Phonology

Phonology is the study of the sound systems of languages.  Some languages have only 6 consonants (The Indo-Pacific language of Rotokas) and some languages have 95 (The Khoisan language !Xu, spoken in Southern Africa).  Some languages have a 3 vowel system and others have a 12 vowel system.  Most are between these extremes.

Russian

Although Russian and English are both Indo-European languages, Russian has several significant phonological differences from English which are difficult for native English speakers
to master.

Perhaps the most significant differences from English is the existence of both a hard and soft version of nearly all consonant phonemes. The soft (palatalized) phoneme contrasts with the hard (unpalatalized) phoneme. This results in minimal pairs such as mat "checkmate" / mat' "mother" (apostrophe indicates palatalization) and near-minimal pairs such as shshit "sewn" / sh'ch'it "shield."

A second difference of Russian which is troubling for English speakers is stress. Stress contrasts strongly in Russian, as the minimal pair muka (stem stress) "torture" / muka (end stress) "flour" shows.

Also troubling for English speakers is the velar fricative /x/, which does not exist in English.

Russian has 34 consonant phonemes,some of which have multiple allophones resulting from softness and/or voicing assimilation. There are five vowel phonemes in Russian, /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, and /u/. Unlike English, these phonemes are pure vowel sounds, rather than diphthongs. However, diphthongs do occur with the glide /j/, and may be formed from any of the five basic vowels.

Consonants

  Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Alveopalatal Palatal Velar
Stops              
  Voiceless p pj   t  tj       k (kj)
  Voiced b bj    d dj        g (gj)
Fricatives        
  Voiceless f  fj s sj S Sj x (xj)
  Voiced v  vj z zj Z (Zj) (y)
Affricates
  Voiceless ts tS
  Voiced (dz) (dZ)
Nasals m mj n nj
Laterals l  lj 
Trills r rj
  (semivowels) j

* The glottal stop occurs only in certain intonation constructions.

Vowels

Front
Central
Back
High i (y) (ü)    u
Mid
   (E)
(e) (ö);    o
Low (æ) a

Bemba

There are three consonant sounds in Bemba which do not occur in Standard American English. The voiced bilabial fricative [ß] sounds like a cross between [b] and [w]. This sound occurs in two contexts, word initially (for example in bwangu 'fast') and between vowels (as in abantu 'people'). In all other contexts, the character b is pronounced [b]. You can hear this voiced bilabial fricative [ß] as the first two consonant sounds in the word abaBemba 'Bemba people' and as the second consonant in the related word iciBemba 'Bemba language/customs'. Note that the orthography here is not meant to represent the [ß] sound. An uppercase B is used to spell these words because it signals the proper noun status of the word Bemba.

Another difference from Standard American English appears in the sound represented with l. This is an alveolar lateral flap in Bemba, rather than the English approximant. The characters ny in Bemba orthography represent a palatal nasal [ñ], as in the Spanish peña or the French gn in agneau. The velar nasal [ng'] exists in Standard American English - for example in singer -- but it does not occur at the onset of syllables as it does in Bemba, e.g. in ing'ng'anga 'traditional healer, doctor' and ing'ng'anda 'house' (ng' is used to represent the velar nasal).

There is a contrastive semantic distinction between short and long vowels (the doubling of vowels represents vowel length) as in: uku-pama 'to be brave' and uku-paama 'to hide'.. Can you hear the difference? Other minimal pairs that are distinguished just by vowel length include: uku-pepa 'to pray' and uku-peepa 'to smoke'; uku-shika 'to be deep' and uku-shiika 'to bury'; uku-sela 'to move' and uku-seela 'to dangle'.

In addition, there is a small number of words in Bemba which are distinguished from each other just by differences in tone marking. One example is: ulúpwá 'family' and úlupwá 'eggplant'. The first word has high tones on the second and third vowels. The second word has high tones on the first and the third vowels. Can you hear the difference?

Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Alveopalatal Palatal Velar
Stops
  Voiceless p t k
  Voiced (b) (d) g
Fricatives
  Voiceless f s (S)
  Voiced ß
Affricates
  Voiceless tS
  Voiced dZ
Nasals m n ñ ng'
Laterals l
Approximates
  (semivowels) w y


The sounds [b], [d], and [S] (represented above in parentheses) are allophones of the phonemes /p/, /l/, and /s/ respectively. The consonant [b] occurs only when preceded by the homorganic nasal [m] as in mbweele 'should I return?' (derived from N- (1st pers. sg.), -bwel- (verb root), -e (Subjunctive); where N- becomes m- in homorganic harmony with the following b). The consonant [d] occurs only when preceded by the homorganic nasal [n], as in ndeeya 'I shall go' (derived from N- (1st pers. sg.), -lee- (tense/aspect), -ya (verb root)). The alveopalatal [S] occurs before [i]. In addition, the consonants [dZ] and [g] never occur word initially or between vowels; they are always preceded by a homorganic nasal in nasal clusters represented orthographically as nj and ng (e.g. njeba; 'tell me' and ngupa 'marry me').

