Phonology and Orthography of Cargnèt

Inventory and Standard Orthography

Cargnèt has, for its location, a relatively but not incongruously large phonemic inventory. It has the voiceless stops /p t k/, and the voiced stops /b d g/ – the coronal stops are typically dental. It has a large fricative inventory: /f v θ s z ʃ ʒ h/ – the interdental stop is unmarked for voiced, and is often voiced intervocalically, although conservative and careful speech keeps it voiceless throughout. The glottal fricative is often in practice fronted, sometimes as far as velar, and may be voiced. In addition, there are four affricates: /ts dz tʃ dʒ/. There are three nasals: /m n ɲ/ – these are not distinguished in coda position, where they are typically realised as velar when utterance-final or followed by a word beginning in a vowel or semivowel, and otherwise assimilate to the place of articulation of the following consonant. In the standard form of the language, there are a further three sonorants: /l λ ɾ/ – the palatal lateral is in fact closer to alveopalatal, or even palatalized alveolar, while the rhotic may in some cases be trilled, particularly in intervocalic syllabic onsets. Finally among the consonants, there are two approximants: /w j/.

Unlike many nearby languages, Cargnèt has no phonemic gemination. However, word-final voiceless stops may in practice be realised as geminates when followed by word beginning with a vowel or semivowel. Conversely, word-final voiced stops in these situations may be realised as fricatives or affricates.

Standard Cargnèt possesses ten vowel qualities, and distinguishes length for six of those qualities, for a total of sixteen vowels: /a: a æ e: e ɛ i: i ɪ u: u ʊ o: o ɔ: ɔ/ – however, for many speakers /ɔ:/ and /ɔ/ may have significantly distinct vowel qualities, and /ɔ:/ may be pronounced half-long or (where sufficiently distinct in quality) short. Standard Cargnet possesses no diphthongs; however, vowels in hiatus are common.

The official orthography of Cargnèt is regular, but in some regards complex. The vowels are relatively straightforward: a e i u o represent /a e i u o/, with the grave accent indicating laxer vowels (à è ì ù ò for /æ ɛ ɪ ʊ ɔ/). Oa represents /ɔ:/. The other long vowels may be indicated in any of three ways: with a following m (before a stop, fricative or affricate), a following i (when not final) or a circumflex upon the vowel. A vowel followed by i indicates that the following consonant is to be considered ‘slender’. /u:/ may furthermore be indicated by ou. By convention, the sequence /ɔ:a/ is written as , to avoid duplicating the letter.

Vowel length is not distinctive in word-final position; thus vowels with circumflexes are pronounced, when final, as they would be without the circumflex (other than ).

The stops are indicated simply: p t c b d g for the appropriate stops. However, a consonant followed or preceded by i ì î ê is considered ‘slender’ – a slender consonant must be followed by one of these vowels or by j, but need not be preceded by one. Therefore, when a consonant follows one of these letters and is thereofore slender, it is followed (if intervocalic) by j, or (in the case of gn, gl) by i. Slender c g stand for the affricates /tʃ dʒ/; slender d stands for the voiced fricative /ʒ/ when intervocalic, but voiceless /ʃ/ when final and /dz/ when initial; slender t represents the affricate /ts/. One oddity is that c g are also counted as slender before e è à in all cases, and before a when initial (e.g. Cargnèt, not Ciargnèt).

Broad s indicates /s/ when initial or final, or /z/ when intervocalic; intervocalic /s/ may be indicated by broad ss, slender ç, or broad x, while initial and final /z/ are shown by ‘s and s’. Intervocalic /z/ may also be shown by z. Slender /s/ indicates /ʃ/ when initial or final, or /ʒ/ when intervocalic; intervocalic /ʃ/ is typically shown by slender x or by broad or slender sc (which can also be used initially), while final /ʒ/ can be shown through slender s’. Broad ç meanwhile depicts /θ/. /f v/ are most often shown by f v, but can also be shown by slender ph bh in some cases. The voiced affricate /dz/ is shown by broad zz when intervocalic, and by dz when final. S acts as slender before any consonant; /s/ must therefore be shown as sz or x in these positions.

The palatal consonants /ɲ λ/ are written gn and gl; gl must always be slender (when broad it indicates merely the cluster /gl/), but gn may be broad or slender. R indicates the rhotic when broad, but when slender indicates /ʒ/. /λ/ may also be shown with simple l, when occuring finally and following i.

Consonants that would otherwise appear slender but that require a broad pronunciation are followed by h (note that this is opposite to the situation with ph bh, which are always slender). /h/ meanwhile is shown by j. Final slender consonants after a short vowel or a consonant cannot be indicated as slender by the normal means; therefore slender t s ç x can be shown as tz sz çz xz when final, and similarly final slender c g are shown as cj gj.

Some inflected word forms are marked through a final s, creating a number of distinct digraphs; ds ss s’s indicate /ts s s/, while slender cs indicates /ts/ (broad cs continues to be, as expected, /ks/).

