light syllable contains a single short vowel and is open. There is a general prohibition against "superheavy" syllables; that is, syllables which are both closed by a consonant and contain a long vowel. (There are two sources of exceptions to this general constraint: indefinite/interrogative pronouns, and coordinating conjunctions.) All syllables in Tepa have one of the following shapes ('VV' indicates a long vowel or diphthong):


Words in Tepa never end phonetically in a consonant; that is, possible word-final syllables are a subset of the possible syllables. Also, a word in Tepa must consist of at least a heavy syllable or two light syllables. That is, a single light syllable is not a legitimate word (although it can be a legitimate root).

Stress in Tepa is marked by higher pitch and greater amplitude on the stressed syllable. Stress is placed on all heavy syllables, with the leftmost heavy syllable receiving primary or word stress, and other heavy syllables receiving secondary stress. If there are no heavy syllables, stress is placed on the leftmost syllable, with secondary stresses occuring on odd syllables thereafter. The final syllable, if light, is never stressed.


  1. Introduction to Tepa
  2. Tepa Phonology
  3. Inflectional Morphology of Nouns
  4. Inflectional Morphology of Verbs
  5. Some Word Formation
  6. Particles
  7. Syntax
  8. Annotated Texts