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Phoneme inventory

The Mešmo dialect of Kuyʔūn distinguished the following phonemes:


  labial     dental   alveolar   palatal     velar     uvular     glottal  
plosive p t ʦ ʧ k q ʔ
fricative ɬ s ʃ (h)
nasal m n
  approximant w l j
  • /ʦ ʧ ʃ ɬ j/ are traditionally transcribed as c č š ł y, and /w/ is written u in coda position. All other consonant phonemes are written as in IPA.
  • h occured only word-finally and was therefore in complementary distribution with ʔ. It is nevertheless written with its own grapheme.
  • ʔ contrasted with zero onset morpheme-initially, which was most obvious with the addition of prefixes.


  front     back  
  high i · iː o · oː
low ɛ · ɛː ɑ · ɑː
  • The four basic vowel qualities are represented by i e a o.
  • Long vowels are written with a macron: ī ē ā ō.


Syllable structure

The basic syllable structure of Mešmo Kuyʔūn was (C)(l,j)V(ː,n,s,ʃ)(C).

Elaborating this, a null onset was only possible word-initially. All morphological vowel hiatus was either contracted into a long vowel or a vowel-glide-combination, or broken up with an epenthetic glide. Borrowed words with vowel hiatus in the source language occasionally featured epenthetic ʔ as an additional option.

All consonants except h did occur in syllable onsets. The only common syllable-initial clusters were py ty ky; a few words with onset pl tl kl existed as well. Some scholars also posit underlying /pw tw kw/ clusters; however, this seems to be based more on a desire for symmetry than anything else because at least in urban Mešmo the labial glide never surfaced as an independent segment in postconsonantal position.

Coda clusters could only consist of a plosive preceded by /s ʃ/ or a homoorganic nasal, that is, sp st sk šp št šk mp nt nk. All of these were extremely rare, occurring only in morpheme-final position.

Most single consonants were allowed to appear in a syllable coda, with some positional restrictions which are mostly covered by the list of morphophonological processes outlined below. An important general observation is that phonetic diphthongs did not occur before coda consonants, which is the main reason to analyse phonetic [ɑɪ ɑʊ] etc. as /ɑ/ followed by a consonantal coda glide on the phonemic level. Interestingly, long vowels did occur before all single coda consonants except w y.

All consonants except ʔ h could appear as geminates. Most geminates were fairly common, but qq łł ww yy were extremely rare. Geminates could not be preceded by a long vowel or a diphthong.

Syllables adjacent to the main stress generally did not contain long vowels; however, diphthongs were allowed. With a few exceptions, the same applied for vowels in word-final position.


Kuyʔūn had a dynamic stress accent. The placement of the accent was somewhat irregular; the most common position was the first syllable of the root, or, in compounds, the first syllable of the semantically more marked morpheme in the stem. Superheavy syllables which contained both a long vowel and a coda consonant usually attracted the accent from neighbouring syllables. Inflectional morphemes did not cause stress to move, with the arguable exception of pronominal case prefixes - all tonic forms of the personal pronouns invariably stressed the first syllable.

In scholarly transcription, the convention has been adopted to mark stress only when it did not fall on the last long vowel in a word, or else on the penultimate syllable. In this scheme, an acute accent is used to indicate stressed short vowels (á é í ó), and a circumflex to indicate stressed long vowels (â ê î ô).

Allophony and morphophonological variation

The Mešmo variant of Kuyʔūn did not exhibit much synchronic allophony for its phonemes. Some of the most relevant changes were:

  • Intervocalic /w/ was often pronounced as a purely labial approximant [β̞].
  • The clusters /ʔm ʔn ʔl ʔw ʔj/ were conflated to glottalised resonants [mˀ nˀ lˀ wˀ jˀ] for most speakers.
  • Word-final /h/ was [ç] when preceded by /i iː/, and [x] when preceded by /ɑ ɑː/. Some speakers, mostly from rural areas, had a palatal fricative also after /ɛ ɛː/ and a velar fricative also after /o oː/; these speakers usually merged word-final /ʃ/ into [ç~x] as well.
  • Consonants separated from /q/ by a single vowel only were pronounced as pharyngealised, even across word boundaries.
  • Short /i o/ were usually laxed to [ɪ ɔ] in closed syllables or when adjacent to /q/. However, /i/ remained [i] before nasal consonants.
  • Short /ɑ/ was laxed to [ɐ] in unstressed open syllables, sometimes approaching [ə] in word-final position.
  • /ɑj/ was fronted to [aɪ] when the next syllable contained a front vowel.
  • Otherwise, coda /j/ was pronounced as a non-syllabic [e̯] after /ɑ o/.
  • Vowel hiatus across word boundaries was resolved by the insertion of phonetic glides; usually [j] after /i/, [w] after /o/, and [ɦ] after /ɑ/. Speakers varied as to which glide to insert after /ɛ/; most had [ɦ] but some had [j] instead. If the second vowel was unstressed /i/ or /o/, the two syllables could often be alternatively contracted into a diphthong.

In addition to this, several morphophonological alternations existed, which had to be taken into account when dealing with the rather extensive morphology of the language.

NB: Not all of the rules below applied without exception.

  • All non-glottal plosives reduced to ʔ before a voiced consonant.
  • c č q merged into t t k before a fricative.
  • c č deaffricated to s š before a plosive and word-finally.
  • t k q usually became c č k before morphological /j/ (however, this rule was not phonetically productive).
  • Occasionally, plosives preceded by a nasal consonant softened to form geminate nasals.
  • Nasal consonants assimilated in POA to any following consonant except /w j/.
  • All underlying fricatives disappeared with lengthening of preceding vowels before a consonant other than /w j/.
  • s š fortified to c č after a nasal.
  • ł s became h word-finally.
  • l became u in coda position.
  • i merged into e adjacent to /q/ and when preceded by /j/.
  • Sequences of a short vowel followed by a coda semivowel were smoothed to long monophthongs when another consonant was added to the syllable coda: /iw ɛw ɑw ɛj ɑj oj/ > ī ō ō ī ē ē. Underlying /ow ij/ surfaced as ō ī unless followed by a vowel.
  • Similarly, postconsonantal /w/ coalesced with following vowels, preserving the original length value: /wi wɛ wɑ wo/ > oj/e o o o.
  • Long vowels became short before geminate consonants or word-finally.
  • Long vowels were normally shortened when adjacent to a more prominent syllable (i.e. bearing at least secondary stress), especially if that syllable also contained a long vowel. Notable exceptions include the passive voice marker which always contained a long /oː/ even when immediately preceded by an accented syllable, some plural forms of adjectives, and the ablative-partitive and relational-causal cases of the 3pl inanimate pronoun.