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Phonology and Morphology

From:Matthew Haupt <filmfxman@...>
Date:Wednesday, December 19, 2007, 23:43
Hi everyone, first post!  Here's a post from a conlanging blog I've been
writing ( and I wanted to see what you all thought.
Take a gander!

After reading Rick Morneau's wonderful summary of morphology for the
umpteenth time, I thought I should write a post, in my words, about the
relationship between phonology and morphology. I think once this
relationship is understood better, it makes your conlanging more enjoyable
and quicker.

A quick and dirty definition of phonology is that it is the sounds permitted
in your conlang. Anything not in your phonology, speakers of that language
would have a hard time saying (kind of like how Japanese are famous for
speaking Ls like Rs). Lets break down the phonemes of your language into a
few categories: consonants, clusters, vowels and semi-vowels. Just these
four categories, for now. In fact, lets make up a phonology for the purposes
of this post. P, t, k, f, th, s, sh, m, n, r and l for consonants. Ee, ei,
au, oo, and o for vowels. 11 consonants, 5 vowels.

Now, morphology. Lets keep explanations, and this morphology, simple. The
morphology should include how consonants, vowels, semi-vowels, diphthongs
and clusters can or cannot be ordered within a word. C= p, t, k, f, th, s,
sh, m, n, r, l. V= i, e, a, u, o (but pronounced the way I spelled them
above). S= ... hmm, we didn't specify any semi-vowels in our phonology did
we? Let's say that r is a consonant but ALSO a semi-vowel. S= r. As for
diphthongs, in some morphologies, you might be limited as to which vowels
can be put next to which others, but to keep things simple and neat, we'll
just say any of our vowels can be paired to form a diphthong; D= V1V2
(subscript added to show that a diphthong is not two of the same vowel).
Now, what types of clusters do we want? I'm going to say that we are having
only ending clusters in this morphology, but we'll make them moderately
complex for fun: K=[L][N][F]P. The brackets mean there may or may not be one
of the indicated phoneme, and L means liquid, N means nasal, F means
fricative, and P means plosive. So an ending cluster will have a plosive and
something else.

So how can these morphemes be combined? Again, let's keep it simple: a basic
word will be [C][S]V[K][C]. So you can have a word be simply a vowel, like
"o" (let's say that o means "from"), or basic like "sosh" (lets say sosh
means "go"), all the way up to "kulntht" (and lets say that kulntht means
"stop"). A few more examples: frith (remember, its pronounced "freeth" and
lets says that is means "from") is a word this morphology could make, but
wriths is not. A) because w is not part of the phonology, and B) because an
ending cluster cannot be just a fricative (th) and a fricative (s). If we
had spelled wriths like the English word, wreaths (you know, those things
everyone puts on their doors at Christmas), it would also be unacceptable
because, although we technically allowed any vowel to be next to any other
vowel to make a diphthong, we didn't include any diphthongs in the
morphology we defined above. In order to allow a word like wriths, or
wreaths, we could redefine the morphology to include FF clusters, and
perhaps redefine the phonology to include w, although we might just forego
that and spell it riths instead, OR we could say that some words follow
another, separate morphology from the one we already created, and it looks
like this: [C]V[K2], and define the second cluster type as being FF. With
this second morphology defined, we can work out words like "afs" (means
"in") or "meshth" (means "flat"), which we couldn't with only the first

Lets throw in one more twist before this post is done: prefixes and
suffixes. In your morphology you can also make special definitions for how
these are constructed, or adapted out of existing words. So lets define
that, in this limited conlang, we can have ONLY prefixes (SF= 00), and that
there are two morphologies for them: CV-, or you can take a [C]V[K2] word
and shave off the last F in the cluster to make it a prefix. Not sure how I
would notate that, like I've been trying to make short notation on
everything else, but maybe something like this: [C]V[K2]-/[K2]=F1F2/=F1. I
dunno. But lets say we want to make the word "pancake" and decide to
translate it as "flatcake;" the word for "cake" is sak, so "flat-cake" would
be meshsak, because we shave off the th at the end of meshth.

A CV prefix could be something like "po-" (means "more") or "she-" (means
"without") so that when the prefix is added to a word, it changes the
meaning. Pososh could change the meaning of "go" into a command form, like
"Go!" Or it could mean "go quickly." But if pososh meant "go quickly," what
would pokulntht mean? Stop quickly? Maybe the prefix could mean both things,
and its just defined by the context. This is starting to overlap the arena
of grammer at this point, so I'm going to back off for now. You ultimately
decide if you like how it flows, how it sounds. If you don't like it, try
tweaking the structure some more. Remember, if you're having trouble, keep
it simple, at least at first, to get a good handle on how all these have an
effect on each other. Oh, and just for kicks, here's a sentence using most
of the words we defined, even though we haven't talked about syntax or grammer:
"Fa meshsak sosha o kulntht to tisiks afshra pefsi."

"This pancake is going from stop to sixty within five seconds." And I'll end
on this note, because I don't think this post can get much better than this!


David J. Peterson <dedalvs@...>
Herman Miller <hmiller@...>