Nuer at the present analytical stage has 16 written vowels and 20 consonants. It also has a great variety of diphthongs. This array of sounds is distinctive in that these sounds do not follow the English pattern. Although many of the sounds are similar to English sounds they are produced in a different position in the mouth. To one first hearing the Nuer language it sounds far removed from English, and it is. There is no overlapping of parallel sounds. In general the consonants are spoken farther front in the mouth than the similar English consonants. And the vowels are never gilded and are only vaguely similar to English. There are 27 spoken vowels but only 16 are written.
It goes without saying that the mastery of these sounds is a major project which requires concentration and perseverance. One needs to drill and drill some more, constantly listening to the Nuers speak to determine just how the sounds are made.
Note: Symbols in parentheses are not written, but the student should be aware of their presence in the language and listen for them. [dh] and [th] may also occur as fricatives.
Formation of consonants:
|tongue tip between teeth
|tongue tip at ridge just back of upper teeth
|tongue tip against back of lower teeth and curved front of tongue at roof of mouth just back of alveolar ridge
|back of tongue at back of mouth roof
|Open throat for free passage of air
Note: Symbols in parentheses are not written in the Nuer New Testament. However, some of them are used in these lessons.
Tone is grammatical but it is not represented generally in written form. However, because many statements are distinguished as affirmative or negative only by tone, negative words (particles) usually having a hi tone, are immediately preceded by a slash [/]:
Please note that none of these sounds equal the English sound exactly. These illustrations are given simply as a point of departure.
Explanation of the Orthography
In this grammar all breathy sounds are acknowledged by the underscored symbol. The underscore is not written, however, in the dictionary in the breathy vowels [a], [u] and word-final [i] as these symbols are not use for non- breathy sounds.
The diphthongs --ai--, --ɛi--, --ei--, --oi--, --ui--, --ɔi-- are written with a -y in place of -i when they occur in word- final position. A short vowel is written with a dot underneath it.
|Nuer Field Project