Basic Phonetic Structure

When designing a constructed language, one of the first things usually decided upon is the set of “sounds” or phonemes that make up sanctioned utterances in that language. These are, if designing or regular humans, all sounds that can be produced by the vocal tract (and sometimes hands) including the mouth, tongue, and vocal cords. Determining which sounds (predominantly) “exist” enables the designer to limit potential utterances and ideally encourage a vague aesthetic to the language. This is what I have done below:

What Is A Phoneme?

Wikipedia defines a phoneme as such:

A phoneme … is a unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another in a particular language.

It goes on to use a particular example (sin vs. sing), and I shall too but with a slightly different example. Take for instance the English word cat. If I were to change the sound the / c / represents ( [ k ] ) to another sound, such as / b /, it would be a totally different word: bat. In this case, the given [ k ] and [ b ] sounds are each a distinguishable phoneme.

(As Wikipedia also notes, “two words like this that differ in meaning through the contrast of a single phoneme form a minimal pair.”)

The Power Of Minimal Pairs

As you can see above, phonemes that are extrapolated from minimum pairs, like the cat and bat above, are commonly written between slashes. Their pronunciation, on the other hand, is commonly written between square brackets.

In Chraki, you might notice that varying placements of phonemes cause that phoneme to be pronounced or sound slightly different. This does not constitute a different phoneme! This is a natural tendency in any spoken language, and to address that one should regard the given phonemes as an abstraction of a given sound or “phone”. Each phoneme has a foundational pronunciation on which variations may occur. To address those variations we use the term “allophone.”

In short, then, a phoneme is a unit of sound that distinguishes utterances from each other, and an allophone is a unit of similar sound that does not change the meaning of an utterance.

A Phonemic Example

An example of the two can be found in three English words (an example borrowed from Wikipedia): kit, skill, and still. In the formal pronunciation of kit, the / k / is aspirated [ kʰ ]. In its formal pronunciation, the / k / in skill is not aspirated [ k ]. If one were to aspirate the / k / phoneme in skill it might sound odd, but it wouldn’t change the meaning. In this case, you might consider [ kʰ ] to be an allophone of the / k / phoneme. However, if one were to change the / k / phoneme in skill to the [ t ] sound, producing still, the meaning of the utterance instantly changes. It is because the meaning changes that we can determine that / t / is a different phoneme than / k /.

If you are a programmer familiar with object-oriented programming, you might consider the phoneme, such as / k /, as the class and the allophone, such as the aspirated [ kʰ ] as an instance of that class.

As An Overarching Set

With these differentiating entities, being phonemes, we can start to construct a language. We start with a set of phones, create abstractions of them (phonemes), and then place them in sequences to (eventually) form words (and codification encodings.)

Chraki Specific Phoneme Sets

The set of sanctioned phonemes in Chraki totals out to 36 official members. These members are split into four major groups: the 11 pure vowels, the 5 mixed vowels (also known as consonant vowels), the 16 consonants, and the 2 modifiers.

Lists of each of these phonemes are below:

Pure Vowels – / a /, / aa /, / ay /, / e /, / ee /, / ai /, / i /, / o /, / oo /, / ow /, / u /

Mixed Vowels – / r /, / l /, / n /, / m /, / th /

Consonants – / s /, / z /, / k /, / g /, / h /, / b /, / p /, / f /, / v /, / t /, / d /, / st /, / sh /, / ch /, / j /, / hg /

Modifiers – / y /, / w /

Phonemic Classification Definitions

Chraki’s phonemic classifications operate under the following definitions:

Any unobstructed or singularly sustainable sound not relying on notable oral activation (movement) that stands comfortably alone or after any consonant. Compare va, vr (like vroom), as opposed to vch (an added vowel gets inserted: vich)
Pure Vowel
A phoneme that strictly meets the proposed vowel criteria above.
Mixed (Consonant) Vowel
A phoneme that can act like a vowel as well as a consonant.
Modifier (Vowel)
Like a mixed vowel but always requires a pure/mixed vowel to follow after.
Any sound that doesn’t qualify as a vowel, usually relying on oral activation (fricatives, stops, etc.) All consonants must be followed by an indication of a vowel.
Post Consonant (Ending Only)
A consonant sound that must come after a (pure) vowel, not before.

