Phonology and morphophonemics


The Doromu-Koki language (Koki dialect) has 12 consonant phonemes and five vowel phonemes. The consonant phonemes occur at five points of articulation in five manners. Only the plosives and fricatives distinguish voicing, while all the other consonants are voiced only. The consonant phonemes of the language are shown here. (The following phonemes will be more simply represented as indicated in the orthography: /ɡ/ <g>, /β/ <v>, /ɾ/ <r>, and /j/ <y>.)

Table 1: Consonant phonemes

Active articulator labio- apico- lamino- dorso-
Passive articulator labial dental alveolar palatal velar
Voiceless aspirated plosives     th   kh
Voiced plosives b   d   ɡ
Voiceless fricatives   f s    
Voiced fricative β        
Nasals m   n    
Rhotic     ɾ    
Semi-vowel       j  

The vowels are either front unrounded, or back rounded, high, low-mid or low as shown below. (For ease of writing, the following phonemes will be represented as indicated in the orthography: /ɛ/ <e> and /ɑ/ <a>.)

Table 2: Vowel phonemes

  Front unrounded Back rounded
High i u
Low-mid ɛ o
Low   ɑ

There are three allophonic variations (voiceless aspirated dorso-velar plosive backing, low-mid front unrounded vowel raising and vowel nasalisation) exhibited in the language.

  1. Voiceless velar aspirated dorso-velar plosive backing. The voiceless aspirated dorso-velar plosive /kh/ is realised as a voiceless aspirated dorso-uvular plosive [qh] when it precedes back rounded vowels and as [kh] before front unrounded vowels, as in ['bɛqhu 'ɾei] /bɛkhu ɾei/ <beku> ‘push (it)’.
  2. Low-mid front unrounded vowel raising. The low-mid front unrounded vowel /e/ is raised to the mid front unrounded vowel [e] word finally, as in [ɾɛ'ɡode] /ɾɛɡode/ <regode> ‘three’.
  3. Vowel nasalisation. A vowel becomes nasalised when it follows a nasal consonant, as in ['βɛnẽ] /βɛne/ <vene> ‘people’. It occurs only as far as the word boundary, and thus is a gauge of phonological word in the language.

In Doromu-Koki there are only two syllable types which can be represented as (C)V. The vowel slot can be filled with a long vowel or diphthong. Consonant clusters and closed syllables are not normally permissible in Doromu-Koki, so borrowed words often insert a vowel between consonants and add a final vowel when the original word ends in a consonant (e.g. English ‘spoon’ became sifuni), except in the case of names (and more recently borrowed terms), which always maintain their original structure and spelling conventions.

Words are between one to six syllables in length. The most common length is three syllables, followed by two, then four, then one, then five and lastly six.

All consonant phonemes occur in initial and medial position. No consonants occur in final position because of the syllable structure, except in borrowed words (which sometimes insert an epenthetical vowel) or in other non-standard environments. The vowel phonemes all occur in initial, medial and final positions.

Every combination of vowel sequence is possible in the language, including some limited identical vowels (/ɛ/, /u/ and /o/ only). Diphthongs are primarily composed of a combination of a low or low-mid vowel with a higher vowel, that is: /ɑɛ/, /ɑi/, /ɑo/, /ɑu/, /ɛi/, /ɛu/, /oi/ and /ou/. The high vowel combination from front to back /iu/ is not considered a unit, but a two-syllable sequence, as are all the other combinations not previously mentioned.

In the orthography the sequences (i.e. those which are two syllables, rather than one) are written as two vowels together, except for those with the high front vowel i, which are written with the semi-vowel <y> between them, thus iya ‘star’, iye ‘leaf’, iyo ‘disturb’, and ariyu ‘daytime’. However, those with the high back vowel u are not written with an epenthetic off-glide, the dorso-velar labio-labial semi-vowel w. Examples include tua ‘tree species’, ueta ‘wing’ and fuofuori ‘while’.

