Stālāg (Terbian)

the language of the Terb


Phonemic inventory

As usual throughout this site, all phonetic and phonemic characters are in IPA, transliterated as X-SAMPA. Therefore, _w means labialization, _j means palatalization, and the two combined _w_j show labiopalatalization. /G/ is the voiced velar fricative (‘gamma’). The vowels /E/ and /O/ are lax (‘epsilon’ and ‘open o’), and the vowel /A/ is back low unrounded (‘script a’).


unvoiced stops:   p  t  k  k_w  k_j  k_w_j
voiced stops:     b  d  g  g_w  g_j  g_w_j
nasals:           m  n
unvoiced frics:      s  x  x_w  x_j  x_w_j
voiced frics:        z     G_w  G_j  G_w_j
lateral:             l
flap/trill:          r


i             u
  e E     O o
      a A

i:            u:
  e:        o:

The actual phonetic realization of the velar fricatives is closer to a glottal articulation. They’ve been presented as velar from a phonemic point of view because it corresponds to the diachronical development and to the synchronical treatment of those consonants. The voiced velar fricatives usually pattern as approximants from the phonotactics point of view.

All consonants can be geminated. Plain /r/ is between a flap and a trill, according to its position; geminated /r:/ is a well-marked trill.

The long vowels show no tense-lax distinction, so /e/ and /E/ become /e:/, /o/ and /O/ become /o:/, and /a/ and /A/ become /a:/. Short /a/ is pronounced midway between [a] and [{].

Pre-glided consonants

Terbian has some initial consonant clusters that can be termed 'pre-glided', or 'pre-modified', composed of one of the glide phonemes w j y and a voiced stop. Some analyze these clusters as single consonants (analog to the labialized, palatalized and labiopalatalized velars) while others prefer to treat them as separate phonemes that are partially co-articulated.

These pre-glides are usually the product of a sound change that deleted initial non-stressed moraic sounds. This change effectively deleted low and mid vowels, but the high vowels /i u 1/ and the initial consonants /l r/ were reanalyzed as part of the onset of the following syllable. Thus:

/lbalaf/ -> /wbalas/
/lde:k/ -> /jde:k/
/i'da/ -> /jda/
/u'dits/ -> /ydits/
/u'g@m/ -> /wgOm/ -> /g_wOm/
/rbimr/ -> /ybimr/

As you see, there are some interactions among the pre-glide and the sound quality of both the following consonant and the stressed vowel. Labial /b/ and back vowels favour the appearance of the labiovelar pre-glides, while mid and high vowels, as well as alveolar /d/, tend to produce the palatal pre-glide.

Further changes turn pre-glided /g/ into one of its three modified versions (labialized, palatalized or labiopalatalized), which is interpreted as simple metathesis plus assimilation.


Orthographically, labialization and palatalization are represented as w and j, while labiopalatalization is represented as y; these same symbols are used alone for the functional voiced velar fricatives. Note that the unvoiced velar fricatives use a base symbol h. Lax vowels are shown with a breve, and the back low unrounded vowel is shown as å. Long vowels are marked with a macron.

p t k kw kj ky
b d g gw gj gy
m n
  s h hw hj hy
  z   w  j  y

i             u
  e ĕ     ŏ o
      a å

ī             ū
  ē         ō

Geminated (long) consonants are orthographically written by duplicating the symbol that represents them. For digraphs only the first symbol is duplicated (kkw, ggj, hhy, etc.).

Syllable structure

The exact pattern of syllable structures in Terbian is still a matter of research, so a formal representation is not presented here. The language is moderately free of constraints. A syllable nucleus must be a vowel. Syllables can be open, or closed by virtually any consonant. Due to diachronical (not phonotactical) causes, a syllable coda may consist of up to three consonants (generally a group of the form continuant + stop + /s/). Onsets are simpler, usually one consonant or at most a group of the form fricative + stop (specially one of the alveolar fricatives and a stop with the same voicing quality).

Onsets formed by a stop plus a fricative are found in borrowings and also in learned words and reborrowings from the ancient language (for example, ksān ‘monster’). There are a number of such words that begin with two stops, which always share the same voicing quality (for example, gdim ‘freakish, weird’; dbai ‘the one above’, ktōtā ‘gold’).

Geminated consonants can appear at the onset of any syllable, including the first one. An initial geminated consonant is pronounced short, but its length quality resurfaces when compounded and/or in liaison. This is specially noticeable with postpositions (for example ssē ‘like’).

The metrics of Terbian are based on morae. Short vowels and continuants are each worth one mora. Long vowels are two morae. A stop or a fricative that close a syllable are one mora if by themselves; a cluster of stop/fricative + continuant (or the other way round) is one mora too. A syllable cannot be longer than three morae, so long vowels are shortened when needed. For all vowels except /i/ and /u/ this shortening can produce either a lax or a tense short vowel, according to the underlying form:

*māntrmantr (underlying //ma:ntr//)
*jālnjåln (underlying //G_jA:ln//)
*ēlmĕlm (underlying //E:lm//)