NOTE: Though we use slashes to indicate phonemes, you’ll notice we sometimes use multiple letters to indicate what they are as opposed to singular characters as one might use in the International Phonetic Alphabet. These characters are taken from that phoneme’s usual form of transliteration in the English alphabet. (See The Chraki Writing System.)

The Pure Vowels

This section references the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to clarify the desired sounds in brackets. If the characters in between the square brackets don’t render you may be missing an appropriate font.

(This section currently references words found in English for examples of pronunciations, seeing as how this post is written in English that seems appropriate.)

/ a /
[ ä ] as in dawn
/ aa /
[ æ ] (or close to it) as in apple.
/ ay /
[ eɪ ] as in say. *
/ e /
[ ɛ ] as in bent.
/ ee /
[ e ] as in bee.
/ ai /
[ aɪ ] as in eye. *
/ i /
[ ɪ ] as in bit.
/ o /
[ o̞ ] as in zero.
/ oo /
[ u ] as in moon.
/ ow /
[ aʊ ] as in now or about. *
/ u /
[ ə ] as in done or bun.

* These pronunciations include more than one IPA vowel. In some considerations, these would be considered something like diphthongs, but in Chraki they are recognized as whole vowels.

The Mixed Vowels

/ r /
[ ɻ ] as in ran.
/ l /
[ ɭ ] as in lay.
/ n /
[ ɳ ] as in no.
/ m /
[ m ] as in male.
/ th /
[ ð ] as in they.

The Consonants

/ s /
[ s ] as in sat.
/ z /
[ z ] as in zero.
/ k /
[ k ] as in cat.
/ g /
[ ɡ ] as in go.
/ h /
[ h ] as in him.
/ b /
[ b ] as in bat.
/ p /
[ p ] as in pal.
/ f /
[ f ] as in feel.
/ v /
[ v ] as in very.
/ t /
[ t ] as in top.
/ d /
[ d ] as in dang.
/ st /
[ st ] as in star. *
/ sh /
[ ʃ ] as in shut.
/ ch /
[ t̠ʃ ] as in change. *
/ j /
[ d̠ʒ ] as in jump. *
/ hg /
[ ʜ ] as in a gutteral ending (is a post consonant).

* These pronunciations include more than one IPA vowel. In some considerations, these might be considered individual sounds, but in Chraki they are recognized as whole consonants.

The Modifiers

/ y /
[ j ] as in yell.
/ w /
[ w ] as in way,

Note that modifiers, by definition (above), must be followed by a pure vowel. They never stand as vowels on their own, even if attached to a consonant.

The Phonetic Unit

With Chraki as a natural language, the first medium to establish codifications is through sound, more specifically spoken utterances. Chraki has an overarching rule towards what kinds of sounds (otherwise known as phonemes, above) can be put with other sounds in a linear sequence when constructing a vocal encoding. The general idea is that the expression of a consonant always relies on a given vowel: like when you say the / k / sound on its own you rely on a small / i / sound. This idea gives rise to the phonetic unit.

Guiding Principles Of The Phonetic Unit

There are three guiding principles that inform the structure of a phonetic unit:

  1. One unit can be pronounced as a single syllable (although it may not, in the end, be its own syllable in any given codification, see below)
  2. Consonant sounds rely on or must be paired with a vowel sound.
  3. Consonant sounds come before vowel sounds (except in the case of post consonants.)

These guiding principles can be condensed into the following broad definition:

Phonetic Unit
A combination of one (in the case of a pure vowel), two, (or three in the case of modifiers) phonemes (one consonant, and one eventual pure-vowel) put together in that order.

Specific Structure Of The Phonetic Unit

This broad definition and these guiding principles can be applied to the sets of phonemes that make up the spoken language of Chraki in the following way.

First, we determine what are vowel sounds and what are consonant sounds. We’ve already done so in the categories of (pure/mixed/modifier) vowels, and consonants (see above). With those in hand, we can generate the following tokens:

