Phonemic Inventory and Transcription. The symbols in Table 1 stand for the distinctive speech sounds of nišei-alâ.
Symbols enclosed in parentheses represent foreign sounds not
fully integrated into the traditional Nišei-alâ sound system. The symbols
[nas] represent coproduced components of the sounds listed to their left in the row.
Notable phonetic points:
Nišei-alâ speakers "prognathize" when articulating the consonants ć, s, and z, which are produced lamino-dentally with the tongue's apex pressed behind the teeth of a slightly protruded ("prognathized") lower jaw. Such "prognathization" is characteristic of the Southern ("Kalaṣa") Nuristâni languages, as well as of other languages of the region (notably the local Pashto dialects). The front vowels i, e, and ä are similarly produced, with the tongue pressed against the lower teeth. Prognathizing also affects the articulation of v before front vowels (see below), shifting the lower lip in line with the upper lip, rather than with the upper teeth.
The lamino-alveolar consonants č, ǰ, and š are produced with the tongue's apex pressed below the alveolar ridge of the lower jaw.
ṛ is a forward-moving apico-alveolar flap ([ɽ]) that occurs intervocalically (guṛa 'horse') and finally (ẓâṛ 'much'), but not initially. Postconsonantal ṛ manifests as mere "retroflexion" of a following non-front vowel, without any consonantal turbulence (kṛo 'child'). The retroflexion is in place at the release of the consonant and continues throughout the vowel, often sounding to the untuned ear like a retroflex approximant [ɹ] before or after the vowel (cf. Degener 1998: 462 "köř, křö" 'Bursche, Kind' = kṛo 'child'). Before a front vowel post-consonantal ṛ manifests as a retroflex approximant [ɹ] (vṛiz 'tendon'; vṛä 'pair' [of boots]). r contrasts with ṛ in all environments except initial position, where neither occurs natively.
˜ indicates nasalization of the vowel that precedes it (ače˜ 'eye'). Before a voiceless consonant ˜ usually manifests as full nasalization of the preceding vowel up to the consonantal release; less frequently, the nasalization "hardens" into a homorganic nasal stop before apical voiceless stops (ǰu˜t 'leopard', ku˜ṭ 'tower', ṣpe˜k 'spleen').
n automatically assimilates to the retroflex position of a following ḍ (punḍura 'round').
ṇ is a nasalized retroflex flap [ɽ ̃] intervocalically (gaṇi 'big'); otherwise, it is a retroflex nasal stop [ɳ] (kâṇ 'arrow'). It does not occur initially or after a consonant.
Before a homorganic stop the sound [ɳ] is a subphonemic allophone of ˜ before voiceless stops (ku˜ṭ 'tower') and of n before a voiced stop (punḍura 'round'), as stated above.
ň is a nasalized retroflex approximant [ɹ ̃]. It occurs after consonants (pňa 'aged wine'), intervocalically (deňâ- 'dry' [transitive]), and (perhaps) finally (u·eň 'irrigation take-off' [from Morgenstierne]). After consonants ň is the nasalized equivalent of postconsonantal ṛ. Both the retroflexion and nasality begin with the release of the consonant and continue throughout a following non-front vowel (vňâ 'mortar'), but before a front vowel the retroflexion manifests as a retroflex approximant, with the nasalization continuing throughout the approximant and following vowel (kňeŋ 'scalplock', pňei 'foam'). ň and ṇ contrast intervocalically and perhaps finally.
v is a bilabial spirant [β] next to front vowels (vi 'ye', -iv 'in', ünev 'meadow', vä 'Vai') and before the approximants ṛ (= [ɹ]) and ň (= [ɹ ̃]): vṛâv 'egg', vňâ 'mortar'; it is a bilabial approximant [w] elsewhere (vâṭ 'rock', âv 'water').
Vocalic Length. Contrasts of vocalic length do not occur in Nišei-alâ, but length is phonemic in the Varǰan dialects of Kalaṣa-alâ. The articulatory process that distinguishes â from a is not length, but openness, with length being an artifact of the opening process.
Accent. Accent usually falls on the final syllable of a word, but forms with certain suffixes retain accent on the stem rather than the suffix. In any event, accent is predictable only from word or morphological boundaries. It is indicated only where it is unpredictable in the morphophonemic transcription used here.