The Language Vorlin (2006)

Chapter 2: Phonemes, Orthography and Phonotactics

alphabet and pronunciation

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Vorlin’s alphabet is similar to the English alphabet except that Q is normally absent and the last letter is eng:

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p r s t u v w x y z ŋ

When using typewriters or computers that cannot produce the eng character, it is customary to use the letter q as a substitute for eng. In handwritten Vorlin the eng letter is normally drawn with a “loop” or “crossed tail.” (To see a graphic that shows normal and looped eng, click here.)

Each letter represents one sound, or rather a narrow range of very similar sounds that will all be interpreted by a listener as the same element of speech. However, the variations of e might be classified as an exception to the one-phoneme-per-letter rule.


a: as in “father” (open, central, not rounded)

e: normally like the “e” in “ten men” (open-mid, front, not rounded; represented by ɛ in the International Phonetic Alphabet). In two-letter words such as pe and re, e is longer and more like the “ey” in “they” but hopefully without the diphthongal off-glide which occurs in English (close-mid, front, not rounded, represented by e in the IPA)

• The German words sechs and See are a good example of the difference between the two sounds of e.

i: as in “machine” and “ski” (close, front, not rounded)

o: as in “note,” Spanish “ocho” (close-mid, back, rounded or semi-rounded)

u: as in “truth,” German “du” (close, back, rounded)

x: represents a phoneme ranging from wedge to schwa (represented by ʌ or ə in the IPA) and is mainly used in the transcription of non-Vorlin names.


w: as in “water”

y: as in “yes” and “yo-yo”


m: as in “memory” (voiced bilabial nasal)

n: as in “noon” (voiced alveolar nasal)

ŋ: the sound of “ng” in “sing” (velar nasal)

p: as in “pop” (voiceless bilabial plosive)

b: as in “bubble” (voiced bilabial plosive)

t: as in “tight” (voiceless dental or alveolar plosive)

d: as in “deed” (voiced dental or alveolar plosive)

k: as in “key-stroke” (voiceless velar plosive)

g: as in “gargle”, not as in “ginger” (voiced velar plosive)

f: as in “fluff” (voiceless labiodental or bilabial fricative)

v: as in “valve” (voiced labiodental fricative)

s: as in “sissy”, not as in “rose” (voiceless alveolar fricative)

z: as in “zigzag” (voiced alveolar fricative)

c: like the “sh” in “ship” (voiceless postalveolar fricative)

j: as in French “bonjour.” This sound is also heard in the English words “vision, pleasure, azure.” (voiced postalveolar or retroflex fricative)

h: as in “hot” (voiceless glottal fricative)

r: preferably a trill (voiced uvular or alveolar trill); those who have difficulty producing a trill may use the approximant “r” of central US English

l: as in “lull” (alveolar lateral approximant)

Additional symbols and phonemes are available for transcribing foreign (non-Vorlin) names. See Chapter 10.


Voiced consonants should not be aspirated. It does not matter whether voiceless consonants are aspirated or not.

schwa buffering

Occasionally a hard-to-pronounce consonant pair, such as sz or pd, will occur in a compound word. (A consonant pair that is easy for an English speaker to pronounce might be difficult for a native speaker of Russian or Chinese, and vice versa.) In that case, it is permissible in spoken Vorlin to insert a schwa between the two consonants. (“Schwa” is the brief, blurry-sounding vowel heard at the beginning of the English words about, ago, around.)


Depending on the language being discussed, to “stress” a syllable means to pronounce it with greater loudness and/or slightly higher pitch and/or slightly longer duration than the other syllable(s) in the word.

Mastering another language’s system of stress is often very difficult. For example, English has three or four different levels of stress, and the written language provides no information about stress; the noun “record” is stressed on the first syllable and the verb “record” is stressed on the final syllable, yet their written forms are identical.

Patterns of stress that affect the loudness and duration of certain syllables exist in English and other Germanic languages, as well as the Latinate languages such as Spanish. However, this phenomenon is (nearly) absent from Japanese and many Sino-Tibetan languages. In those languages, the loudness and duration of syllables tend to be more uniform, with increases being used only occasionally to signal special emphasis of a concept.

Either style of stressing syllables is acceptable in Vorlin. You may either use a metronomic, quasi-Japanese style of pronounciation that gives nearly equal loudness and duration to every syllable; or you may use the other system which we will call Option Two, for lack of a better name.

Option Two contains some complexities that come from Vorlin’s design goals and from its association with the languages that provide vocabulary. Here are the rules of Option Two:

A stressed syllable has greater loudness and slightly higher pitch than the surrounding syllables. Duration of a syllable in Option Two Vorlin is generally a function of the number of phonemes; bom occupies more time than the suffix -a.

Generally speaking, the final syllable of a polysyllabic noun that has no suffixes attached will receive the stress (e.g. tomat, banan)

The pseudo-suffixes -as, -er, -is, -os, -um, -us are used to mark words from certain Indo-European sources. Nouns ending with these VC couplets are stressed on the next-to-last syllable. This applies to completely Vorlinized words (e.g. zomer, liter) and to immigrant words that have not yet obtained full citizenship (e.g. hemerokalis).

A few prefixes such as non may receive primary stress due to their semantic importance.

