More Phonotactics

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, or phonotactics. 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, phonotactics. Lets keep explanations, and these phonotactic rules, simple. The phonology 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]. 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 either a liquid, a nasal, a fricative, or combinations of these, but not a plosive.

So how can these phonemes 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"), where we have an ending cluster with a plosive at the end! Ok, I just think thats outrageous and hard to pronounce, but fun. A few more examples: frith (remember, its pronounced "freeth" and lets says that is means "bird") 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 morphology.

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 today!

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