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CONLANG  August 2011, Week 1

CONLANG August 2011, Week 1

Subject:

Afrihili/Akan Language Question

From:

David Peterson <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Constructed Languages List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 6 Aug 2011 21:43:32 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

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I just happened across Afrihili's Wikipedia article and came across something that strikes me as quite incredible. First, a description of the Afrihili system (for a graphic, go to [*]). Afrihili has 7 vowels, 6 of which participate in a peculiar system of opposites illustrated by the "Vowel Triangle", which goes like this:

Level 1: a
Level 2: u e
Level 3: ɔ o i

Imagine that being a perfect triangle (points a-ɔ-i, and u-e-o at the midpoints). According to the grammar description, nouns are derived from adjectives or verbs by prefixing the *opposite* vowel from the final vowel, and opposite is defined by taking the opposite position in the vowel triangle. The example they give is if "pinu" is "to determine" then "ipinu" is "determinate".

So it's kind of a neat system, if a little odd. What strikes me as incredible is the claim in the text of the Wikipedia article—specifically:

"The grammar is similar to Swahili, but in addition there is the 'vowel triangle', which is more like Akan and is central to Afrihili inflection…"

So this vowel triangle apparently has some kind of reality in Akan! I went to its Wikipedia article, and didn't find enough information. Has anyone come across this before?

The triangle itself strikes me as a little odd. Here are the opposing pairs:

a [+low, -ATR, -round, +back] ~ o [-low, +ATR, +round, +back]
 e [+ATR, -back, -round, -low] ~ ɔ [-ATR, +back, +round, -low]
i [-back, -round, +high, +ATR] ~ u [+back, +round, +high, +ATR]

Each pair differs in three features except for the last pair, which differs in two. If, however, you put /ɛ/ in place of /i/...

ɛ [-back, -round, -low, -ATR] ~ u [+back, +round, +high, +ATR]

You get a real pair of opposites (though now the two share nothing in common). Even so, /i/ seems like a much better neutral vowel for the system than /ɛ/.

A look at the Akan language's phonology suggests that there couldn't be any kind of "triangle" system like this—there are simply too many vowels. And furthermore, I don't think the vowel harmony system would allow for it.

So, does anyone have any more information about this? Is the claim here simply suggesting that the vowel harmony system is "kind of similar" to the vowel triangle, or is there some sort of morphological process that works like this?

[*] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afrihili#Grammar

David Peterson
LCS President
[log in to unmask]
www.conlang.org

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