{ vowel }
Any of the pure vowels, mixed vowels, and the modifier vowels.
/ a /, / aa /, / ay /, / e /, / ee /, / ai /, / i /, / o /, / oo /, / ow /, / u /, / r /, / l /, / n /, / m /, / th /, / y /, / w /
{ independent vowel }
Any of the pure vowels or mixed vowels, but not the modifier vowels.
/ a /, / aa /, / ay /, / e /, / ee /, / ai /, / i /, / o /, / oo /, / ow /, / u /, / r /, / l /, / n /, / m /, / th /
{ pure vowel }
Any of the pure vowels.
/ a /, / aa /, / ay /, / e /, / ee /, / ai /, / i /, / o /, / oo /, / ow /, / u /
{ modifier vowel }
Any of the modifier vowels.
/ y /, / w /
{ consonant }
Any of the consonants (except post consonants) or mixed vowels.
/ s /, / z /, / k /, / g /, / h /, / b /, / p /, / f /, / v /, / t /, / d /, / st /, / sh /, / ch /, / j /, / r /, / l /, / n /, / m /, / th /
{ post consonant }
Any of the post consonants.
/ hg /

Then we can construct the following valid expressions from those tokens:

The numbers in the parentheses indicate what guiding principle informed that phonetic grammar rule.

  • { independent vowel } (1)
  • { consonant }{ vowel } (2, 3)
  • { modifier vowel }{ independent vowel }, since { modifier vowel }{ modifier vowel } is illegal.
  • { pure vowel }{ post consonant } (3)
  • { consonant }{ modifier vowel }( { independent vowel } ) (see below)

On the last expression, we can see that if a consonant is followed by a modifier vowel (/ y / or / w / for example) then the modifier vowel must be followed by an { independent vowel } (being either a pure vowel or a mixed vowel). This preceding vowel is in parentheses because it is not considered part of the phonetic unit itself and is separate, making this rule inter-phonemic.

A Brief Relationship to Writing

One of the central notions of Chraki is that it is symbolic in nature. This can be seen in simply the difference between the idea of a codification versus a word. Languages are an interesting intersection of both utility and creative aesthetic, and in this Chraki continues the idea of representing things symbolically by employing a syllabary of symbols as opposed to an alphabet (transliteration can take the place of an alphabet).

So how do we split up the symbols to determine which ones make which sounds? Phonetic units present themselves as being clear and concise divisions from where we can draw our symbols. One phonetic unit is equivalent or is represented by one phonetic symbol. So for example, / a / or / yr / or / roo / or / ko /; in each case, each sound produced is one phonetic symbol.

The Morphetic “Layer”

Now that we’ve established the basic phonemes, and their general structure (phonetic unit), you might think we’re done in determining how to pronounce Chraki. However, there is one more consideration to which we must attend. This consideration is illustrated thus:

You might notice that the word Chraki is made up three phonetic units: / chr /, / a /, and / ki /. However, you’d be correct if you assumed the word Chraki was pronounced as one syllable: “chrahk.” How can this be?

This is due to what I call the “morphetic” layer. I use the term morphetic to indicate that we are talking about how a particular utterance is formed in terms of speech. This is in contrast to the morphology of Chraki, which studies codifications, their more foundational construction, and relationships. To specifically define the morphetic layer:

Morphetic Layer
The system of rules/grammar that determine how a word is pronounced in speech, specifically how many syllables make up the utterance as opposed to the number of phonetic units.

Phonetics != Morphetics

The morphetic layer determines the ultimate number of syllables a particular utterance will have. This number is almost always, for longer words, not the same (usually less than) as the number of phonetic units that make up the word. To differentiate between the two one can say that a word has a number of “pseudo-syllables” (phonetic units), as opposed to the number of “(real) syllables.” To continue the example above, Chraki has three pseudo-syllables and one (real) syllable.

The General Rules Of The Morphetic Layer

One phonetic unit is considered a pseudo-syllable: it makes contributes to a larger (real) syllable’s beginning, middle or end. A natural (real) syllable “rounds out” as an uttered beat that ends before shifting to another syllable. Some phonemes can serve as an end of one and the beginning of another, bridging two syllables. In this case, the phoneme in question is assigned to the preceding real syllable. In Chraki, real syllables take on the default structure:

Syllable Definition
< consonant >{ vowel }< consonant > . . .

Note the square brackets around the consonant tokens. These indicate that the consonants may or may not be assigned to this specific syllable (they are optional.)

