Lwaitel has a small number of phonemes, which are shown in the following charts in IPA. For those who don't know IPA, all of these consonants are as in English except /j/ which is the y in yes, and /ŋ/ which is the ng in sing; the vowels are a as in father (though a bit farther forward in your mouth), i as in ski, and u as in haiku, and ə is the first sound in about. The letters between angle brackets are the romanization.
(/ʃ/ 〈sh〉, /ç/)
(/lʲ~l̠ʲ~ʎ/ 〈ly, yl〉)
The palatal consonants are mostly allophones of the alveolar consonants (see the section on allophony below); however, /lʷ/ and /lʲ/ are distinguished from /l/ when they're syllabic. (/lʲ/ is like saying /l/ and /i/ at the same time, /lʷ/ is /l/ with rounded lips.)
/ə/ is an allophone of /a/ (/a/ only occurs in stressed syllables, /ə/ in unstressed), but I'm treating them as separate phonemes here because that's how I originally wrote it.
〈i u e a ai au iu ui em en eng el eyl elw〉::
Many consonants have palatal variants in certain positions:
These variants are used when a consonant is adjacent to /i/ (including in diphthongs), /j/, or /əlʲ/. When two alveolar consonants are adjacent, and one becomes palatal by this rule, the other one becomes palatal as well. However, /t/ is only affected by, and only affects, sounds that come after it, not sounds that come before it.
When a consonant with a palatal form comes before /j/, the /j/ is generally not pronounced, except for causing the palatal allophone to be used.
Since only three vowels are distinguished, vowels tend to have a large range of possible realizations: /i/ can be pronounced [i], [ɨ], [e], [ɪ]; /u/ can be pronounced [u], [ʉ], [o], [ʊ]; /a/ can be pronounced /æ/, /a/, /ɑ/, /ɜ/; and /ə/ can be pronounced [ɪ], [ə], [ʊ], [ɐ]. Vowel realizations tend to be closer to the previous vowel or glide, particularly in unstressed syllables or directly following phonemic glides, and tend to be higher after /k/ and /ŋ/. Stressed vowels not following glides or velars are pronounced as cardinal [a], [i], [u]. For instance, súshli /ˈsus.li/ is pronounced [ˈsuʃ.ʎɨ] , with the stressed vowel pronounced as a cardinal [u] and the unstressed vowel pronounced farther back to assimilate with the /u/, and hyángu /ˈhjaŋu/ is pronounced [ˈçæŋu] , with the /a/ being pronounced farther forward due to the /j/. The first component in the diphthongs /iu/ and /ui/ is mid-centralized, so those diphthongs are pronounced [ɪʉ̯] and [ʊɨ̯], respectively.
/ə/ tends to be pronounced extremely short, especially before a consonant. When /ə/ is followed by a consonant, it tends to lengthen the consonant. When /ə/ is followed by /m/, /n/, /ŋ/, /l/, /lʲ/, /lʷ/, the /ə/ is not pronounced and the consonant becomes syllabic, except when the consonant is nasal and it's preceded by a stop or nasal at the same place of articulation (e.g., /pəm/, /nən/).
Non-syllabic /l/ may optionally be pronounced as something near [ɰ] before /k/, especially when it's also after /a/.
Syllable structure: (C)(C)V(V)(C)(C).
Consonant clusters at the beginning of a syllable must have /j/ or /w/ as their second consonant (and not as their first consonant).
The only consonant clusters allowed at the end of a syllable are /mp/, /nt/, and /ŋk/.
/a/ is only allowed in stressed syllables, and /ə/ is only allowed in unstressed syllables. (This could also be seen as allophony, but I'm treating them as distinct because they're written differently. See below.)
The diphthongs /ai/, /au/, /iu/, and /ui/ are allowed. Diphthongs can only appear in stressed syllables.
If an unstressed syllable has the vowel /i/ or /u/, there cannot be any coda (e.g., /su/ and /sən/ are allowed as unstressed syllables but not /sun/; however, /sun/ can be a stressed syllable).
/lj/ and /lw/ are not usually distinct from /lʲ/ and /lʷ/, and they are not distinct from /l/ at the ends of stressed syllables. However, /lʲ/ and /lʷ/ can be syllabic consonants, distinct from /l/ (at the end of a syllable whose vowel is /ə/).
The combinations /ji/ and /wu/ (and therefore /lʲi/ and /lʷu/) are not allowed.
/h/, /j/, and /w/ cannot appear at the end of a syllable.
Whether a consonant goes with the next or previous syllable (/a.pa/ vs. /ap.a/) is not distinguished in speech, though it is distinguished in writing and sign language.
There are no phonemic geminate consonants, though there are sometimes written double consonants due to affixing.
The following rules tend to hold within words, but may sometimes be broken:
Two vowels tend not to appear in a row, except in diphthongs.
Nasal-stop combinations tend to be at the same place of articulation (usually the nasal assimilates).
Stop-nasal combinations at the same place of articulation are generally avoided. This includes if there's a schwa between them, since schwa+nasal becomes a syllabic consonant.
