Gold phonology

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The phonology was similar to its parent language, Tapilula, but unlike Tapilula, the Gold language has evolved closed syllables. Nevertheless, many syllables are CV and it is rare to have more than one closed syllable in a word.

The sound of the language is fairly guttural, like that of Tapilula. It would never be mistaken for any relative of the Babakiam branch when spoken aloud, nor would it be mistaken for Thaoa, which lost its tones early on.

The consonant inventory was:

Bilabials:             p           m           w   mʷ           
Alveolars:             t       d   n   s   z   l   nʷ      tʷ  dʷ
Postalveolars:                         š   ž   y                                  
Velars:                k   ḳ       ŋ   h   g   gʷ  ŋʷ  hʷ  
Postvelars:                            ħ  (ʕ)          ħʷ

The vowel inventory was

Short vowels:      a  i  u  ə
Long vowels:       ā  ī  ū
Diphthongs:          ai au
                     əi əu


There were labialized consonants in Gold, but they are not considered phonemic because unlike in Khulls and Poswa, they can only occur before a vowel. Thus it is better to consider this as simply a /w/ inserted between a syllable onset and its nucleus. This also means /w/ itself is phonemic rather than being considered, as in Khulls, just an allophone of /ʕʷ/. THus, with labialized consonants ignored, the setup is:

/p b m w t d n s z l č ǯ j k ġ ŋ h g ḳ ʕ/

The velar ejective is the only ejective in the language, although the clusters /pḳ/ and /tḳ/ could occur, even word-initially, leading to marginal phonemes /ṗ/ and /ṭ./ More commonly, however, /ṗ/ and /ṭ/ also appear as allophones of /ḳ/ after the syllabic nasals /ṁ/ and /ṅ/.

The only voiced stop that occurs with a frequency on par with the voiceless stops is /d/, which becomes a fricative [ð] between vowels. The stops /b ġ/ and the voiced affricate /ǯ/ are rare, occurring only in positions where a recent sound change caused the voicing of their respective voiceless counterparts.

Final consonants

The final consonants are /k ḳ l n s ʕ/. Syllabic consonants /ṁ ṅ ŋ̇/ do, however, exist.

Ejective allophones of voiceless stops

The voiceless stops p t k are aspirated in all positions. However, when preceded by the voiceless ejective , which occurs at the end of some stressed syllables, the ejective articulation bleeds across the syllable boundary and results in allophonic ejectives ṗ ṭ at the beginning of the next syllable. These ejectives also lose their aspiration, since Gold and related languages do not allow any consonant to be simultaneously aspirated and ejective.

Phonemicity of /w/ and labial clusters

The phoneme /w/ can be analyzed as /ʕw/, in line with Khulls where [ʕʷ] and [w] are merely allophones of each other, and with similar situations in the early histories of the branches to the east and west of Khulls. If this is done, /w/ becomes a glide which can only occur after another consonant, and therefore can be considered a modification of that consonant. This creates symmetry between the plain /w/ and the very common sequence /hw/, whereas all of the other consonants take a following /w/ much more rarely.

Labialization was originally not contrastive before /u/, since in most cases it had been triggered by a following /u/. However, as the phoneme /hʷ/ evolved steadily towards a rounded bilabial fricative, a new contrast opened up when a much later sound change created new plain /h/ in various positions, including before /u/. This /h/ sound was somewhat rounded but remained acoustically distinct from the proper /hʷ/.

In an unrelated sound change, other consonants which had previously been allophonically labialized before any following /u/ came to develop a contrast as well between the weak allophonic labialization that had been present for thousands of years and the new stronger type which was seen as analogous to a consonant being followed by /w/ (if voiced) or /hʷ/ (if voiceless). However, this contrast was only present before a following /u/, since in all other environments the new consonants merged with the preexisting labials. In the script, this contrast was marked by writing the weak labialization with the symbols for the plain consonants and the strong labialization with the symbols for the consonant + /w/, except in the case of /hʷ/, which had its own symbol.

Though this sound change may seem to have been a disruption of a previously well-balanced system, it actually made the consonant system more symmetric, since there was now a four-way contrast between ka kʷa ku kʷu, whereas previously there had only been ka kʷa k(ʷ)u (here, k and a are used as examples; the same change happened for all other phonemes as well).

Treatment of coronals followed by /w/

The parent language, Tapilula, had had an unusual series of labialized alveolar consonants tʷ dʷ nʷ. These were the only remnants of an older inventory in which almost all consonants had had unique labialized forms. Most of the labialized consonants in Tapilula had produced bilabial consonants in Gold, but the alveolars resisted the change. Even by the time the Gold language began splitting apart into its many daughter languages, these consonants still remained, but they no longer contrasted with a sequence of a coronal consonant followed by /w/ (written /hʷ/ when voiceless).

However, the pronunciation of these consonant clusters was different than that of other labial clusters. In word-initial position, tʷ dʷ nʷ were generally pronounced /tl dl nl/, and had begun to tend towards a simple /l l l/ in western dialects but /t d n/ in eastern dialects. In any other position, the consonants were generally retained as full clusters /tl dl nl/. But no dialect pronounced these clusters with the strong labialization characteristic of the other labial clusters.

