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An incongruent orthography: Maggel

From:Christophe Grandsire <christophe.grandsire@...>
Date:Sunday, April 7, 2002, 15:53
Well, as you may remember, Danny Wier's message about languages with
orthographies as incongruent as possible reminded me of a language I invented
nearly 10 years ago, in reaction to the Gaelic language I have just discovered
(funny enough, my languages seem to be all created in reaction to the discovery
of an impressive natlang, getting more and more exotic as I get to know more
about languages :)) ). The grammar itself is a mix of interesting features
(like the presence of an "alternative" - or reciprocal - and "sensitive" voices
besides the usual active and passive, or the four numbers: singular, dual,
plural indefinite - when you don't know at all the number - and plural
definite - when there is an indication of how much exactly there are -) and
boring ones (the tense system was borrowed from English - at that time the only
languages I knew a bit about were English and Spanish, and the Spanish tense
system was much too much like French :)) - with the difference that I had a
synthetic future). But here I'll talk only about this great feature which is
the Maggel orthography. You want an incongruent orthography, here it comes! :))

(There are a few questions at the end of the post, for those who would like to
give comments :)) . I hope you won't mind such a long post, I tried to write it
so that you can read it fast)

I use here the Roman transcription of the Maggel alphabet (which happens to
look very much like the Celtic alphabet). There are no difficulties of
transcription since this alphabet contains only 17 letters!!! :) They are:
a, b, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, l, m, n, o, r, s, t, u.

Writing is based on many digraphs and trigraphs, but the letters belonging to
those clusters may sometimes be pronounced separately (depending on the word
and/or the grammatical feature) and the orthography provides *no* way to know
whether you have to pronounce letters as a digraph or not, or which ones form
digraphs and which ones don't when there are more than one possibility. This
gives to written words as an average three to five different possible
pronunciations. And I've not talked about all the exceptions :)) (like silent
final letters :)) ). But here is a list of possible pronunciations of single
letters and most digraphs and trigraphs (all of this in X-SAMPA):

a: [a], [@], [E], [ai], [ei]
ah: [ai]
an: [a~]
au: [wE]
ao: [a:]
ae: [e]

b: [b]
bh: [bj] (or [b_j]? Well, at that time I didn't know the difference :)) )
ib: [p] (yep! I'm not kdding :)) )
ibh: [pj]
ob: [b] (probably to be used after an "i")
obh: [bj]
bau: [vwE]

d: [d], [t]
dh: [dj] (at least some things are consistent :)) )
id: [t]
idh: [tj]
od: [d]
odh: [dj]
d followed by another consonant is silent (most of the times at least :)) )

e: [@], [E], [ei], [i]
eh: [ei]
en: [e~]
eo: [E:]
ei: [wi]

f: [f], [v]
fh: [fj]
if: [v] (yep, I couldn't keep all consistency :)) )
ifh: [vj]
of: [f]
ofh: [fj]

g: [g], [k]
gh: [gj]
ig: [k]
igh: [kj]
og: [g]
ogh: [gj]
g at the beginning of a syllable followed by another consonant marks the vowel
of that syllable long!!

h: [h]
hh: [hj]
ha: [h@]
hu: [w]

i: [i], [ai], [E]
ih: [j]
in: [E~]
io: [i:]
ia: [jE]

j: [Z]
jh: [Zj]
ij: [j]
oj: [Z]
ojh: [Zj]
ji: [Zai]
jb: [S] (don't ask me where this digraph comes from, I have no idea :)) )
jbh: [Sj]

l: [l]
lh: [lj]
il: [r]!
ilh: [rj]
ol: [l]
olh: [lj]
l followed by another consonant is pronounced "dark" (like English dark l,
whatever it is - unvoiced? -)

m: [m]
mh: [mj]
im: [p] :))
imh: [pj]
om: [m]
omh: [mj]
mn: [m@n] (though because of my lack of knowledge of that time, I probably
meant [mn=] but didn't know that it existed :)) )

n: [n]
nh: [nj]
nu: [nu] (you'll understand when I come to "u" :)) )
n followed by another consonant becomes "dark". I don't know what I really
meant there, except that "ng" is [N]...

