December 30, 2003


As Geoff Pullum points out it isn't obvious how to pronunce Cquila in English. In the International Phonetic Alphabet, <c> represents a voiceless palatal stop, <q> a voiceless uvular stop. Neither occurs (as a distinct speech sound) in English. <c> is also used in some languages and by some linguists for /ts/ but English doesn't allow /ts/ at the beginning of words. (There are a few loanwords spelled with initial <ts>, such as tsar and tsunami, but they aren't pronounced /ts/ by ordinary English speakers.)

There is however at least one language that does have words beginning with the letters <cq>, namely Secwepmectsín, known in English as Shuswap. Shuswap is one of the Salishan languages. It is spoken by about 500 people in East central British Columbia. The big city in Shuswap territory is Kamloops, the site of the annual Kamloopa Powwow, which is a lot of fun. Some of the signs are in Shuswap, and the older Shuswap people speak it, but since this is a big league powwow, most of the MCs are imported and the announcements tend to be in Blackfoot or English.

In this case the <c> represents a voiceless velar fricative, the sound spelled x in the IPA. This is the sound at the end of German Bach. In Shuswap spelling <q> represents a voiceless uvular stop, as in the IPA. The sequence [xq] may take a little practice since you have to shift the back of your tongue from velar to uvular position while moving from the narrow constriction of the fricative to the complete closure of the stop, but it isn't all that hard, much less impossible. Here are some examples from the Shuswap dictionary:

cqénkemto open up a fish, take out the guts
cqu7 bay
cqp'uxénto have a broken leg
cqp'exwcrowded together
cqp'úgwiyounger brothers and sisters
cqp'ellptree, Subalpine Fir
cqellqíllscto keep someone awake
cqelmexwwílxto recover from illness
cqp'élnemto shoot

In case you're wondering, <x> in Shuswap spelling represents the voiceless uvular fricative. Consonants followed by an apostrophe are glottalized, <ll> represents the voiceless lateral fricative, and <7> represents glottal stop.

Posted by Bill Poser at December 30, 2003 09:32 PM