Senu Yivokuchi

Phonology \ Suprasegmental features


Each syllable of a spoken 'content' word (that is, with the exception of 'empty' words like demonstratives and most pronouns) receives a distinct tone or pitch, that can be either high or low.

(UPPERCASE = high tone)

    dubelete  DU BE le te
    dilaya    di LA YA
    decha     DE cha
    feri      fe RI

Senu Yivokuchi uses level 'register' tones; that is, each syllable starts and ends at the same pitch, as in Japanese, and unlike Mandarin Chinese (which uses 'contour' tones). Also like in Japanese, SYV words follow a few basic pitch patterns.

If the word is monosyllabic, it may be low or high pitched. All but a few words in Senu Yivokuchi that are polysyllabic have a pitch change between two of their syllables. This change may be a rise or a fall. There must be a change, there must be only one, and it must be somewhere after the first syllable and before the last one.

In addition to this, the pitch change must leave at least as many syllables after itself as it leaves before. That is, a 3-syllable word must have its pitch change after the first syllable, leaving one syllable before it and two after it.

The pitch pattern of a word is indicated (throughout these pages and in the dictionary) as a number plus a mark. The number represents the syllable after which the change is located, and the mark shows whether it is a pitch fall (a backslash, '\') or a pitch rise (a forward slash, '/'). For example:

    adamet [1/]    a DA MET
    seosie [1\]    SEO sie
    dubelet [2\]   DU BE let ...

The last example seems to violate the rule that more syllables should be before than after the pitch change; but dubelet is a verb root, which always appears with an inflection that adds at least one syllable, thus giving a valid pattern.

There are some other roots with anomalous patterns. When an actual word is produced, the pitch change is shifted towards the beginning of the word by as many syllables as needed to fit the valid pattern. The anomalous pattern may resurface when the word is compounded or derived:

    eral [2\] 'honey'        E ral [1\]
    erala     'some honey'   E ra la [1\]
    eraltina  'honey-sweet'  E RAL ti na [2\]

Demonstratives, short oblique complements, and often modifying nouns in construct state phrases, merge into the pitch pattern of the previous word. Longer complements preserve their own pitch pattern. The 'decission' of cliticizing a word or not is heavily dependant on individual considerations. Most speakers merge both nouns of a construct phrase into one when the second is not longer than two syllables and/or the new phonological word is at most four syllables long. Some fossilized phrases are always merged this way, having turned into fused compounds.

Pitch conjugates

There are numerous pairs of words were one has a high-low pitch pattern and the other has a low-high pattern, such as pama 'a queue' [PA ma] pama 'a moment' [pa MA]. These are called geikibrembe, which we will translate as 'pitch conjugates'.

More generally, two words are pitch conjugates when their pitch patterns are exactly reversed (one has low pitch where the other has high), but the term most often refers to bisyllabic words. Pitch conjugates are usually not related genetically or semantically, but appear a lot in puns (as the reader would expect).

Summary of pitch rules


Stress (the relative force a syllable is pronounced with) is not phonemic in Senu Yivokuchi, but it is fairly regular, usually standing on the first syllable of two- and three-syllable words, and on the antepenultimate syllable in longer words. Long words (as well as word chains with "empty", non-content, unstressed words) often show secondary stress peaks located every three syllables around the main stress.

Since stress does not distinguish words, it is rather variable for emphasis or metrics needs, besides which each dialect possesses its own pattern of stress.

Stress does not interact (or only weakly interacts) with pitch accent. While in many languages with a stress accent there is a tendency to correlate stress patterns with higher (or lower) pitch on certain syllables, in Yivokuchi stress seems completely orthogonal (independently arisen) with respect to pitch.