Stress in Doromu-Koki always occurs on the penultimate syllable in words of two syllables or more, otherwise on the ultimate syllable. The addition of a clitic or verbal morphology, however, does not move the stress. Examples are shown below:

['nɑ̃] /nɑ/ <na> ‘I’
['bunĩ] /buni/ <buni> ‘good’
[du'buinĩ] /dubuini/ <dubuini> ‘brother’
[bɑɾɑ'ɡinɑ̃] /bɑɾɑɡinɑ/ <baragina> ‘eclectus parrot’
[ɑkhumõ'ɾoɾo] /ɑkhumoɾoɾo/ <akumororo> ‘spider species’
[bɑdɑmĩsi'ɾikhɑ] /bɑdɑmisiɾikhɑ/ <badamisirika> ‘Wallace’s fairy-wren’
['jɑβɑ=ɾi] /jɑβɑ=ɾi/ <yavari> ‘in/at the house’
['nĩ-bo-bi-ɡɛdi-mɑ̃] /nibobiɡɛdimɑ/ <nibobigedima> ‘you (pl) might be saying and then’

Intonation patterns are as follows:

  1. Statement. The most common intonation pattern found in the language is a normal declarative or simple statement, which has a generally downward contour for each clause in a sentence with a falling pitch at the end of the utterance.
  2. Questions. A content question, polar question, expectation of an impending reply or rhetorical question has the same general downward contour with a sharp rise at the end. As an emphatic response, yo ‘yes’ has a rising contour with a glottal stop at the end. As an immediate answer it is level. This is the only word in the language to exhibit such a feature.
  3. Emotions. Anger, disgust, scolding and excitement are signaled by sharply raising the pitch and still maintaining a final falling contour, as in the statement pattern.
  4. Listing. Listing has a fairly level contour, until nearing the end of the utterance, and then begins its gradual descent.
  5. Calling. An intense or distant call has a raised pitch, ending in a falling pitch or conclusion to a story.

There are four morphophonemic alternations in the language:

  1. Vowel epenthesis. The primary morphophonemic alternation in Doromu-Koki occurs with verbs ending in a low-mid vowel /ε/ or /o/. These particular verbs add i finally when they occur otherwise uninflected [fere# > ferei ‘leave (it)’], or before the morphemes -bo ‘pot’ [re+bo+bi+gedi > reibobigedi ‘they might be doing (it)’], -da ‘1sg.prs’ [re+da > reida ‘I do (it)’], -sa ‘2sg.prs’ or -nu ‘stat’ [ame+nu > ameinu ‘he made him sit’]. (note that -nu ‘stat’ only occurs with ame- ‘stay’.)
  2. Vowel raising. Another change involves verbs ending in ae, which are changed to ai when inflected, as in ae+afa > aiyafa ‘I put (it)’; that is, from the low-mid front unrounded /e/ to the high front unrounded /i/.

Vowel raising, however, does not occur with verbs ending in oe, such as goe ‘dig’ [goe+gifa+ri > goegifari ‘when we will dig (it)’].

  1. Approximant consonant epenthesis. All Doromu-Koki verb stems (except those noted in the following rhotic deletion alternation), as well as affixes, end in a vowel. When the following affix begins with a vowel, then a transitional lamino-palatal semi-vowel consonant /j/ <y> comes between the two morphemes to separate them from a non-low vowel [oku+aka+ri > okuyakari ‘when I broke it open’]. No examples with the low-mid back rounded vowel /o/ have been attested.
  2. Rhotic deletion. The final apico-alveolar rhotic /ɾ/ <r> is deleted before an affix beginning with a consonant or word finally with the Class I stem ar verbs, in order to maintain the open syllable structure [mar+do > mado ‘he gives (it)’].

The orthography was first developed during the Doromu Alphabet Design Workshop, held 18-25 March 2002, in Kasonomu village. All the materials produced since that time have been using this orthography, with only slight variations. They included <a, b, d, e, f, g, h, i, k, m, n, o, r, s, t, u, v, w, y, '> in their inventory. <h> and <'> were included due to the presence of participants from the other dialects where those are used. <w> was included, although not listed in the dictionary words or stories, but only given with the one borrowed example <uwe> ‘crocodile’ (hm). <l and p> were considered to be borrowings (Borogo et. al. 2002).

Doromu-Koki does not have any digraphs or consonant clusters or other complex linguistic factors that would complicate the orthography, except in the case of ‘as is’ borrowings, as mentioned above. For the words which have characters not found in the regular phonemic inventory, preference has been to continue to write these words (and especially names) as they are spelt in the source language, particularly when they are coming from English. This is because it is felt that it will facilitate bridging between the languages and finding information in English reference materials. When words are borrowed from other languages, the preference is usually to spell it as a vernacular word, however, sometimes Hiri Motu words are changed, possibly as a differentiation strategy.