I am making a conlang where one of the distinctive sounds is /ɞ/. It is a rare vowel sound, and I searched Index Diachronica but couldn't find a sound change that results in it. The sound also does not go well with the vowel inventory of the conlang's proto-language.

I don't know if this is the right place to ask this. If not, tell me.

Do you guys know any specific sound change that results in /ɞ/ to help me out?

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    For conlanging questions there is alos Constructed Languages but this does not make the question off-topic here. Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 14:24
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    The question of whether there are any attested sound changes leading to /ɞ/ is on topic here (and is what should be addressed here). Since the ultimate purpose of your question is to use the vowel in a conlang, of course, you aren’t limited to actually attested sound changes – any typologically sound (no pun intended) development that ends in an /ɞ/ will do. For example, /e/ → [ɞ] _C[+RTR] (/e/ becomes [ɞ] before a consonant with retracted tongue root, such as uvulars or pharyngeals) would be perfectly reasonable and unremarkable, even if it’s not actually attested in any real language. … Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 17:00
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    [cont’d] … But that part of the question would not be on topic here (though I expect it would be on Constructed Languages). Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 17:00

3 Answers 3


With vowel sounds, there aren't really common sound changes that categorically result in a specific phone. With some consonants, there certainly are - /p/ -> [f ~ ɸ] is a good example. Common processes like lenition and assimilation are common causes of consonant changes. However, vowels exist on a more fluid spectrum, and without more context, there's no reason to say that any vowel sound more characteristically results from one change - such as raising, lowering, fronting, backing, rounding, unrounding, tensing, laxing, or something else - than another. Thus, an [ɞ] could result from essentially an infinite number of specific changes. Obviously, phonemes realized near to [ɞ] are more likely to become it, so the backing of an /œ/ phoneme, the fronting of /ɔ/, the rounding of /ɜ/, the centralization/laxing of /ɒ/, and the lowering of /ə̹/ are more probable than more extreme changes. Since phonemes realized around [ɔ] are probably more common cross-linguistically than the other options, I think /ɔ/ -> [ɞ] is a good choice if you want the sound change to be in all positions. Something similar has happened in French, where (I believe), /ɔ/ is often quite centralized.

Sound changes can be conditioned by phonological environment, encouraged by the structure of a sound system, or essentially random (i.e. the phonological "reason" for the change is impossible to determine, and sociological factors are probably more important). The "random" option cannot really yield any good answers to this question.

Changes conditioned by phonological environment mean the shift in one sound in a certain direction based on its position in a larger phonological unit (like a syllable) or based on its proximity to other sounds. Eventually, the change might generalize to other environments. Common environment changes affecting vowels include nasal raising, velar raising, and velar backing. Any of these could result in an /ɞ/ phoneme, and the specific starting sound would be up to you. One example could be /ɛ/ -> [ɞ] / _C [+ velar] [+ round].

Vowel changes conditioned by the structure of a language's sound system are famous since they can contribute to chain shifts. Basically, there is a clear psychological pressure for vowel systems to stay spaced out. This reduces the probability of speech errors such as phonemes being confused. If one area of the vowel space is crowded or one is empty, a vowel is likely to move to the empty space to stay spaced out from its friends. In your specific case, you can imagine a vowel system with /a/, /ɑ/, /ʌ/, /ɤ/, and /ɔ/. These vowels are cramped in the periphery of the lower vowel space. One can imagine /ʌ/ being rebellious in this situation and shifting towards [ɞ] to space out.

  • By "/ɛ/ -> [ɞ] / _C [+ velar] [+round]", would something like "sk" work to make the /ɛ/ and [ɞ]? –
    – Neil Iyer
    Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 20:20
  • @NeilIyer It could, but isn’t [+ round]. I was thinking of something like /ɛɡʷa/ -> [ɞɡʷa].
    – Graham H.
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 1:43
  • Oh, I see, maybe along with the /a/ vowel change, that other velar rounding change could happen.
    – Neil Iyer
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 1:53
  • @NeilIyer What? There was no /a/ change. I just put that in as a random placeholder vowel. And the velar was round to begin with.
    – Graham H.
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 2:33
  • No, the /a/ change was from the other answer, made by user6726. Sorry for confusing you.
    – Neil Iyer
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 3:43

The source which you cited states a number of such cases, for instance in Tiwa it derives from /ɑ/, so you could do the research and get the specific details on that language. Another approach is to is Phoible, which is a general segment database. It only lists 6 entries for the vowel which incidentally includes Upper Saxon twice. You then have to decide whether Wikipedia is hallucinating or is Phoible ignoring. I trust Phoible much more than Wikipedia, because Phoible actually cites their sources, so you can check Селютина 2000 Фонетика языка кумандинцев как историко-лингвистический источни to see if ты веришь им. You could also try contacting a scholar who works in Panará to see if she agrees with that claim. The claim that Somali keenaysaa is really [keːnɞjsɑː] does not comport with my experience, but I could imagine that that is what Saeed said in his Dunwoody grammar. One thing to note is that Wikipedia articles don't carefully check sources to distinguish /ɞ/ from [ɞ].

  • To be fair to the original poster, it was me who added the Wikipedia link, it wasn't provided by the OP. Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 15:13
  • Maybe before back consonants (uvulars and pharyngeals), my /a/ vowel becomes /ɑ/ and then that /ɑ/ becomes /ɞ/ (like in Tiwa, like you said).
    – Neil Iyer
    Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 17:12

Since vowels are kind of fluid, any vowel that occupies a place in the neighbourhood of /ɞ/, e.g. /ɔ/, /œ/, /ɒ/, or /a/ can evolve to it, and the evolution may be governed by some constraints (e.g. stress conditions, /r/ behind the vowel).

The vowel itself is probably not that rare, but the use of that particular symbol is restricted to narrow transcriptions usually, and broader transcriptions may go with /ə/ or /ɐ/ instead.

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