Vowels

Front
(unrounded)
Central
(unrounded)
Back
(rounded)
High i    ii u    uu
Mid e    ee o    oo
Low a    aa


Syllable Structure

As with many other Bantu languages, syllables in Bemba are characteristically open and are of four main types: V, CV, NCV, and NCGV (where V = vowel (long or short), C = consonant, N = nasal, G = glide (w or y)). These types are illustrated by isa (i-sa) 'come!', soma (so-ma) 'read!', yamba (ya-mba) 'begin!' and impwa (i-mpwa) 'eggplants'.

Samoan

Perhaps the most remarkable part of Samoan phonology is the existence of two different phonological registers. The Samoans call these registers tautala lelei ("good speech") and tautala leanga ("bad speech"). The former is always used in writing and most often used in Western-inspired activities such as church sermons, radio broadcasts and school events. The latter, tautala leanga, is utilized in everyday casual conversation as well as traditional events such as fono (village council meetings), the ceremonial bestowal of titles, funerals, and other ritual events (Shore 1982, Duranti 1994). "Good speech" should not be thought of as formal pronunciation, nor should "bad speech" be considered informal or colloquial speech. It is this "bad speech" which is the register that is utilized in traditional formal oratory - a greatly respected skill in Samoa. Although the choice of register is very much activity bound, one does nonetheless experience a fair amount of code-switching between the two forms (see Duranti 1990).

The key difference between the two registers is that in "bad speech" the phonemes /t/ and /n/ disappear and are replaced by /k/ and /g/. Additionally, loan words that possess an /r/ in "good speech" are replaced with an /l/ in "bad speech." Thus, we see shifts of the following kind as one moves from good speech to bad speech:

Note: The velar nasal is represented in Samoan orthography as /g/.

Tautala lelei Tautala leanga
/tatala/ /kakala/ "open"
/tautala/ /kaukala/ "speak, speech"
/ananafi/ /agagafi/ "yesterday"
/rosa/ /losa/ "rose"

It may also render some minimal pairs that exist in good speech nonexistent in bad speech (Duranti 1994).

Tautala lelei Tautala leanga
/fana/ "gun" /faga/ "gun" or "bay"
/faga/ "bay"

Besides the existence of two phonological registers, there are two other phonological features of Samoan that are largely missing from most Indo-European languages such as English and German. First, Samoan possesses a glottal stop that is largely missing from Indo-European languages with the exception of words such as "uh-oh" and the Cockney pronunciation of "bottle". Listen carefully to the following three minimal pairs; the second word of each pair possesses a glottal stop, while the first does not.

A second difference is that there is a contrastive semantic difference between long and short vowels. Compare the following minimal pairs:


Tautala lelei ("Good Speech")

Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Velar Glottal
Stops
  Voiceless p t k* ?
Fricatives
  Voiceless f s h*
  Voiced v
Nasals m n g
Laterals l
Approximates r*

* = occurs only in loan words


Tautala leanga ("Bad Speech")

Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Velar Glottal
Stops
  Voiceless p k ?
Fricatives
  Voiceless f s  
  Voiced v
Nasals m g
Laterals l
Approximates


Vowels

Front
(unrounded)
Central
(unrounded)
Back
(rounded)
High i    i: u    u:
Mid e    e: o   
Low a    a:


Stress

In most cases, stress falls on the penultimate (next to last) syllable of Samoan words. So, for example,

/túli/ dismiss
/tulíga/ dismissal

When words end in diphthongs or with a long vowel, the stress will fall on this final diphthong or long vowel:

/atamái/ clever
/tamá:/ father
/faife?áu/ pastor, minister
/pa?ú:/ fall


Syllable Structure

Samoan allows only "open syllables" meaning that while a syllable may begin with a consonant it may not end with one. Consonant clusters, where two or more consonants comes together without an intervening vowels, do not occur in Samoan. Samoan syllable structure can be said to be: (C)V(C)V.... (where C = consonant, V = vowel, and ( ) = whatever is enclosed is optional.)

Like many Polynesian languages, reduplication is very common. Reduplication is the process whereby part or all of the word is repeated. This reduplication can be the complete or partial repetition of the word, and can occur as a suffix, prefix or commonly as an infix. Reduplication serves many functions, but in Samoan one of the most common functions is to mark plural verbs.

Singular Plural
/?ai/ /?ai?ai/ eat
/tu:/ /tutu:/ stand
/galue/ /galulue/ work
/la:po?a/ /la:popo?a/ (to be) large
/tamo?e/ /tamomo?e/ run


Credits & Resources