The Design Of Language

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Assessment Type


Word Count

2500 words




2 Days

Assignment Criteria

This worksheet covers content from Topics 2 to 5 of the unit, which focus on the major aspects of  language structure: phonetics, phonology, morphology and syntax. It tasks you to describe some  basic structural properties of an unfamiliar language, Fictionalese. You will need to download  separately a set of Fictionalese sentences to analyse. Take care to describe the grammar of the  Fictionalese sentences themselves, and not the grammar of the English translations (this is perhaps  the single most common error made by English-speaking students who are new to the grammatical  analysis of other languages). 

The worksheet is marked out of 40 and makes up 30% of your final result for the unit. It has five  sections. Complete each section. Observe the specified word limits. Submit in PDF via the  Worksheet link on the unit homepage. Use section headings to organise your work, but DO NOT  waste space by reiterating the task instructions. DO NOT include a cover page. The tasks DO NOT  require you to cite other sources; it is unlikely that you will need to reference. DO NOT exceed the  word limits indicated for each question. 

  1. Segmental phonology 200 words or less (10 marks) 

The orthography of the Fictionalese dataset is phonemic, meaning that each of its symbols  represents a speech sound known to contrast in minimal pairs. As such, the dataset does not provide  any evidence of allophonic variation. The characters of the orthography have the standard phonetic  values assigned to them by the IPA (careful: these may differ to the phonetic values accorded the  same symbols in other sources such as our unit text and lecture notes). Describe (a) the VOWEL  SYSTEM and (b) the CONSONANT SYSTEM of Fictionalese in terms of their phonemes and  distinctive features. 

  1. Phonotactics 50 words or less (5 marks) 

Describe the basic structure of the Fictionalese syllable. Focus on the attested combinations of  vowel slots and consonant slots as abstract structural positions, using the notions ONSET, RIME,  NUCLEUS and CODA . Assume for the purpose of this task that all intervocalic consonants are  onsets. 

  1. Word classes 100 words or less (5 marks) 

Define the Fictionalese word classes (a) NOUN and (b) VERB in terms of formal and functional  criteria.

  1. Inflectional morphology 20 single-word responses (10 marks)

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Assignment Solution

Segmental Phonology

  1. Vowel System

Fictionalese has 6 simple vowels and 1 Diphthong. The vowels are distinguished on the basis of place, height and roundedness. However, the vowel length is not an important criterion for the classification of vowels, as all vowels are short. There is only one open vowel; the rest all are closed.

The following simple vowels and diphthong are present in the sound system of Fictinalese:

  1. /ɑ/ Back, Open, Unrounded
  2. /o/ Back, Close-mid, Rounded
  3. /u/ Back, Close, Rounded
  4. /e/ Front, Close-mid, Unrounded
  5. /i/ Front, Close, Unrounded
  6. /y/ Front, Close, Rounded


  1. /uɑ/

Apart from this, vowels can also occur with semi-vowels. The following combinations are possible:

  1. /ɑj/
  2. /ɑw/
  3. Consonant System:

Fictionalese has the following consonants in its sound system. All are pulmonic. Voiced and Voiceless distinction is present. Aspiration is absent. The rhotic consonant in the language is an alveolar trill.

/p/ bilabial, plosive, voiceless

/b/ bilabial, plosive, voiced

/s/ alveolar, fricative, voiceless

/f/ labio-dental, fricative, voiceless

/x/ velar, fricative, voiceless

/k/ velar, plosive, voiceless

/g/ velar, plosive, voiceled

/h/ glottal, fricative, voiceless

/t/ alveolar, plosive, voiceless

/d/ alveolar, plosive, voiceled

/j/ palatal, approximant

/l/ alveolar, lateral approximant

/r/ alveolar, trill

/m/ bilabial, nasal, voiced

/n/ alveolar, nasal, voiced

Consonant Cluster (CC) of two and three-segment length is present, though not very commonly. Of these, there is evidence in the data for the CC /tr/ occurring in both initial and medial position.

CC Example Word

    1. /ltr/ /ɑfultrɑ/
  • /tr/ /fitrɑs/, /trɑfi/
  1. /sp/ /spɑx/
  2. Phonotactics

Words can start and end with both vowels and consonants. 

Syllable Structure: CV or V

In other words, the syllabus comprises an onset and nucleus. It can also be just a vowel. The intervocalic consonants can occur in the onset position only, and the nucleus is almost always a vowel but can rarely be also a semi-vowel. Consonants at the coda position are not there.

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