Stress and timing
Depending on how it's analyzed, either stress in unpredictable (with /a/ and /ə/ being allophones based on stress, and restrictions on what can appear in an unstressed syllable), or stress is mostly predictable based on the vowels and syllable codas.
Lwaitel is stress-timed; that is, the time between stressed syllables is roughly the same.
The person/proximity indicators, the basic verbs, the adadjectives, and a few prepositions have a stressed syllable, or at least treated as stressed with regards to their vowel quality. However, these syllables tend to be given slightly less stress than other stressed syllables, and may act as an unstressed syllable with regards to timing, particularly if the syllable is immediately followed by another stressed syllable in the same phrase.
Words cannot have more than two (rarely three) syllables after the stressed syllable, and cannot have more than two (and usually one or zero) syllables before the stressed syllable. A small number of words have more than one stressed syllable (particularly those that have the prefix ún– "not"); the first stressed syllables of these words are similar to the stressed function words described in the previous paragraph.
Declarative sentences end in a falling tone. Questions end in a rising tone, including content questions. (TODO more?)
Other things affecting pronunciation
Pronunciation of the vowels may change with the person's mood, with excitedness or happiness causing vowels to move forward ([a~æ, i, y~ʉ~ʏ]) and sadness causing vowels to move down and backward ([ɑ, ɪ, ʊ~o̝]).
When imitating foreigners:
give every word a tone pattern, H, HL, MHL, MMHL, MMMHL, etc., regardless of the position of the stress
overpronounce schwas, and pronounce them as [ɛ]; pronounce all a's as [ɑ]
pronounce final consonants as geminate, and often unreleased
pronounce every consonant as voiced
pronounce nasal consonants as voiced stops
pronounce stressed syllables with a high tone, stressed function words with a medium tone, and other syllables with a low tone
put short schwas after any stop not followed by a vowel
pronounce /sj/ and /tj/ as [ʑ ʥ]
overpronounce schwas; pronounce both schwas and a's as [ɑ]
pronounce diphthongs as sequences of two syllables
While the language was not derived historically, there are certain phonological processes that occur when words are derived from other words. Most of these changes are not reflected in the writing system or sign language.
Nasal-stop assimilation: If a nasal (/m n ŋ/) is followed by a stop (/p t k/), the nasal takes the place of articulation of the stop. In some cases this also happens in nasal-stop-stop combinations, where all sounds take the place of articulation of the last stop.
When two identical sounds are adjacent, one of them is deleted. This also applies when one of the consonants is syllabic; that is, /məm/, /nən/, /ŋəŋ/, and /ləl/ become /m/, /n/, /ŋ/, and /l/, respectively (even if there are syllable boundaries in the original).
When two vowels in different syllables are adjacent, they tend to become one syllable. For this, "vowel" includes both elements of a diphthong, but not glides.
As mentioned above, if the vowels are the same (including things like /ai.i/ where one vowel is an element of a diphthong), one of the vowels is deleted.
If one of the vowels is a schwa, then it is deleted.
A stressed monophthong followed by /i/ or /u/ becomes a diphthong.
When an unstressed /i/ or /u/ is followed by another vowel, the first vowel becomes a glide, unless the first syllable already has a glide.
If none of these rules apply, then a glide is inserted in the middle that is the same as the end of the first syllable.
When a stressed syllable becomes an unstressed syllable, or when sounds are added to the end of an unstressed syllable:
If the original syllable ends in a diphthong, the new syllable's vowel is the second element of that diphthong. If the original syllable ends in /u/ or /i/, that becomes the new syllable's vowel. If the original syllable ends in /a/, the new syllable ends in /ə/.
If the original syllable ends in /il/ or /ul/ (including as part of a diphthong), the new syllable ends in /lʲ/ or /lʷ/, respectively.
If the original syllable ends in a consonant, the vowel in the new syllable is /ə/.
In the lexicon and a few other places, dots (·) separate syllables (because ap·e is written differently than a·pe, so this gives enough information to find out how a word is written). If dots are not available, hyphens may be used instead.
In stressed syllables, the monophthongs /a/, /i/ and /u/ can be represented 〈á〉, 〈í〉 and 〈ú〉, respectively. If those are not available, 〈ii〉 and 〈uu〉 may be used instead (but not 〈aa〉). These stress marks are optional, and for 〈a〉 it's even more optional (since unstressed /a/ doesn't exist in the language).
The sound /lʲ/ is spelled 〈ly〉 before a vowel, and 〈yl〉 otherwise (because ely looks like two syllables).
The consonant cluster /ŋk/ is spelled 〈nk〉. If dots are used, this does not apply when the cluster is across a syllable break.
When /s/ and /t/ are pronounced with their palatalized allophones, they're spelled 〈sh〉 and 〈ch〉, respectively. The consonant clusters /sj/ and /tj/ are spelled 〈sh〉 and 〈ch〉 (without the 〈y〉), except when dots are used and the consonants are in different syllables.
When prepositions are contracted, /ə/, /i/, and /u/ are respectively spelled 〈'〉, 〈i'〉, 〈u'〉, and the space after is omitted.