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Heichi: introduction and phonology

From:Tommaso R. Donnarumma <trd@...>
Date:Tuesday, January 23, 2001, 21:36

Heichi ['heItSI] is a language I developed during 1999, while I was
not subscribed to this list.  I am going to add a Heichi grammar to
my website, so I thought to also present the language here in daily
bits.  Today, I'll start with a short introduction and an account
of the phonology -- tomorrow, we'll talk about the nouns.

As with all my languages, Heichi is a "personal language" or "model
language" project with an embedded fictional setting (although I
must admit that I did very little in this field).

My first source of inspiration for the Heichi language was Japanese
(while the Heichi as a civilization will bear little or no
relationship to the Japanese culture).  I know very little about
Japanese (I've got a photocopy of the reprint of a very old --
perhaps late 1800s -- conversation guide with sketchy grammar notes),
but I've always liked it very much, and I've cuddled the dream to
make a Japanese-like language for long time.

Heichi is designed to resemble Japanese in its look, more than in
the  actual sound, and mimics some of its allophonic patterns (for
example /tu/ -> [tsu], although Heichi /u/ is rounded). A few other
details of the language are also influenced by Japanese:  the use of
postpositions  and the fact that adjectives are stative verbs come to
my mind.  All in all, though, I wanted (and hope to have achieved)
to refrain from just  reproducing Japanese.

Other prominent features of Heichi include:
   - split accusative/ergative marking for core cases
   - minimal inflectional morphology for both nouns and verbs
   - widespread use of (productive) compounding

But enough for an introduction:  let's get to the phonology!


Heichi counts five short vowels and seven long vowels.

    Short        Long
   i     u     ii    uu
               ei    ou
   e     o     ee    oo
      a           aa

(Doubled vowels should really be single letters with a macron)

Both short and long /e/ and /o/ are open: [E(:)], [O(:)].

Long /ei/ and /ou/ are generally pronounced as [eI], [oU],
although [I:] and [U:] are found in some dialects.

Short /i/, /u/ and /a/ are generally tense [i], [u], [a]
except in unstressed final syllables, where they are
pronounced as [I], [U] and [@] respectively.

Contrary to what is found in Japanese, back vowels are always


The following consonantal phonemes are found:

      b  f  m  w
   t  d  s  n  r
   k  g        y

Most of the letters are pronounced more or less as if they
were the corresponding IPA characters;  note that <y> is the
palatal glide [j].

Some consonants and clusters have allophonic variants in
front of certain vowels.  These cases are also written
differently in the standard romanizations (but not in the
native script).  They are:

   t   in front of  i, ii      --> ch [tS]
   t    "   "   "   u, uu      --> ts
   g    "   "   "   i, ii      --> j [d3]
   f    "   "   "   i, ii, ei  --> h
   s    "   "   "   i, ii      --> sh [S]
   w    "   "   "   u, uu, ou  --> h
   kw   "   "   "   u, uu, ou  --> ch
   ky   "   "   "   i, ii      --> cch [ttS]
   gw   "   "   "   u, uu      --> j

In general, the Heichi romanization patterns to the so-called
"Hepburn system" for Japanese, although the actual phones of
Heichi are at times different from that of Japanese.


<heichi> = /f ei t i/ = ['heItSI]
<muucchim> = /m u: k y i m/ = [mu:t'tSim]


Stress falls on the last syllable if it ends in /m/, /n/ or
/r/; on the penultimate syllable otherwise.  Note that this
rule allows for such minimal pairs as atay  ['at@j] (two
syllables) vs. atai [a'taI] (three syllables).

In compounds, the first element receives a weaker stress
than the second element.


The structure of Heichi words is (items in brackets are

[initial nex] + vowel + [middle nex + vowel]... + [final nex]

Any single consonant or the clusters /ky/ and /ry/ can appear
in word initial position. The middle nex can be zero (which
result in a hiatus), any single consonant, geminated /tt/, /kk/
or /nn/, a cluster of /n/, /y/ or /w/ plus any non-equal
consonant, or one of the clusters /mb/, /mr/, /ky/, /ry/, /kw/
or /gw/. In final position, only /m/, /n/, /w/, /r/ and /y/
can appear.

Word-final /r/ is only pronounced if followed by a word
beginning in a vowel, otherwise it is dropped (although it
still causes the stress to shift rightwards). Contrast:

   ikur eman [i'kur E'man]
   ikur mae [i'ku 'mae]

That's all for today.  Tomorrow, the nouns...

Happy conlanging,


        GLOSSOPOIESIS, "The hidden art of tongue making"
              Web: <>
  E-mail: ICQ: Glossopoietes (#24209008)