Segments and Spelling of
This section presents the segments and tones of Mushunguli, and also
introduces a spelling system which we use in this work. This
(unofficial) spelling system is tenative, and we especially
welcome suggestions from Mushunguli speakers interested in
writing their language. Our goal is to balance the
need for accurate representation of pronunciation with practical
usefulness as a spelling system, making minimal use of special marks
as IPA letters. The basic system of spelling follows the one used in
Swahili. Attention should be paid to actual pronunciation (available
through the linked recordings). For more recorded examples, see the Lexicon.
The vowels of Mushunguli are [i u e o a], and [i u e o] are pronounced
rather lax like IPA [ɪ ʊ ɛ ɔ].
The vowel [a] is central to back, and at the end of the word sounds
The consonants of Mushunguli are as follows:
“Ch” represents a voiceless alveopalatal affricate,
IPA [tʃ], like in English “choose”. [k] is often
produced further back than it is in English.
The voiced stops [b d j g] are usually implosive, except after
non-syllabic nasal. The stop [d] is retracted to IPA [ɖ], and j is the
palatal stop [ɟ].
“Sh” represents a voiceless alveopalatal fricative,
[ʃ], like English “shoe”, and is not very common in
The consonant [z] can also be pronounced as “dh”
i.e. IPA [ð] as in English ‘these; father”.
We write the velar nasal ([ŋ]) as ng’
following Swahili spelling, and the palatal nasal [ɲ] as ny
m n ny ng’
The flap [r] is pronounced as a trill at the beginning of a word.
w r l y h
On occasion, [g] is pronounced as a voiced fricative [gh] (IPA
‘beans’. This is an
pronunciation feature and never serves to distinguish words.
The combination of a nonsyllabic nasal and voiceless stops is
pronounced as a short (partially) voiceless nasal plus an aspirated
stop, written [mph, nth, nkh]. It can be difficult to hear the nasal at
the beginning of a word, but when a vowel precedes the nasal, it is
easier to hear the nasal.
Notice the difference in pronunciation between aspirated th
and plain t
in the words haránti
‘courtyard’ and bânthi
‘door’. Aspirated th
sounds somewhat like r
Phonetic backing of /k/ before [a,o] is especially noticeable when /k/
is aspirated, as in ‘food’. Also note that the
stops in [nth] and [nd] are retracted, sounding
retroflex and resembling “r” to the point that
‘elephant’ sounds like [nrhembo] (in other contexts
dental). It is, in fact, pronounced as a voiceless flap.
In the combinations [mw, bw] and we presume [pw], the glide w is realized as
velarization of the preceding consonant, thus [mγ,
bγ], as in mwâna ‘child’, mwêzi
‘month’, bwiríbwiri ‘spider’, m̂bwa
There is a pronunciation difference in sequences of nasal plus consonant,
between those with a 'syllabic nasal' and those with a 'nonsyllabic nasal'.
Generally, the syllabic nasal is [m̩], and is a noun class prefix,
for example ḿ̩gosi ‘man’,
(composed of the singular prefixes /m̩/ and the roots /gosi, tedha/).
If the nasal has a tone mark, it is syllabic (ḿ̩nyula ‘leech’,
which means that it is longer. The nasal [m] before a consonant other
than [w ph b] is always syllabic, for example ḿ̩kono
‘vulture’. The (short voiceless) nasal in mphûla ‘nose’
is non-syllabic, and is followed by an aspirated p (thus the spelling
mph), which is different from the syllabic nasal of m̩púnga (phonetic
[m̩púŋgɑ]) ‘rice’. There is also a difference between plain n before kh and other aspirated stops, versus a syllabic n̩ plus plain n before kh, so compare the pronunciation of nkhôndo ‘war’ versus n̩nkhôndo ‘it’s a war’. Another pair like this is mphâsa ‘twin banana’ versus m̩mphâsa ‘it’s a twin banana’.
In this grammar, we aim to avoid such marking because it requires
special symbols, and learning how to use and insert
diacritics has traditionally been difficult for people learning to
write their language, especially diacritics which are not part of
official alphabets. For the sake of linguistic clarity, we will
sometimes reduce syllabicity marking to tone marking. Typically in
Bantu languages, even though tone is linguistically
important for correct pronunciation, tone marks are
in a practical spelling system, because such marks clutter writing
and are very fluid owing to rules of tone change (see the sections on
tonology). The problem posed by m̩buya / mbúguni is comparable to the Swahili minimal pair m̩buni ‘coffee plant’ vs. mbuni ‘ostrich’ (related to Mushunguli mbúguni 'ostrich'),
which are spelled the same way. Since such pairs are rare, they do not
impede reading and writing on a practical front. Syllabicity of
nasals can be predicted by a few rules, so our data can be interpreted
phonetically by applying those rules.
is followed by any consonant it is syllabic, unless the consonant is w
. Before /p/, the spelling mph
indicates a non-syllabic nasal (with aspiration of p
and devoicing of the nasal), and mp
indicates a syllabic nasal -- thus mphûla
‘nose’ with nonsyllabic [m]
‘rice’ with syllabic [m]. There is no syllabic [m] before w
, so mw
is unambiguous. In the case of following b
, there can be a minimal contrast for example m̩buya
‘friend’ versus mbúguni
‘ostrich’. In this case, we mark the syllabic nasal with a grave accent -- m̀búya
Sometimes, syllabic /m/ will in fact assimilate in place of articulation to the following consonant, so mtédha
can also be pronounced ǹtédha
. It is in this contest especially that tone-marking becomes useful as a marker of syllabicity. While the lack of aspiration (ǹ̩tedha
, not *nthedha
) could suffice to indicate syllabicity, such a clue is insufficient for ǹ̩dôle
‘it is a finger’, the reduced form of ni dôle
, contrasted with ndóni.
the difference in syllabicity can be make explicit by tone marking. Differences of
this type are due to optional (but common) reduction of /ni/. The
‘it is’ and the homophonous 1st person parker can freely reduce to a syllabic nasal.
There are two basic tone marks necessary for Mushunguli, the acute
accent mark for level H (táte ‘father’,
and the circumflex accent for falling tone (dêge ‘bird’, vîga ‘legs’).
The falling tone only appears on the first syllable of two-syllable
simple words. A final tone mark is downstep marked with an raised exclamation mark,
which seems to play a distinctive role in a few noun plurals, viz. má!vúha ‘bones’,
as contrasted with mátunda ‘flowers’,
We expect that in ordinary usage, these tone marks would be omitted.
The vowel in the second-to-last syllable of a word is pronounced somewhat longer (táte, chiróle, bwiríbwiri), and when this syllable has a falling tone the extra length becomes more noticeable (dêge, vîga).
This is predictable, and lexically-distinctive long vowels do not play
a role in the language, unlike Luganda, Af Maay or Somali. However,
double-vowel sequences do arise in sentences, by combining i+i, u+u etc, and which such sequences are usually reduced to one vowels, somtimes they are not -- they will be written ii, uu and so forth, when recorded.