Real syllables are derived from a set of “matching” rules “laid on top of” (like a layer) a series of phonetic units. These rules “pull” from each unit’s phonemes to form a natural (real) syllable. This process looks like this:

kemenikarikalifalenr  -->  kem - en - i - kar - kal - i - fal - en - r

One can observe the contrast between the morphetics and phonetics of kemenikarikalifalenr or ragnraki is below:

phonetic    morphetic  |  phonetic    morphetic
   ke          kem     |     ra          rag
   me          en      |     gn          nr
   ni          i       |     ra          ak
   ka          kar     |     ki
   ri          kal
   ka          i
   li          fal
   fa          en
   le          r

Aural Drag

The first general morphetic rule, being that it is applied first, is that of aural drag: vowel phonemes* “drag on” to combine with the following consonant phoneme*. This combination usually stops the syllable. Consonant phonemes that haven’t been “swallowed” by a dragging vowel generally serve to begin a new syllable.

* note we are referring to phonemes, not phonetic units.

We can observe the process as we break down the word kemenikari:

kemenikari  -->  kem - en - i - kar
                  |    |
                  V    |
     k - started the (real) syllable [start]
     e - vowel, aurally drags [continuation]
     m - combined with dragged e vowel, stops syllable [stop]
e - starts next (real) syllable (m stopped previous one) [start]
    aurally drags as a vowel
n - combined in dragged e vowel, stops syllable [stop]

The / i / (Pure) Vowel

The / i / pure vowel serves more than the purpose of indicating a short sound. It can also be “dropped” or “silent” in certain contexts.

The Postfix Rule

Its first obvious rule is the postfix rule: when / i / is found at the end of an encoding (word) after a consonant it is not pronounced. The consonant is pronounced sans vowel.

The Silent / i / Rule

It can also serve a similar purpose between two consonants. Here it can be severely shortened to the point of non-existence, placing the two consonant sound together. This only occurs in certain contexts/combinations, since it does not happen for instance in the word kemenikari (see above.) For an example of a context in which it does happen observe the spelling of the foreign word carton (karitoni):

Phonetic  Morphetic
   ka        kar
   ri        ton

This phenomenon is called the silent / i / rule and is fully explored in its Encyclopaedia Entry (coming soon.) In essence, there is a table that can determine whether the / i / phoneme is pronounced by matching the consonants it’s found between.

The Nondragging Rule

The / i / pure vowel doesn’t perform aural drag when pronounced. It stands alone morphetically when (what would have been) its companion consonant has been “dragged into” the previous syllable. Since it stands independently, it does not prevent the next consonant from beginning the next syllable. This is known as the nondragging rule, and you can see it in effect above in the morphetic break-up of the kemenikar:


Multiple Aural Drag

There are also cases of multiple aural drags in vowel sounds, such as in the namesake Chraki. In this codification short-form, the / r / and the / a / vowels get “put together” and the drag “continues” onto the / k / consonant.

These occur mostly due to the non-pure vowels (mixed and modifier) at the end of a phonetic unit. It also occurs generally when a pure vowel stands independently (as its own phonetic unit.) This can create situations where the vowel based aural drag is extended and/or a syllable is terminated without a consonant (but instead with a mixed vowel, see power below.)

Phonetic  Morphetic
  pow        pow
   e         er <- 2 vowel drag
   r               mixed vowel r ends syllable.

Phonemes + Phonetics + Morphetics = Speech

Although there are more (nuanced) morphetic rules than the ones listed above, the presented rules will guide you to pronounce most Chraki utterances correctly. It would take more space than afforded here to cover all the morphetic rules (both existing and developing), but you can keep up to date on them through the Encyclopaedia entries (coming soon!), Forum discussion, as well as posts here categorized under Phon/Morphology (or tagged with Morphetics).

You now have all the required knowledge to understand how to speak Chraki. Parts of this document, particularly phonetic units, play a role in determining how one writes Chraki (see The Chraki Writing System), but the rest are particularly for pronouncing Chraki and speaking it in real-time.

For further reading, you can jump now to either The Chraki Writing System or The Integrations and Disintegrations Of Codifications.

For more information about the colored boxes with borders surrounding some terms in this document please consult the Encyclopaedia entry on term indications/styles (coming soon!)

photo credit: Dictionary page via photopin (license)

Asher Wolfstein

I am the original founder/creator of the Chraki language, and thus, I run this site. I am a creative entrepreneur time-traveling wunk (wolf skunk hybrid). Programming, technology, obscurity, history, cinema, costumes, furry, music, languages, manga, culture, philosophy, and communities. Code, write, draw, design, plan, invent, dream, blog, think, speak, observe, build, and grow.

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