o: [o], [V], [O], [ou]
oh: [Oi]
on: [O~]
oo: [O:]
ou: [ao]

r: [r\] (yep, the British alveolar approximant)
rh: [r\j]
ir: [x]
irh: [xj]
or: [r\]
orh: [r\j]
re: [Rei] (yep, the "r" becomes a French uvular fricative there :)) )
ri: [Ri]

s: [s]
sh: [sj]
is: [z]
ish: [zj]
os: [s]
osh: [sj]
s followed by another consonant is silent, and the following consonant
is "tense" (my notes say "appuyée": "pushed" :)) ). I don't know what it really
meant, and in my phonetic transcription I mark it by underlining the consonant,
so it doesn't say much. It could very well be that the consonant becomes long,
pharyngealised or preceeded by a glottal stop, for what I know :)) . Since
this "tenseness" seemed to trigger a secondary stress, as I see further in my
notes, I'd be inclined to see it as pharyngealisation, since I tend to give
more stress to a syllable beginning by a pharyngealised consonant, whether I
like it or not :)) . Or maybe they could be identical to those "tense" Korean
consonants, though I didn't know anything about Korean at that time :))

t: [T], [D]
th: [Tj]
it: [D]
ith: [Dj]
ot: [T]
oth: [Tj]
t followed by a consonant is pronounced like a copy of that consonant (so it
basically doubles that consonant)

u: [y], [u], [ju]
uh: [ju] (yep, couldn't be completely consistent there :)) )
un: [9~]
uo: [u:]

To give you an example of what it makes, here are a few Maggel words (yep, some
look vaguely Indo-European, and AFAIK this was meant to be :)) ):

a igeidi [@ 'kEti]: the cat (the form of the definite article makes sure that
the beginning "i" is part of a cluster with "g", since its form in front of a
vowel is "an")

a gif [@ 'gaif]: the leg (for an animal)
ghif an igeidi ['gjaif @n 'kEti]: the leg of the cat, the cat's leg (an example
of a construct form)
besgaif [bi'g!aif] (I marked here the "tense" consonant by adding a ! after
it): your leg (feminine possessor)

tuigra ['Dukr\@]: sugar (uncountable nouns cannot take the article)

lab [lVb] (an exception :)) ): they both (dual, subject form)

eil [wil]: immediate future auxiliary (yep, the similarity in sound was
intended :)) . And note that at that time I didn't know there was a difference
in pronunciation between tense [i] and lax [I])

Maggel: the name of the language itself (though I should write "a maggel",
since the script doesn't have capital letters, and names of languages take the
article). In my notes I give it the pronunciation [maggEl] (the stress was not
marked) which implies that it's an exception to the rule that says that "g" in
front of a consonant lengthens the following vowel. In this case, that "g" is
to be read as coda of the first syllable. Still, if I am to revive this
language, I'm considering keeping the same orthography, but prononcing it
[m@'gE:l], as is possible with those rules (what is nice about such an
orthography is that you can change a lot in the pronunciation without changing
the written words :)) ).

Some nice grammatical features about this language concern the use of
the "definite" article "a(n)". I put "definite" in quotes since it seems not to
be its main meaning, though it is indeed used often when the noun is definite.
But it's not used with the possessed noun in a construct form, nor with a
preposition (though some prepositions use the article, with a change of meaning
when the noun has or not the article, which means that the article may be used
even when the noun is indefinite, or not used even when the noun should be
definite), while on the other hand it is mandatory (except after a preposition)
as soon as the noun is completed with an adjective (it's not written in my
notes how possessed nouns are handled in this case), even when the noun is
indefinite. Moreover, the adjective may be put after or before the noun it
completes, but when put before, it is always put before the article or the
preposition (articles and prepositions may not be separated from the noun they

So what do you think? Should I revive this language (making some changes, like
adding some new sounds like [I] and [G] :)), and changing some things in the
verbal system) or is it hopeless? And what do you think of the orthography?


Take your life as a movie: do not let anybody else play the leading role.


Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>CHAT Celtic alphabet? (was: An incongruent orthography: Maggel)