Senu Yivokuchi

Phonology \ Mutations


Umlaut is a form of vowel alternation, a sound change that transforms one vowel into another. Unlike plain vowel alternation (also known as Ablaut), Umlaut is conditioned, i. e. the change happens in certain contexts and not in others.

In this case, the context is the presence of a vowel of a certain phonetic quality (for example, height or roundedness). The change consists in a "contagion" of this quality (or qualities) to the affected vowel.

Umlaut plays an important part in the morphology of Senu Yivokuchi. Only the vowel /a/ may be Umlauted, and there are two vowels which trigger this change: /i/ and /u/. In this description we will refer to these kinds of Umlaut as "i-Umlaut" and "u-Umlaut".

Umlaut occurs when the affected vowel is stressed, and sometimes when it comes after a stressed Umlauted vowel. When /a/ is Umlauted by /i/, it changes to /e/; when the Umlaut is produced by /u/, the affected /a/ becomes /o/.

i-Umlaut occurs regularly in two environments. Noun roots may be inflected for definiteness, and the "definite" mark is the suffix -i, which may trigger Umlaut. Additionally, verbs have a "perfect stem", which is formed by adding the suffix -is to the basic stem (equal to the root); the /i/ in this suffix may Umlaut the vowel in the verb root, and is often also deleted (ellided) in the process.

    fams- 'slow'  >  femsi 'the slow one'
    jhar- 'find'  >  jhers- 'have found'

i-Umlaut is also found in some very common derivatives, especially adjectives ending with the adjective-former /in/.

u-Umlaut is found regularly in the verb conjugation, since the suffix -u marks the past tense. This suffix may Umlaut the vowel in the verb root.

    jhar- 'find'    >  jhoru 'he found'
    dac- 'ask for'  >  zocu 'he asked for'


Ablaut is a kind of vowel alternation, that is, a change that transforms one vowel into another one in a word, this change usually meaning something. In general, Ablaut is taken to be unconditioned: it happens and it has a function, but it does not have a synchronical explanation in terms of phonology.

English, to take a known point of reference, uses Ablaut to mark the past tense and past participle of some verbs, e. g. "sing", "bring", "take", etc. There is no obvious reason why "sing" should become "sang" or "sung" and not "seng" or "soong"; it just happens, so this is Ablaut. In contrast, "foot" vs. "feet" is Umlaut, though that is not immediately obvious; it may be argued that this is synchronical Ablaut and diachronical Umlaut...

Senu Yivokuchi uses Ablaut a lot for noun and adjective derivation from verbs. This Ablaut is clearly conditioned, but it is useful to study it as if it were pure vowel alternation.

Ablaut in Senu Yivokuchi usually transforms the stressed vowel in a verb root into a diphthong, and the resulting new stem is a noun or adjective stem. We will refer to the Ablaut of vowel "V" as V-Umlaut. All pure vowels may suffer Ablaut; a-Ablaut is also notable for interacting with Umlaut (/a/ conditionally Ablauts to /e0/ or /oE/ according to the quality of the next vowel). The other vowels each produce two Ablaut diphthongs, a descending one beginning with /a/ and an ascending one beginning with either /j/ or /w/. An explanation of this requires some ideas about historical phonology, which will not be addressed here. A table of Ablaut changes follows:

    The vowel...    Ablauts to...

        /i/         /aj/ or /ji/
        /e/         /aE/ or /je/
        /a/         /e0/ or /oE/
        /o/         /aO/ or /wo/
        /u/         /aw/ or /wu/

Some examples of Ablaut:

    dekan 'painful' / daekeo 'pain'
    jot 'try' / jaot 'an attempt'
    nukhu 'treat with care' / nuokhoy 'delicate'
    suyat 'proud' / sauy 'pride'

Derivation by Ablaut is not a productive process in the modern language, which has become more affect to affixation, but it is widely recognized by the speakers and shows no signs of being replaced.

Fricative mutation

Senu Yivokuchi also has consonant mutation. In particular, there is one mutation, called fricative mutation, that is regular and grammatically productive.

Fricative mutation changes stops and nasals to fricatives in the same place of articulation. Thus it affects the unvoiced stop series (/p t c k/), the voiced stop series (/b d J\ g/), and the nasal series (/m n J/), which become fricatives with the same voice quality:

    p t c  k  >  f s C  x
    b d J\ g  >  v z j\ G
    m n J     >  v z j\

This mutation occurs regularly when the genitive case mark yi- is applied to a word that begins with any of these consonants. Vowels and other consonants are not affected; fricatives remain the same.

Fricative mutation also occurs when the past tense is marked on verbs; the past tense mark is a circumfix, s-...-u, and the initial s- triggers mutation of stops, nasals and also the approximants /j/ and /w/ (into /j\/ and /v/ respectively). In all of these cases, the initial s- is elided.


Lenition is produced regularly by the underlying essive case prefix um-. It transforms unvoiced stops and unvoiced fricatives into their voiced counterparts; and it turns voiced stops into nasals in the same place of articulation. The underlying //m// is dropped. Voiced fricatives are not affected.

    p t c  k  >  b d J  g
    b d J\ g  >  m n J  nw *
    f s C  x  >  v z j\ G

*Note: Since Senu Yivokuchi does not have a velar nasal, lenition works differently here. The underlying voiced stop, which disappears altogether in the labial and alveolar series, is preserved as an approximant. Thus bin gives umin, but gab gives unwab .

Initial stop devoicing

Initial voiced stops in verb stems are sometimes devoiced (i. e. they become their unvoiced counterparts). The new stem is a noun stem corresponding to the actor or undergoer of the verb. This device is not productive in the modern language. Some examples:

    deka- 'suffering' / teka 'sick person, diseased one'
    bir 'know' / pir 'wise man, wizard'