Phonology 101

Phonology is basically the inventory of sounds that can exist in your language. All the conlanging resources I found said that you need to start by developing a phonology for your conlang first. When I began, I just made a complete list of the sounds in English and Bulgarian, the two languages I speak, and came up with something like this: p b m, f v th d l s z sh zh t d, k g r. I didn't yet realize there is a voiced th and an unvoiced th, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to include a trilled r or not. I grouped them into vague classes of front of the mouth, middle of mouth, and back of the mouth. I also included ten vowel sounds that I thought were important and not diphthongs (i as in bit, e as in bet, a as in bat, u as in butt, o as in boat, ey as in beet, ay as in bait, iy as in bite, aw as in bought, oo as in boot). Yeah, in retrospect, iy is pretty much a diphthong of aw and ey, but I liked the vowel and I didn't know better yet. I kind of started playing around with these sounds just to see what I would come up with and tried to think how I could make up a language, because I knew nothing at this point. And I went nowhere, really, for about two years.

Let me give you an important tip: the International Phonetic Alphabet chart could have saved me a lot of time if I had known to look for it! This chart shows pretty much every sound humans make in any language, and gives you names of different sound classes, like plosives, fricatives, dental, uvular, and much more. Now, I don't know how to make every sound on the chart, but there are lots of resources on the internet as to how to figure this out, including this one on Wikipedia.

Once I had found these resources, my list started shaping up. The vowels stayed the same, although I changed how I expressed them in English, but I grouped the sounds differently and put some new ones in:
ee as in beet, ei as in bait, ai as in bite, au as in bought, oo as in boot, i as in bit, e as in bet, a as in bat, u as in but, and o as in boat
p t k (unvoiced plosives) b d g (voiced plosives) f th s sh (unvoiced fricatives)
m n l r (liquids and nasals) h (which I wasn't sure where to put) and v z zh j ch (these are voiced fricatives and some combined sounds that I decided would not be in the initial phonology of my language, but would creep in later).

Thats all for now. Next I started working on Morphology but got some interesting surprises...

1 comment:

baalak said...

Phonology. I've come to greatly appreciate it, and become keenly aware of it in my daily life.

I can't rightly recall where I came across it, but my understanding of and interest in phonetics exploded when I discovered the IPA and X-SAMPA, (the latter of which I greatly prefer).

The website I found which discussed the Black Speech of Mordor pointed out to me that which now seems obvious: For every point of articulation, you can have a voice and unvoiced phoneme. My world changed when I came to understand this. It was an epiphany.

The phonology of Glaubuurz was set by the time I got there, with a bit of variation between dialects, so it wasn't truly necessary for me to wrap my head around the concepts, but as I moved closer to realizing my own language, I purchased a book called A Practical Introduction to Phonetics, by J. C. Catford. This book helped me come to the understanding I've reached, and I would credit it with quite a lot of inspiration.

I wonder to myself how languages can be taught to children without first discussing phonology. I wonder at our ability to pick up the phonology of a language without understanding a thing about the sounds we're making. I can't go back to seeing words the way I used to, and I think I'm better for it. A wonderful example of how conlanging has enriched my life.

- Baalak Nalzar-aung.