Consonant sandhi and marginal phonemes

Bleeding of syllable-final /s/

A syllable-final /s/ before another consonant often metathesizes across the syllable boundary, meaning that its own syllable becomes open and the next syllable comes to begin with a cluster. In most clusters, the /s/ also changes to /h/, which reflects its original pronunciation in the Tapilula language. Thus, there is not actually a sound change of /s/ > /h/, but rather a lack of the otherwise common sound change of /h/ > /s/ in syllable-final position.

The common sequence /sd/ was pronounced and is generally Romanized as /dh/. For example, səs "sleep" + dŭdi "flower" produce sədhŭdi "sleep flower", which is considered to be a pure CVCVCV words. However, although /dh/ patterns as a single consonant rather than a cluster, this was not usually considered a phoneme, because it could only occur between two vowels, unlike the traditional voiceless aspirates /pʰ tʰ kʰ/ which are spelled with the simple letters p t k. In the daughter languages, /dh/ evolved to /t/ (in Khulls and Thaoa) or to /s/ (in Babakiam in initial position; elsewhere it disappeared). The changes in Thaoa and Khulls happened independently. An earlier pronunciation in all three branches was IPA /θ/.

Because the voiced bilabial stop /b/ arose only after long vowels and word-initial vowels (generally from disappearing noun classifier prefixes), the sequence /sb/ was far, far rarer than /sd/. Nevertheless, it followed a similar path, becoming /bh/ by analogy, and then evolving to /p/ in all three languages (it did not become /f/ in Babakiam because it was never a fricative, unlike /d/).


Pure vowels

The vowel inventory was /a i u ə/, where the schwa vowel /ə/ was much rarer than the other three. There are also syllabic nasals /ṁ ṅ ŋ̇/.

Syllabic nasals

The syllabic nasals cannot have tones, but they can occur in closed syllables (e.g. /pṁp/), which is analogous to having a high tone. There were no sound changes that created new syllabic nasals in Gold; therefore, all syllabic nasals trace back to syllabic nasals in the parent language as well. They could contrast with sequences of a plain nasal plus a schwa in either direction, although the only non-syllabic nasal that could occur in syllable-final position was /n/ (although this had place allophones matching following consonants).


Tones were not well developed in Gold. Syllables could be high or low, and when a high tone occurred immediately before a low tone of the same vowel, this resulted in a falling tone which was considered a long vowel and is Romanized with a macron. However, there is no long form of the schwa; there are only ā ī ū. Note that high tone is Romanized with a grave accent, as in à, to keep in line with its descendants where this tone develops a final glottal stop.

Although there were only two tones, vowel sequences like àa and aà were becoming more common, and this is what led to the long tones of Khulls and its descendants, which are spelled ā and á respectively. Long tones also existed in Thaoa and Poswa but died out. The àa ~ ā type is much more common than aà ~ á. These could also occur with diphthongs, but only on the ā tone. That is, ài was common but was entirely absent, even over morpheme boundaries.

Dialectal differences and diachronics

Gold-Thaoa split

Thaoa broke off from the Gold Empire in the year 1085 for political reasons, and never rejoined. Their language changed quickly, losing both tone and vowel length in the first centuries after the split. Meanwhile, the standard Gold language changed very little.

In the western dialect of Gold, which developed into Khulls and Pabappa, and is the dialect considered the standard, there developed an additional fricative phoneme spelled ħ, which was a "harsher" variety of the standard /h/ sound that had arisen by a late sound change which failed to cross the boundary into the eastern (Thaoa) dialect.

This same western dialect also pronounced the inherited consonant sequences tw dw nw as lateral affricates, which could be considered separate phonemes as well since they behave as single consonants rather than as clusters. However, by the time of Classical Gold, even the western dialects were beginning to separate from each other and separate pronunciations were developing for these sounds in the different dialect areas. Meanwhile, Thaoa retained them all as ordinary sequences, meaning that the labial element [w] was still pronounced.

Note that Thaoa broke off from the Gold Empire in the year 1085, and that by the time of the classical Gold language, Thaoa was a distinctly separate language. Indeed, Thaoa had lost both tones and vowel length, and speakers of Thaoa could not understand speakers of classical Gold. Thus, the Thaoa "dialect" above is better described as being the pre-schism form of the language, preserved by Thaoa speakers as a language of diplomacy, but not of everyday speech.

Dialectal differences in classical Gold

Political background

By the 1950s, the Gold language was the primary language spoken in all of the world's great military and economic powers: the Star Empire, Subumpam, Paba, and was widely spoken in Nama and the hostile nation of Thaoa. Political unity and frequent travel between different parts of the enormous empire had kept the language from fracturing into separate languages as the dialect of Thaoa quickly had several centuries earlier.

At this point, the two strongest military powers in the world were the Star Empire and Nama. The Star Empire was centered in the southwest corner of Rilola, separated from the other nations by the Gold Sea and the world's tallest mountain range. However, the Star Empire had the world's strongest navy, and had no difficulty wielding its power over the nations on the other side of the sea. The Star Empire's climate varied from tropical rainforest to desert to a moist subtropical climate in the far north.

