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from the PALI edition of the Marshallese-English Dictionary

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4. The Sounds of Marshallese

The letters used to show the sounds of the language and spell the words in this dictionary are listed here in the alphabetical order used in the dictionary. It is the same order used in English dictionaries, except that a letter with a mark follows the same letter without a mark. A brief phonetic description and a phonetic symbol are given for the sound of each letter, followed by several example words. (The term LIGHT is used to describe consonants that are pronounced with the body of the tongue in an "at rest" position for such consonants; the term HEAVY is used for consonants that have the back of the tongue raised (velarized) and the root of the tongue retracted (pharyngealized) so as to elongate the oral cavity, thereby giving the consonant a "heavier" or "darker" sound. The rounding referred to is that of the lips. This and the other phonetic terminology are explained in greater detail in MRG 2.)

a a low back unrounded vowel [ɑ] at
bat
ta
'hat'
'slow'
'what?'
ā a low front vowel [æ] āj
māj
'thatch'
'eye'
'arm, hand'
b a heavy bilabial stop [bɯ] ba
bwe
ob
'say'
'because'
'chest'
d a light retroflex trill [ɹ] di
addi
ad
'bone'
'finger'
'our'
e a mid front vowel [e] or [ɛ] ae
ae
nen
ded
'gather'
'current'
'a tree'
'size'
i a high front vowel [i] ip
nin
ni
'crooked'
'pound'
'coconut'
j a light dental stop or affricate [ty] or [c] jañ
bajjek
ṃaj
'cry'
'just'
'eel'
k a velar stop, unrounded or rounded [k] or [kw] ke
kwe
akki
bōk
bok
'porpoise'
'you'
'fingernail'
'bring, take'
'sand'
l a light lateral [ly] leddik
pālle
al
'girl'
'Caucasian'
'sing'
a heavy lateral, unrounded or rounded [lɯ] or [lw] ḷaddik
ḷwe
ḷōḷḷap
ḷōḷ
toḷ
'boy'
'pond'
'old man'
'moldy'
'mountain'
m a light bilabial nasal [my] maañ
am
'pandanus leaf'
'our'
a heavy bilabial nasal [mɯ] ṃaan
ṃweo
kōṃṃan
aṃ
'front'
'the house'
'make, do'
'your'
n a light dental nasal [ny] ne
ennọ
en
'leg, foot'
'taste good'
'let him'
a heavy dental nasal, unrounded or rounded [nɯ] or [nw] ṇe
eṇṇōjṇōj
ṇọb
eṇ
tōṇ
toṇ
'that'
'cracking sound'
'popping sound'
'that'
'ton'
'tune'
ñ a velar nasal, unrounded or rounded [ŋ] or [ŋw] ña
aeñwāñwā
iñña

boñ
'I'
'clamor'
'yes'
'wind'
'night'
o a mid back rounded vowel [o] or [ɔ] oror
jojo
jojo
rūkōbbaoo
roro
'fence'
'chick'
'flying fish'
'chicken thief'
'chant'
a low back rounded vowel [ɒ] ọọj
kọọt
jọ
'horse'
'steal'
'start'
ō a mid back unrounded vowel [ə] or [ʌ] ōrōr
ō
tōōḷ
ḷōḷō

'cut in strips'
'lionfish'
'comb tooth'
'wreathe'
'my'
'swim'
p a light bilabial stop [py] pata
ippān
jaap
'war'
'with him'
'red snapper'
r a heavy retroflex trill, unrounded or rounded [rɯ] or [rw] rōk
rot
rorror
ar
'south'
'kind'
'to bark'
'lagoon beach'
t a heavy dental stop [tɯ] tata
etto
atat
'very'
'long ago'
'wear a hat'
u a high back rounded vowel [u] uṃ
kuuṃ
bu
'earth oven'
'comb'
'gun'
ū a high back unrounded vowel [ɯ] ūroj
būb
būbū
'bother'
'trigger fish'
'grandchild'
w a rounded velar glide [w] wiwi
jowan
uwi
'blubber'
'lazy'
'delicious'
y an unrounded palatal glide [y] yiō
yokwe
yuk
'year (iiō)'
'aloha (iọkwe)'
'you (eok)'
Note: The last letter is used in only a few words, such as those given as examples.

Phonemic Transcription. The actual structure of a word is often better portrayed by the phonemic transcription, which appears in boldface type enclosed in parentheses immediately following each headword. The details of the relation between the phonemic transcription and the spelling are given in MRG 2, but the main differences are the following:

  1. The phonemic transcription shows the semiconsonants that are omitted from the usual spelling, and thereby brings out more clearly how words containing them have the same pattern as words containing full consonants at the same places:

    jāje.jayjẹy.Sword
    rarō.rahrẹh.Clean an area
    pọpo.pawpẹw.Bind
    eọeo.yawyẹw.Lash
    bakbōk.  bakbẹk.  Knife

    Thus the first four words above as spelled in the first column do not appear to have the same consonant-vowel pattern as the fifth word, whereas in the phonemic transcription in the second column they do.

  2. The phonemic transcription shows each vowel phoneme in just one way, rather than with the three different letters that may be used to spell it. Thus all five words above have the same vowel phoneme in their first syllables, and the same (but different from that of the first syllables) vowel phoneme in their second syllables. This is shown clearly in the phonemic transcription, while three different letters (ā, a, ọ) are used to spell the vowel phoneme in the first syllable, and three other letters (e, ō, o) are also used to spell the vowel phoneme in the second syllable. This is because when all the consonant and semiconsonant phonemes are fully specified, as they are in the phonemic transcriptions, the front, back, and rounding distinctions between various vowel letters turn out not to be significant. They can be predicted according to Tables 4, 5, and 6 in MRG.

    The phonemestands for the letters:
     (front) (back) (rounded)
    ii ū u
    ee ō o
    aā a

  3. The phonemic transcription shows one additional vowel phoneme not shown in spelling, the phoneme, which is spelled the same as the e phoneme:

    The phonemeExample words:
    ke to
    eke to
    These example words are shown below together with their phonemic transcriptions and English translations:
    ke   kẹy 'porpoise'   hahẹh 'my' to   tẹw 'get off'
    ke   key 'yes or no?'   haheh 'swim'to   tew 'rope'

    Thus the reader who wants to know whether any e, ō, or o in the spelling stands for the mid or high-mid vowel should look at the phonemic transcription to see whether or not the e is marked. If it is, the vowel has the sound of one of the words in the first row; if not, it has the sound of one of the words in the second row.
     

  4. The rounded consonants (except for some w's) are spelled with the same letters as their related heavy consonants. Their rounding is shown by either a preceding or following rounded vowel letter (u, o, or ọ) or by a following w. In the phonemic transcription, they are differentiated as follows:

    Unrounded (heavy)  
    phoneme:
    Spelled:     Rounded
    phoneme:
    Spelled:
    kk quk, ok, ku, ko, kw
    gñ uñ, oñ, ñu, ño, ñw
    ṇ°uṇ, oṇ, ṇu, ṇo, ṇw
    ḷ°uḷ, oḷ, ḷu, ḷo, ḷw
    rr ur, or, ru, ro, rw

  5. The phonemic transcription uses entirely different letters in a few cases: g for ñ, and q for rounded k, as can be seen in the preceding chart.

 

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