Basic Consonants

Musa has a set of 20 basic consonants formed using four basic shapes, plus a pointy bottom. Since most languages use most of them, and many languages don't need many more consonants, we'll present these basic consonants on this page. Here they are, along with my transcriptions and the IPA symbols for the sounds in their range. As with the vowels, the actual pronunciations can vary between languages.

The columns are organized by place of articulation :

The two righthand columns are both central (and from now on, I'll show them between the coronal and dorsal columns) :

The exact points of articulation can differ from language to language, or even within a language. For example, the hushing sounds can be laminal, apical or subapical - what's important is the contrast within the row.

As you can see, all the letters in a column share the same bottom, while all the letters in a row share the same top. The rows represent manners of articulation. The plosives and affricates trap air behind a blockage; the plosives release it quickly, while the affricates let it out slowly. The fricatives and sibilants channel air through a narrow passage.

Each manner has two rows which differ by voice : each pair has one voiced letter and its unvoiced counterpart. There's much more to voice than that, but we'll discuss it later.

Most of these consonants are familiar from English :

All the other Musa consonants are variants of this set, with another shape replacing either the top or the bottom of the letter, or both. But we call these five bottoms the basic bottoms.


Unlike English, Musa has single letters for the homorganic affricates dz ts dj and ch and for retroflex, palatal and lateral affricates you'll meet below. But most other affricates have to be written as digraphs - two letters - although they are single sounds. That includes heterorganic affricates like Greek ψ ps or ξ ks (x) and non-sibilant affricates like German pf. In all those cases, Musa writes them as digraphs: for example, Greek ψ ps is written as p followed by s, as if it were a consonant cluster, even though it actually represents a simple plosive with a sibilant release.

Musa uses its homorganic affricates to replace a sequence of plosive + sibilant, even across a syllable or morpheme boundary. So, for instance, the English contraction it's is written just like the possessive pronoun its. Likewise, English plurals as in cats or beds, possessives as in Matt's or Ted's and 3rd person singular present verbs like chats or spreads are all written with affricates. Only if the plosive is released before the sibilant do we write them with two letters.

Nasal Consonants

Most languages have nasal phonemes, pronounced by letting air out through your nose as you block your mouth. Musa has several nasal letters - here are three of them. As you can see, m n ng look just like the Musa letters for b d g, with the top replaced by a nasal triangle (pointing upwards).

They're all pronounced as in English :
• The m sound occurs twice in English mime
• The n sound occurs twice in English noon
• The ng sound occurs twice in English banking. This sound doesn't occur at the beginnings of syllables in English, but it's not hard to pronounce there.

Lateral Consonants

Lateral consonants like l are also very common in the world's languages, and Musa has letters for them that use a circle for the top.

The l letter represents the "light l" we use at the beginning of English syllables, as in low, while the ll letter represents the "dark l" we use at the end of English syllables, as in all. This dark l could be velar, uvular or even further back, or it could be velarized - we write them all with the same letter. An example using both of them is the word lateral itself:

Rhotic Consonants

Rhotic consonants like r use a zigzag top.

In addition to the English wr you met as a semivowel, Musa has two common rhotics:

Most languages use only one of these, but some languages use both, for example Catalan, Portuguese and (here) Spanish :

Glottal Consonants

Musa has letters for sounds pronounced using only your glottis : there's no constriction higher in your mouth. They're just phonations being used as consonants.

The easiest is the letter h, pronounced just as in English. Some languages, for example Hindi, Dutch and several Slavic languages (Czech, Ukrainian), pronounce the h with breathy voicing, which Musa writes with a different letter.

The other glottal letter is the glottal stop, which we'll call the Catch and transcribe using the apostrophe '. We use it in English in expressions like uh-oh, or to distinguish between op art and apart or between so I and so why. It occurs in many of the world's languages, for example, Arabic (where it's called hamza), Nahuatl (saltillo) and Hawai'ian (ʻokina).

In French, a Catch is used at the beginning of words to indicate that the word doesn't form liaison with the preceding word, the role now played by the h aspiré:


We use a vertical line within a word to indicate some separation, but less separation than a space - in other words, to link words more closely than a space permits. This is the role played in English by the hyphen, the underscore and even the dot in our era. We call it the Break.

Unlike the Catch or the yh semivowel, with which it's sometimes confused, the Break has no sound of its own - it's just an orthographic symbol. But it does affect pronunciation: it's like a Space that doesn't end a word. In other words, it has the same effect on pronunciation as a Space would, but without ending the word. So it makes no sense to use a Break before or after a Space (in Alphabet gait). Here are two examples of how a Space affects pronunciation:

 
gray tape great ape
 
coal drain cold rain

And here are four examples, but within a word, calling for a Break:

 
append upend
 
nitrate night-rate
 
contrary cartwright
 
eardrum bedroom

Generally, the Break represents the start of a new syllable where it's unexpected. What do we mean by unexpected? As a rule, we split syllables at the least sonorous sound, which we assign to the following syllable. In simpler terms, we split consecutive consonants down the middle, with the odd consonant being initial. In other words, a single consonant between two vowels is considered initial, while the first of two or three consonants is considered final. So if you are typing the word parsnip, the r ends the first syllable, while the sn begins the second syllable. In English, it's not that important where we break syllables - it might be lear-ning or learn-ing - but in many languages, it is.

The Break is also used to write hiatus between consecutive vowels when no consonant separates them, and to spell a missing final in languages with fixed syllable structure, like Chinese. Since the Break is a consonant, the end result is that in Musa no two vowels are written consecutively.

Geminate and Unreleased Consonants

Geminate (doubled) consonants appear in many languages, and differ from single consonants, as in Italian fatto versus fato. Musa writes them simply by writing the consonant twice, as we do in the Roman alphabet (but not in Arabic script or Japanese kana). For most consonants, the geminate version is simply held longer, but for stops, it's the pause between closure and release that is prolonged - neither is repeated.

Likewise, in a cluster of two plosives or nasals, most often the first one is unreleased (and the second has no approach phase). The articulators move into the first position, the airstream is blocked, they move to the second position, and the airstream is released. This is normal, and doesn't have to be written in Musa: a sequence of two plosives always means that. When that's not the case, we write a Break between them to indicate the first release.

If the geminate - or any blockage between consonants - is held longer, like a missing vowel, we write it with a long mark, as mentioned on the Vowel page. That's the case, for example, in Japanese, where the moraic obstruent is as long as other mora. This is also how we would write a final unreleased plosive: with a final Long mark.

But consider a word like night-owl: the t is unreleased, and definitely separated from the o - it's not nigh-towel. But it's not separated by a complete stop of the airflow, as a long mark would indicate. Instead, we only need to show that the t is part of the first syllable, not the second. So here, we would spell it with a Break.

Consonant Recap

The letters you've already met are Musa's 62 basic letters. Here they are again :

< Vowels More Positions >

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