Nama, by contrast, was a cold-climate empire that occupied the vast majority of the continent but had a lower population density and little access to the coastline. Nama's power had been shrinking for hundreds of years. Subumpam and Paba were warmer, but were on the north side of the sea, and thus were geographically adjacent to Nama but not to the Star Empire. Their climates varied from subarctic in the mountains to humid temperate along the south coast.

In 1989, the Star Empire declared war on Nama. However, rather than invade Nama, they instead invaded Subumpam, a weak regional power with no independent military. The Stars claimed that Subumpam belonged to them, and they knew that Nama also claimed Subumpam belonged to them, and would be willing to fight for it.

By invading Subumpam, the Stars had effectively declared war on Subumpam, since nearly all of the native Subumpamese people preferred Nama to the Star Empire. The Stars also declared war on Paba, a pacifistic empire to the east of Subumpam which had a large navy but had promised to avoid fighting a war, even in self-defense, and had additionally promised that they would not protect themselves from an invasion by either side in this war, preferring to remain neutral even if it meant their territory would fall into enemy hands. However, the Stars quickly realized that Nama was rapidly arming the Subumpamese, and that their war would be very difficult. Nama soon defeated the Star Empire in Subumpam, and launched an invasion of the Star Empire itself, leaving Subumpam free from any further threat of invasion. In response, many Star soldiers poured into Paba to escape their fate, and most of these quickly settled down and married local Pabap women.

So many Star soldiers entered Paba in the first years after the war that the Stars in Paba were able to form paramilitary organizations dedicated to the overthrow of the Pabap Empire and its replacement by a revived Star Empire to be located solely in Pabap territory. The Pabap people would be allowed to live, but would be given inferior social status, and government officials would be required to swear an oath to the Stars.

However, the vast majority of the Stars in Paba wanted nothing to do with this, and told the Star militants that if they wanted to fight, they should instead fight Nama, the only empire that had even attacked them in this war. Star support for a military takeover of Paba was ended as a new generation of children grew up, having Star fathers and Pabap mothers, and identifying themselves fully as Pabaps and not as Stars.

On the other hand, Nama was humiliated by Paba's seemingly masochistic foreign policy, as they realized that the Star children in Paba, despite their mixed parentage, would remember that Nama had tried to kill their fathers and could thus potentially influence Paba's foreign policy towards hostility to Nama. Since the ethnic minorities in Paba were the only ones who had any reason to even have an opinion on Nama, Nama knew that their opinions would likely prevail, and their old ally Paba could potentially become an enemy. Nama even threatened to invade Paba, again knowing that Paba would not resist the invasion, but held off for the time being because they realized that their war against the Stars was both more important and potentially far more rewarding than any occupation of Paba could be.

First dialectal splits

Thus, in the aftermath of the war, the next division in the Gold language was not between the dialects on either side of the Gold Sea, but rather a split between the dialect of Paba and all of the others. Nama remained a formal ally of Paba, but had far less contact with the Pabap peasantry than they did with the people of all of the other nations. Nama continued to occupy Subumpam, despite Subumpamese displeasure, and further conflicts sparked by the Namans' invasion of the Star Empire led various groups of both Namans and Stars to launch invasions of Subumpam, whose military was still very weak for an empire of its size.

The earliest changes that distinguished the Pabap dialect from the others were:

  1. The loss of the voiced pharyngeal fricative ʕ before another pharyngeal, but the retention of the allophonic high tone it had created when following a vowel. Thus, tonal contrasts opened up where they previously had not, and vowel hiatus was created.
  2. The unconditional change of the lateral approximant l to the labiovelar approximant w. The pre-existing w was pushed into a slightly different sound that can be Romanized as v.
  3. The change of all labialized dorsal consonants into pure labials. That is, kʷ ġʷ gʷ hʷ ----> p b w f.
  4. The change of all syllable-final dorsal consonants into pure labials. That is, syllable-final ḳ k became ṗ p.

Soon, the vowel sequences that had resulted from the first change (and those few pre-existing ones) collapsed into rising diphthongs, and then into sequences of coarticulated consonants followed by plain vowels. Thus, the dialect of Paba (soon to be called Bābākiam) reduced the syllable count of many of its words. Note that the concept of rising diphthongs did not really exist in Babakiam, nor in most of the neighboring languages; sequences such as IPA [ja] were considered to be simply a consonant followed by a vowel. This is because there was never a restriction on which vowel could follow a consonant, even a semivowel. On the other hand, the semivowels [j] and [w] could only appear at the end of a syllable under certain restricted conditions, and were considered to be part of the preceding vowel rather than being separate consonants.

However, unlike Thaoa, the Babakiam language was still tonal, and would remain so for nearly another 2000 years.[1] Likewise, Babakiam still had a variable stress accent, with most nouns having stress on the initial syllable and all verbs having stress on the most salient inflectional infix.


  1. Essentially, until 3700, which is the maturation date of Thaoa, although this is not the reason for the change.