Manchu/Lesson 1 - Pronunciation

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The different sounds of the Manchu language[edit]

The Manchu script consists of 24 Manchu letters to write 25 native Manchu sounds, and 10 letters to write sounds found in Chinese (these 10 letters are k', g', h', ts', dz', zh', sy' cy', jy' xy' and are dealt with in lesson 12). The 24 native Manchu letters include:

6 vowels: a,e,i,o,u,ū
18 consonants: n,k,g,h,b,p,s,š,t,d,l,m,c,j,y,r,f,w
...................................... ......................................

Vowels[edit]

Manchu has the 6 short vowels mentioned above, two long vowels, 7 diphthongs and 1 triphthong:

Short vowels: a,e,i,o,u,ū
Long vowels: ii,oo
Diphthongs: ai,ei,oi,ui,io,ao,eo,
Triphthong: ioi
...................................... ......................................

Consonants[edit]

As for consonants, in addition to the 18 consonants mentioned above Manchu has one combined consonant ‘rs’ and two doubled consonants ‘tt’ and ‘šš’.

Notes:

  • Of the 18 consonants, the two that are not pronounced like in English are ‘š’ which sounds like ‘sh’ and ‘c’ which sounds like ‘ch’.
  • The phoneme ‘ng’ is also found in the Manchu language but is not a separate letter.
  • The Manchu script contains front and back versions of ‘k’, ‘g’, ‘h’, ‘d’, and ‘t’.
  • In Manchu transliterations and online the vowel 'ū' is also often written as 'v'
  • In Manchu transliterations and online the consonant 'š' is also often written as 'sh' or 'x'
  • No Manchu words start with ‘r’ or two or more consonants.
  • As for endings, Manchu words end in either a vowel or ‘n’. Some loanwords do however end in ‘ng’ e.g. (王 wáng – king). In this respect, it is close to being an open syllable language. Syllables other than the last, however, can have other consonant endings (see next bullet point).
  • There are sometimes clusters of consonants between vowels such as in ‘abka’ (heaven) and ‘ilha’ (flower) but these are the final and initial consonants of two separate syllables. In most words however, vowels are separated by single consonants.

Syllable structure in Manchu[edit]

The Manchu language has the following syllable structures:

Manchu
Syllable
Structure

Example
V ‘a-’ in a-ma (father)
VV ‘ai’ what
VC ‘am-‘ in am-ban (official)
VCC ‘ašš-‘ in aššasun (verb)
CV ‘du-’ in du-ka (gate)
CVV ‘moo’ (wood)
CVVC ‘duin’ (four)
CVC ‘den’ (high)
CVCC ‘fašš-‘ in fašš-an (effort)
CVVV ‘elioi’ (吕 - a Chinese surname)

Out of the above syllable structures, CVVV is extremely rare as it can only occur with the triphthong ‘ioi’; and both VCC and CVCC are also quite rare as they can only occur with one of the two doubled consonants ‘tt’ or ‘šš’ or with the combined consonants ‘rs’.

Vowel harmony[edit]

The Manchu language is subject to the rules of vowel harmony. This means that only certain vowels can appear together in the same word and that the vowel in the first syllable of a word must be of the same type as the vowel in the second syllable. Note: vowel harmony in Manchu isn’t as strict as in Turkic or Mongolic languages. Manchu vowels fall into the following three categories:

  • Front vowels (阴性) e
  • Back vowels (阳性) a,o,ū
  • Neutral vowels (中性) u,i

In theory, front and back vowels can not exist in the same word, although there are some examples of this (ajige - small). However, neutral vowels can exist with both front and back vowels. There are two forms of vowel harmony:


Vowel harmony within a stem[edit]

This form of vowel harmony involves the vowels within a particular stem (a word with no suffixes) harmonising. In general one word will only have the following combinations of vowels (the first vowel is the vowel in the first syllable):

First vowel goes
 a   o   v   i    u   e  with
X X X X X
a
X X X X X
o
X X X X X
ū
X X X X X X
i
X X X X X
u
X X X
e


Note: the vowel ‘o’ vary rarely exists in a word with other vowels, and if it does it is nearly always with ‘a’,’ū’,’i’ or occasionally ‘e’, but basically never with ‘u’. The vowels ‘u’ and ‘i’ can go with all other vowels

Stem-suffix vowel harmony[edit]

Stem-suffix vowel harmony involves the vowels of a stem harmonising with the vowels of whatever suffix is attached to that stem. The rules are a bit different for stems with single, double or multiple syllables:


Single Syllable Stems

................................................... ...................................................
Stem Suffix
a a
o o
e e
i,u Usually 'e'
................................................... ...................................................


Double Syllable Stems

................................................... ...................................................
Stem Suffix
a-a, a-ū, a-u, o-i, ū-i, a-i, u-i, i-i a
o-o, a-o o
e-e, o-e, e-u, e-i, i-u, u-u e
................................................... ...................................................
  • Note: there are exceptions to the above rules for double syllable stems, but in most cases the above rules hold.


Multiple Syllable Stems

  • In general, stems terminating in 'a', 'e' or 'o' take the corresponding vowel in the suffix.
  • Stems with multiple syllables terminating in 'i' or 'u' and proceded by 'e' generally take 'e' in the suffix.
  • Stems with multiple syllables terminating in 'i' or 'u' and proceded by 'a', 'u' or 'ū' generally take 'a' in the suffix.
  • Stems with multiple syllables with 'u' and 'ū' generally take 'a' in the suffix.


Notes:

  • Some suffixes such as ‘de’ ‘-bu’ etc are fixed and do not change.
  • Some words use the vowels ‘a’ and ‘e’ to distinguish between masculine and feminine concepts, e.g. haha (man), hehe (woman).
  • There are two forms of the letters ‘k’, ‘g’, and ‘h’, a back form for the vowels ‘a’,’o’,’ū’, and a front form for the vowels ‘e’,’u’,’i’.
  • There are also two forms of the letters ‘d’, and ‘t’, a back form for the letters ‘a’, ‘o’, ‘i’, and a front form for the letters ‘e’ and ‘u’.


Contents ---- Lesson 2 (Nouns)