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Unilang: the Phonotactics

From:Oskar Gudlaugsson <hr_oskar@...>
Date:Wednesday, April 18, 2001, 15:59
Phonotactics is another hot-point in auxlang design. Most traditional
auxlangs kind of default on this; there are no apparent phonotactic rules
in Esperanto, AFAIK. The traditional auxlangs have mainly a Greco-Latin
lexicon, with the occasional sputter of other West-IE words, depending on
the language involved; Esperanto has many non-Classical words, though
almost exclusively West-IE; Occidental and Interlingua seem to contain few
words not comprehensible by an educated Italian.

But since not nearly all langs allow CCCVCC type syllables, there are many
who have objected to this policy. Many advocate strictly CV-only. Some
would accept CVC, with a limited range of syllable-finals; CCVC might be
accepted as well, with a limited range of CC-combinations.

In designing the phonotactics, there are the same two factors to consider
as in the design of the phonemic inventory: _ease_, and _renderability_. CV-
only will severely restrict our ability to render common Greco-Latin words
in a comprehensible manner; breaking up CCC-clusters with random
intermediary vowels is counter-fruitive, since we might as well come up
with a new word - the old one becomes all but irrecognizable.

As in my personal choice of phonemes, I speak for some moderation in
phonotactics. I would choose to accept a CCVC system with carefully thought
out restrictions to CC-combinations and the final C, and some rules on
dipthong Vs.

Based on the phonemic inventory I presented in the _Phonology_ thread
(which should have been called _Phonemes_, admittedly), I would have the
following rules:

CC (onsets):

/p b/ + /l r/
/t d/ + /r/
/k g/ + /l r/

I don't actually know why we have some kind of antipathy to alveolar +
lateral combinations; they exist (in my own natlang, for instance), but
they're rare, so I disallow them here. Anybody here who has a sensible

/p b m f/ + /j/
/t d s n l r/ + /w j/
/k g h/ + /w/

One problem I'm facing here is that perhaps it would be easier not to
define the semi-vowels as separate phonemes, since I'd never dream of
having distinction between sequences like /lwa/ and /lua/. It would be
easier to think of the semi-vowels as either /i/ or /u/ in "medial"
position (as in Chinese, for instance). So you may regard the /j/ and /w/
above as /i/ and /u/, though with anticipation of a following vowel.

Final C (rhymes):

Only /n s f l r/. I.e. only one nasal, the anterior fricatives, and the

/n/ is perhaps the only one we could generally agree with; /s l r/ slightly
more debatable, and /f/ a good deal more debatable. I've settled for these


Four diphthongs: /ai au eu oi/. (Note the symmetry :)
Medial combinations: /ua uo ue ia io ie uai uoi iau ieu/

Additional rule on V-combinations: no rhyme/final C possible after a V-
combination (a "branched V").