The semivowel /w/ is shown by u between a consonant and a vowel. As a result, plain /u/ in a vowel cluster must be shown with ú. The exceptions to this are where u is followed by i –this is read as /u:/ (followed by a slender consonant) – and when the u follows g, when it is silent. /w/ after /g/ is shown with ŭ. /w/ may also be shown after a consonant by slender gl; when initial, it is shown by ŭ, except before u, in which case it is shown by ŏ. The semivowel /j/ is shown with j after a consonant, or i otherwise – this does not create ambiguities with /h/ or with slender consonants, as /h/ cannot occur after a consonant (the distributions of /h/ and /j/ are complementary, other than in loanwords, compounds and a few derived words), and /j/ cannot occur after a consonant capable of slenderisation (outside extreme cases, it occurs only intervocalically and after /m f v/).

The digraphs ou and oa could be mistaken for the clusters /ou/ and /oa/; likewise, could be mistaken for /oa:/. To prevent this, /ou/ and /oa/ are shown as and , while /oa:/ is shown by óâ.

Archaic Orthography

Cargnèt was not widely written before the work of Colmar – any small scraps that may be found will be in an irregular adaptation of the German, Carinthian, Friulian, Venetian or Italian orthographies.

However, modern official orthography does not exactly match the recommendations of Colmar, and “Colmarèsmas” may still be found in intentially old-fashioned or formal writing, or in the names of people or places. The letter ţ, when slender, was used by Colmar for some /s/ in initial position, and when broad for final /ts/. The letter ş was used in place of ss. The breve and acute accents were not originally used, and the abbreviated form (for /ɔ:a/ was not used). In Colmar’s early drafts, he toyed with the idea of using å for /ɔ:/, and this is occasionally seen, although it is often considered only an artistic form of the digraph, rather than a distinct letter (other forms of this digraph similarly reduce one or other element – o ͣ and are often seen on signs (in which case /ɔ:a/ is shown simply as oͣa or o ͣa) though rarely in text). Colmar’s early efforts also contemplated h to indicate each hiatus; he dropped this idea, but continued to advice its use between morpheme boundaries. Occasionally his advice is still followed. In addition, Colmar slenderised his consonants with j, whereas the modern standard uses i (when the consonant is not also preceded by i).

More broadly, many unstressed vowels now written as e è o ò were written as i ì u ù by Colmar, and this is an easy way to mimic ‘old-fashioned’ writing, sometimes leading to hypercorrections. Similarly, what is now written as ua ue were in some cases written uò uo by Colmar.

Finally, it is worth noting that placenames and surnames have not all been fully respelled to match Cargnèt orthography – even ‘Cargnèt’ names may be spelled in alien ways. In particularly widespread use are W for /v/, K for /k/, QU for /kw/ or for /k/ before a front vowel, and CJ GJ for /tʃ dʒ/ or SCH for either. Some names may also be spelled in historical ways that no longer match standard pronunciation. Names typically spell initial and final /z/ with z, rather than with ‘s and s’.

These archaic or alien spellings are more often found among the lower classes, with the upper classes mostly having converted to Colmar’s reforms during the revival period (or more recently). The name ‘Colmar’ itself is more often found as Kolmar, for example, while the old aristocratic Volpa family have less succesful branches by the name of Wolpe.

Names traditionally do not make use of vowel diacritics, although foreign or otherwise nontraditional names may do.

Foreign Orthography

Cargnèt spelling of loanwords and foreign names is erratic. Sounds that are close to Cargnèt possibilities in spelling or pronunciation may be adjusted to match the local orthography, while more alien words may be left untouched. In addition to ordinary spelling conventions, and the notes on archaic spellings above Cargnèt may spell loanwords and foreign names with DZH and ZH for /dʒ ʒ/, or W for initial /w/, nasal vowels with a circumflex and following M; CH, TCH or TSCH fo /tʃ/, CH, SCH or SH for /ʃ/, CH for /x/, Y for /j/ or /y/, and X for /z/ or /ks/. Many ‘cultural’ foreign names are spelled via modified French conventions. These letters are alphabetised as single letters (unlike the same combinations arising in the native orthography); CH, SH, ZH are viewed as alterations of C, S, Z, and are not used where the desired pronounciation is already given by the unaltered letters. However, there is often a tendency to use ‘foreign’ spelling in foreign names even when not necessary (e.g. widespread use of W for /v/, K for /k/). Foreign names and loanwords often do not make use of any vowel diacritics.

Examples of some of these conventions include Felix Dzherzinszki, Piotra Tchaikowski, Oŭagadougu, wikend (English borrowing), shop (likewise), fax (again), Frâmxuas Mitterâmd, Oszkar Schindler. [Should people with these names be born in Cargna and wish to be registered as citizens, they would take the names Fèlichs Gersinszchi, Piotra Cichovszchi, Frâssuo Mitheroad and Oszcar Scindler. Fèlichs and Piotra might alternatively take the native names, Feiglies and Pedra.]



Stress is not contrastive in Cargnèt. It falls lightly on the first syllable of the word.


2 thoughts on “Phonology and Orthography of Cargnèt

  1. Hans says:

    the voiceless stops /p t k/, and the voiceless stops /b d g/
    I assume the second series is voiced?

  2. Ha. Yes. Thanks for spotting that!

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