Sound Changes - PLUS First Podcast!

Sound changes are when an established sound in a language shifts into another sound or sounds. This is, in my opinion, a fun part of conlanging, and a great way to lend some pseudo-reality or aging into your conlang. However, as my mantra has always been to SIMPLIFY, I need to say up front that this is also a great way to make your conlang much more complicated, so experiment and play with this but use with caution.

No language is ever truly static, but is constantly changing and shifting as new cultural influences rise, new celebrities make new things cool (or uncool), and create new vocabulary or import words from other languages, possibly bringing new sounds into the language. In this article by Jeff Henning he mentions sound changes and shows a table of common sound changes (look for a 10 X 9 table). Sound changes can be something that happen over time in a language, or in a region (New England vs. Southern vs. California dude accents) and/or something grammatical. I wanted to show some examples of these without getting into too much detail, and maybe you'll find something you want to use in your conlang.

Think of the word 'knight,' as in 'medieval knight.' Doesn't it sound like the word should be spelled n-i-t-e? There's been some major sound changes and lenitions here since Middle English. As you move from your proto-lang to your conlang, you might consider integrating things like this. For example, creating a rule that all mid-clusters in all words retain all letters but only the last letter of the cluster is pronounced. 'Halketht' would thus still be spelled h-a-l-k-e-th-t, but pronounced 'haketht.' Switching the clusters, 'hathtelk' would become 'hatelk.'

In Bulgarian, any voiced consonants at the end of a word become unvoiced, although they are still written as a voiced consonant; a mark would be spelled b-e-l-e-g (I don't know how to write Cyrillic characters in the middle here), but would be said 'belek.'

Ok, so far everything has been shifts in consonants. What about shifts in vowels? Consider the difference between the British and Scottish accents. Okay, there are quite a lot of different British accents, but listen to clips of Braveheart and you can hear some right proper Scottish accents. Both Scottish and British accents can/will trill the r, but the biggest difference between them are the vowel sounds. Most short i sounds become 'eh's. Most long i sounds become 'aw's. "I'll do it" becomes "Aw'll doo et."

Americans don't round things out and exercise our lips and tongues as much as the Brits do and our language sounds quite different. Say 'me' and draw the corners of your mouth back, like when you smile. Now say it again but purse your lips as if you were saying 'oooh.' Might be the same vowel, but a very different sound, right? You could build something into your proto-lang/conlang progression that over time, people got lazy with the vowel rounding and vowels became unrounded and 'brighter' (I'm borrowing a singing term - brighter means the sound is more in the mouth and not back in the throat).

Another thought on vowel changes: long vowels vs. short vowels. I use this in my conlang - Pitak has only long vowels, but Fauleethik has both long and short vowels. But there is a dialect that converts all sounds to short vowels, so Fauleethik is actually said like Falitik (listen to the podacast to hear how I pronounce this). But what are long and short vowel sounds anyway? Maybe your language will use a different classification, like... 'initial' vowels and 'ultimate' vowels. Whatever classification you use, you could have vowel sounds shift and migrate over time or for different accents.

So, in summary - sound changes can happen in many ways for many reasons, and we just touched on a few. Changes in the sounds of a word while the spelling remains the same, grammatical changes making a sound different from the spelled sound, accent changes, and vowel changes.

You might have noticed I'm trying to spiff up the blog a little! Let me know what you think. But only if you have good things to say. ;)

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