Multi-noun compounds have a falling pitch contour, e.g. in fulgan both syllables have equal loudness but the first has a higher pitch. If one or more of the roots in a multi-noun compound is polysyllabic, all of its syllables share the same pitch, but the original loudness difference of the syllables lingers: in mikanbom, the syllable kan is loudest; mi and kan are at the same pitch, which is higher than bom.

sentence intonation

A declarative sentence may have a level or gradually falling tone contour. An interrogative sentence may have a level or rising tone contour. The intonation of individual phrases within a larger sentence will vary from one person to another, reflecting each speaker’s native language and personal style. Make a distinct pause at the end of each sentence.


An interrogative sentence should end with a question mark (?). Other types of sentence may end with a period (.), exclamation point (!) or colon (:). The exclamation point indicates a high level of emotional intensity. The colon indicates that the sentence in question introduces or invokes the next sentence. These four marks can only be used to indicate the ends of sentences, with this exception: the colon can be used to express times (as in 23:59:59) and mathematical ratios (as in 2:1). The period in Vorlin does not indicate abbreviations, initials, or the decimal point.

Most European languages use a comma to represent the decimal point, while English uses a period; and so we may find “pi” approximated as “3,14159” or “3.14159” depending on the language of the author. In Vorlin, the “middle dot” character (Unicode 00B7, HTML entity name &middot) represents the decimal point: 3·14159

Other punctuation marks such as commas and parentheses are not currently included in the design of Vorlin. They can be added later if needed.


Most Vorlin words are written entirely in lower-case letters. Vorlin does not automatically “capitalize” the first letter of a sentence. Only proper nouns and their derivatives begin with upper-case letters. For example, the proper noun Yovis (Jupiter) and the derived adjectives Yovisa (Jovian) and nonYovisa (non-Jovian) all contain an upper-case letter at the beginning of the proper noun.

vocabulary design principles

Most Vorlin words are not immediately recognizable “at first sight” to the speakers of any particular natural language or group of languages. This is part of the cultural neutrality designed into the lexicon. It is also a way of reducing the influence of “false friends” (pseudo-cognates) and helping to prevent incoming words from bringing along too much of their idiomatic baggage. Vorlin tries to find a middle ground between the fairness but difficulty of memorization that a completely random or a priori vocabulary would have, and the unfair ease of memorization for a minority of people that exists in most a posteriori planned languages.

Although you will not recognize Vorlin words at first sight, you will probably find that their a posteriori heritage makes them easier to remember than randomly-generated words would be. This is especially true if you already have some familiarity with the world’s major languages and if you take the time to read the etymologies of Vorlin words as you encounter them. Nobody could be expected to guess that bom means “tree,” but knowing that this word is inspired by German Baum and Dutch boom can aid in memorizing the word.

Vorlin adopts most of its words from Germanic, Slavonic, Latinate and East Asian languages. I would have preferred to include a little material from even more language families, but most other language families either contain relatively few words of the correct consonant-vowel-consonant shape, or they have phoneme inventories that are not compatible with Vorlin’s.

A few of Vorlin’s words are newly invented a priori constructions, and a few are taken from other artificial languages and extinct natural languages.

Vorlin is a noun-based language. Most verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are derived from nouns by adding affixes. This adds a degree of predictability to the vocabulary, although on close inspection you will see that there are still some unpredictable features that simply have to be memorized, as with any language.

A somewhat noun-based vocabulary seems worthwhile because nouns are generally easier to translate from one tongue to another than other parts of speech. Additionally, one of the most irregular features of most natural languages is their verb argument structure. For example, there are some verbs that cannot have a direct object, some that require two direct objects (e.g. “she called Einstein a genius”), some that require one direct object, and so forth. In Guide to Patterns and Usage in English, A. S. Hornby identified 25 different verb argument structures. Reducing the number of verbs reduces these irregularities, and theoretically Vorlin has taken to this idea to the limit, having only two verbs: the intransitive i and the transitive o.


The following constraints on morpheme design make it easy to determine the boundaries between morphemes within a compound or derivative word, and also reduce the frequency of hard-to-pronounce consonant clusters. (A “morpheme” is a building-block from which words are made; for example, the English word undoubtedly consists of four morphemes: the prefix un-, the verb doubt, the suffix -ed and the suffix -ly.)

All nouns have the form IVF, IVMVF, IVMVMVF, IVMVMVMVF, etc.
    I (initial) = b, c, d, f, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, y, z
    M (medial) = b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, z
    F (final) = b, c, d, f, g, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, z, µ
    V (vowel) = a, e, i, o, u

As a general rule, 3-letter nouns refer to broad, generic concepts and high-frequency ideas; longer nouns refer to less frequent items and very specific concepts such as particular substances and phenomena.

Polysyllabic nouns cannot end with VC (vowel-consonant) combinations that are reserved for use as derivational suffixes.

The constraints listed above do not apply to “proper nouns” such as the names of cultures and individual humans. The names of the letters j, w, x, y also deviate from the rules.

Morphemes that are not nouns can have different phonetic shapes. Suffixes may have forms such as V, VC, VCC, and SVC (where S = semivowel w or y). Function-words such as conjunctions and special particles may have forms like CV, CSV, CVV, or CVhV.

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