In my quest to create a language for some fictional characters of mine, I came across nonconcatenative morphology like triconsonantal roots. If I wanted to employ this in my conlang, how many consonants must I have? I see Arabic and Hebrew, for example, have at least 25 consonants. Could I use fewer?

1 Answer 1


It's a matter of combinatorics; if all your roots have three consonants, then you can have n^3 different roots; with ten consonants that would be 1000. (This assumes that all combinations are valid/usable). With 25 consonants you'd be at 15,625. If you add more variation, ie add biconsonantal roots as well, you can increase the number a bit.

So I would start off by thinking about the inventory you need, and then work backwards from there. But don't forget that 'root' is not the same as 'word': it would be more like 'concept': once you add vowels in between the consonants, your total number of words will be a lot more than the number of roots.

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    Case in point: the KTB root that is always used in introductory texts can be used to form the words for "book" and "write", along with a plethora of other assorted words
    – No Name
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 20:58
  • Whence came that KTB convention? I've always wondered. From Youtube to my Intro To Linguistics textbook, it's omnipresent.
    – Qaziquza
    Commented Nov 27, 2022 at 9:02
  • @Qaziquza not sure -- I do remember learning it when I started an Arabic course at Uni 30 years ago... Commented Nov 27, 2022 at 14:52
  • It is possible to reduce the consonant inventory by allowing consonant clusters in the place of single consonants, like GR.B.N. Of course this has repercussions on the set of available forms, a null vowel between two places can now create ambiguities.
    – Sir Cornflakes
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 10:12
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    @OliverMason, I assume the KTB example is used because it's a simple one showing how a root can be spun out into so many different, but related, things: so you go from a root generally meaning "to write", to "book", "to correspond", "to copy", "to dictate", "writer", "office", "record", "clerk", "desk", "library", "bookshop", "subscription", "reporter", and so on. Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 20:33

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