Phonetics and Phonology of Proto-Ñyqy

Phonetic Inventory and Translitteration


As we stand today, eight vowels were reconstructed for Proto-Ñyqy, as presented in the table below.

Table 1: Proto-Ñyqy Vowels

Below is a short guide to their pronunciation:

  • e: /*ɛ/ as in General American English “bed” [bɛd]
  • i: /*ɪ/ as in General American English “bit” [bɪt]
  • o: /*ɔ/ as in General American English “thought” [θɔːt]
  • ø: /*ø/ as in French “peu” [pø]
  • œ: /*ɤ/ as in Scottish Gaelic “doirbh” [d̪̊ɤrʲɤv]
  • u: /*ʊ/ as in General American English “hook” [hʊ̞k]
  • ú: /*u/ as in General American English “boot” [bu̟ːt]
  • y: /*y/ as in French “dune” [d̪yn]

We also have a ninth vowel, noted «ə» which denotes an unknown vowel. It is most likely this was before the Proto-Ñyqy breakup a simple schwa standing where a vowel got reduced either at an earlier stage than Proto-Ñyqy or during the breakup of the language. Depending on the languages that evolved from Proto-Ñyqy, some got rid of it later while some other reinstated it as a full vowel with different rules each on which vowel it would become. Thus in the current stage of reasearch on Proto-Ñyqy, we cannot know for certain which vowel it should have been.

It is however possible to create a featural tree for the known vowels, determining which would have been considered closer to others, as seens with the vowel tree below.

Proto-Ñyqy Vowel Featural Tree
Proto-Ñyqy Vowels Featural Tree


The topic of consonants, unlike vowels, is a hot debate among linguists. while we are pretty sure proto-ñyqy has twelve consonants, we are still unsure which consonants they are due to the extreme unstability of the dorsal feature, and there is seemingly no consistency as to how the consonants stabilized in the different languages that emerged from the proto-ñyqy breakup. it is only in the recent years Ishy Maeln proposed a new theory that is gaining traction among proto-ñyqy specialists: each consonant could be pronounced either as a dorsal or as a non-dorsal depending on its environment and both potential pronunciation can be correct. she even goes further and proposes proto-ñyqy had an alternating rule stating a given consonant had to be non-dorsal if the previous one was, and vice versa. this would explain the common pattern of dorsal consonants alternation found in some early languages found after the breakup such as proto-mojhal. this phenomenon is more thouroughly explained in Consonants.

You can find the featural tree of the Proto-Ñyqy consonants in the consonant tree below. Each grapheme displays below its dorsal pronunciation on the left and its non-dorsal pronunciation on the right.

Feature Tree of Proto-Ñyqy Consonants
Feature Tree of Proto-Ñyqy Consonants

As you can see, each one of the consonants have their two alternative indicated below their grapheme. In the case of the coronal consonants, the alternative consonant is obtained by replacing the anterior feature by the dorsal feature when it is present.

The way of writing consonants was therefore standardized as presented in the table below.

Table 2: Possible Pronunciations of the Proto-Ñyqy Consonants
Main GraphemeDorsal PhonemeNon-Dorsal PhonemeAlternate Grapheme
q/*q//*ħ/ħ, h1
g/*ɢ//*ʕ/ȟ, h2
m/*ŋ͡m//*m/r, r1
p/*χ//*p/xh, r2
b/*g͡b//*b/rh, r3
s/*ç//*s/x, r4
z/*ʝ//*z/ɣ, r5

For each of these consonants, the letter chosen represents what we suppose was the most common or the default pronunciation of the consonant represented. In the table are also included alternate graphemes you might find in other, mostly older works, though they are mostly deprecated now.

As you can see, Proto-Ñyqy had potentially two different consonants that could be pronounced as /*m/. Although it did not influence Proto-Ñyqy as far as we know, it definitively influenced the Pritian branch of the family, with «ñ» and «m» influencing differently the vowel following it.

Several consonants used to be unknown at the beginnings of the Proto-Ñyqy study, as can be seen with the old usage of «h1, h2, r1, r2, r3, r4, and r5». These are found mostly in the earlier documents but progressively dissapear as our understanding of the Proto-Ñyqy grew during the past century. They are not used anymore, but any student that wishes to read older documents on Proto-Ñyqy should be aware of these.

Pitch and Stress

It is definitively known Proto-Ñyqy had a stress system that was used both on a clause and on a word level, as the languages that evolved from it inherited this characteristic. However, it is not possible to reconstruct it accurately, we only know the vowel «ə» was unstressed and only appeared in words with two syllables or more. However, we do not know if it had any morphological meaning or if it was productive.

On the other hand, we are much less sure about whether it had a pitch system, and if it did whether it was productive or not. Most of the languages that evolved from Proto-Ñyqy had or have one such as the Mojhal-Andelian family, but some don’t such as the Pritian family. The most commonly accepted answer is a pitch system appeared after the breakup of the pitchless branches which happenned earlier than the other branches which do have a pitch system. In reconstructed Proto-Ñyqy however, if such a system was present, pitches were most likely non-phonemic and unproductive. It only gained productivity in later stages, after the first breakups we know, in a common unknown ancestor language of the branches which did or still do have either an accent or a pitch system, and even there the evolutions seem to have happened in different ways depending on the branches. It is therefore impossible to know what the pitch system of Proto-Ñyqy was if it had one.


Syllable Structure

The prototypical syllable in Proto-Ñyqy appears as a ©V©© syllable with at least one consonant around the vowel, either in the onset or in the coda. At most, it can have one consonant in the onset and two in the coda.

No special rule have been found to rule the onset, it can host any consonant without any effect on the vowel.

However, it has been found the coda has some rules:

  • two nasal consonants cannot follow each other — no *-ñm
  • two coronal consonants cannot follow each other — no *-ns
  • labial consonants are never found with another consonant in the coda — no *-ps

For instance, *noc zebec would be pronounced as *noc gebec. It is most likely the features to chose from when converting a consonant from a coronal to a non-coronal were considered as absent by default. This results in the table below — as you can see, the pair «z» and «j» and the pair «s» and «c» convert to the same consonant respectively.

Table 3: Conversion Table of Coronal to Non-Coronal Consonants
Coronal ConsonantNon-Coronal Consonant

It has also been found that if two coronal consonants do follow each other in cross-syllabic environments, with the first one in the coda of a first syllable and the second one in the onset of a second syllable, then the former will become voiced as the latter.

Similarly, if two nasal consonants are found near each other in a cross-syllabic environment, the second nasal consonant will become denasalized. Thus, we get the conversion table below.

Table 4: Denasalization Table for Proto-Ñyqy Consonants
Nasal ConsonantNon-Nasal Consonant

It has also been found a schwa tends to appear between syllables when the first one ends with two consonants and the second one begins with one.

Consonantal Dorsal Alternation

As mentioned above in Consonants, it seems probable according to Maeln’s theory consonants were alternating between dorsals and non-dorsals. We do not know if it only happened between words, within words, or along whole clauses, but this would explain much of the different languages that evolved from Proto-Ñyqy. The table below shows different possible pronunciation of Proto-Ñyqy words with word-wise consonantal dorsal alternation whether the first consonant is to be considered a dorsal consonant or not. Note the nasal switch as well as the extra schwa insertion in the third example as described above in Syllable Structure.

Table 5: Different Possible Pronunciation of Proto-Ñyqy Words
*ñocm noc/*ɴɔt͡ʃŋ͡m ə ɦɔc//*ɦɔcm ə ɴot͡ʃ/