Writing System and Pronunciation
As a traditionally oral language, the Ngäbere writing system has only very recently been created. An alphabet was developed using the Latin script, based on the Spanish alphabet. Given that Spanish is the most widely used language in the Central American region, the alphabet was based on the Spanish alphabet in the attempt to create a closer sense of correlation between the two languages.
Some features of the alphabet are as follows:
- In the case of nasalized vowels and diphthongs, an ⟨n⟩ is collocated after the nucleus. For example, /kï/ is written ⟨kün⟩.
- In the case of the phonetic sound and, and and appearing in the middle of a word, the symbols used are ⟨k⟩ and ⟨kʷ⟩ although it is pronounced as and . In a similar manner, when a ⟨t⟩ appears in the middle of a word, it is pronounced as . Therefore a word such as ⟨kwete⟩ is pronounced, and ⟨mike⟩ is pronounced .
- In the case of labialized consonants, the grapheme ⟨w⟩ has been collocated after the consonants where the labialization occurs.
- The Spanish graphemes are used for ⟨ch⟩, ⟨y⟩, ⟨j⟩. The Spanish ⟨ñ⟩ is also used for the corresponding phoneme /ñ/.
- In accordance with the system designed by Arosemena and Javilla, the phonemes /ï/, /ë/ and /ʚ/ are represented with the graphemes ⟨ü⟩, ⟨ö⟩, and ⟨ä⟩ respectively.
- The velar consonant phoneme /ŋ/ is represented by the grapheme ⟨ng⟩
- Some letters in the Spanish alphabet are not present in the Ngäbere alphabet, such as ⟨c⟩ and ⟨q⟩, ⟨p⟩, ⟨v⟩, ⟨x⟩, and ⟨z⟩, whose Spanish values either do not exist in Ngäbere or are represented by other letters. Loan words containing the phone, which does not exist in Ngäbere, are modified to /b/, such as /ban/ for “pan” (bread), and /bobre/ for “pobre” (poor)
Standardization of spelling has been slow to solidify after the creation of a writing system, especially regarding the transcription of vowels. This appears to have been influenced by the different alphabets and pronunciation of the various Spanish and English speaking researchers attempting to create a representation that corresponds to the spelling system in their language. For example, the word Ngäbe has been recurrently and erroneously spelled “Ngöbe” by many people, Latino and Ngäbe alike, because the phoneme /ä/ is heard and reproduced by Spanish speakers as /o/, and therefore they attempt to write it that way while continuing to acknowledge that it is in fact a different phoneme than the Spanish /o/. Along the same lines, Ngäbe has been spelled “Ngawbe” by numerous English speakers to reconcile English spelling and the pronunciation. Words that should be written with ⟨t⟩ or ⟨k⟩ in the middle of the word have also been the subject of non-standard spelling, since many write the word as it is pronounced rather than following the spelling rule. For the purposes of this article, all spelling will attempt to follow the standard writing and phonetics system.
The accent system generally puts the primary accent on the penultimate syllable of words, although there many exceptions. A monosyllabic word always features a primary or strong accent. In a bisyllabic word the accent can fall on either syllable. In words of three or four syllables the primary accent often appears in the first or second syllable; in the rare longer word of three or more syllables, sometimes two primary accents may appear. The tone is slightly higher on the primary accent than on the rest of the word.
Ngäbere is largely a monotonous language, with few extreme fluctuations in tone. To listen to a recorded sample of the language, visit Global Recordings Network, where they have recordings of messages and songs created for the purpose of Evangelical missionary work, as well as the English scripts.
Read more about this topic: Guaymí Language
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