So I was researching a bit on different types of languages, mainly languages from Eastern Asia, because those seemed to have been very intriguing to me, when I came across Japanese. Now, here's what the Wikipedia page on Japanese says:

Japanese is an agglutinative, mora-timed language with relatively simple phonatics, a pure vowel system, phonemic vowel and consonant length, and a lexically significant pitch-accent.

Now here's what a "mora-timed language" is:

According to the Wikipedia on mora-timed languages when it comes to Japanese/dialects of Japanese:

Most dialects of Japanese, including the standard, use morae, known in Japanese as haku (拍) or mōra (モーラ) rather than syllables, as the basis of the sound system. Writing Japanese in kana (hiragana and katakana) is said by those scholars who use the term mora to demonstrate a moraic system of writing.

And according to that same Wikipedia page at the top:

A mora (plural morae or moras; often symbolized μ) is a basic timing unit in the phonology of some languages, equal to or shorter than a syllable. For example, a short syllable such as ba consists of one mora (monomoraic) while a long syllable such as baa consists of two (bimoric); extra-long syllables with three moras (trimoraic) are relatively rare. Such metrics are also referred to as syllable weight.

The term comes from the Latin word for 'linger, delay', which was also used to translate the Greek word χρόνος : chrónos ('time') in its metrical sense.

Now here's how I would assume how a mora-time conlang would work:

  1. Similar to how most mora-timed languages that are widely used today, there has to be something as the sound basis of the language (as why I think [although this might not necessarily be true] English would not be a mora-timed language)
  2. Now, ask yourself: are there/are there going to be (as this might be a constructed language) any different types of morae present in the language?

And I ask what I did in Note 2 because of this:

For example, in the two-syllable word mōra, the ō is a long vowel and counts as two morae. The word is written in three syllables, モーラ, corresponding here to mo-o-ra, each containing one mora. Therefore, scholars argue that the 5/7/5 pattern of the haiku in modern Japanese is of morae instead of syllables.

Therefore, it is sufficient to say that my example as to why I put Note 2 there is valid because it is possible to have more than one type of mora in a language. The Wikipedia only mentions that trimoric syllables are rare in languages that we hear today.

  1. More of an addendum to Note 2, however, this only really applies to syllables in a language, and nothing else.

Other examples of mora-timed languages

Ancient Greek

According to the Wikipedia for mora-timed languages, short vowels (such as ε "e") in Ancient Greek have one mora, and longer diphthongs/vowels contain 2 mora (such as η "ee"). It also says that there are two types of accents that is only placed on one mora of a word:

  1. The acute accent ´

What this does: It represents a high pitch on a single mora or the last mora of a long vowel, for example, έ "é" and ή ""

  1. The circumflex accent ~

What this does: It represents a high pitch on the first mora of a long vowel, the most prominent example being ῆ "ée"

(Old) English

Here's how mora-timing worked in Old English:

  1. Monophthongs (a word that has a single perceived auditory quality) and short diphthongs (such as ai or oi) counted as one mora, while long diphthongs and monophthongs were considered to be bimoric. Also, consonants ending a syllable counted as one mora on their own.

My question

Is my understanding of how mora-timed languages work correct, or how could I better understand how they work?

1 Answer 1


The most important thing to note is that moras, like phonemes, are a theoretical abstraction. Some mora-timed languages really are timed that way—as in, each mora takes approximately the same amount of time to speak. (Japanese is like this.) Others aren't, but moras are still useful to the analysis.

So they're a theoretical abstraction. But, they're often a useful one! As you pointed out, in Ancient Greek, the accent doesn't just fall on a vowel: if the vowel is long (or a diphthong), the accent can fall either on the first part, or the second. This suggests that we should break vowels down into smaller pieces when talking about accentuation.

Similarly, in Akkadian, to figure out where to put the accent, you need to put syllables into three different categories. Light syllables have a short vowel and no coda, heavy syllables have either a long vowel or a coda, and ultraheavy syllables have an ultralong vowel, or both a long vowel and a coda.

This seems like a place where moras would help. We can say a short vowel is one mora, a long vowel two, an ultralong vowel three, and a coda consonant adds one. Then the three categories of syllables are one mora, two moras, and three or more moras.

It's not likely that each mora was actually pronounced for around the same length of time, like in Japanese, because of how the writing system works: long vowels were sometimes written twice to emphasize their length, but usually weren't (which is odd if they were literally twice as long). Similarly, in Ancient Greek (unlike in Japanese) syllables with more than two moras were treated exactly the same as syllables with two moras in poetry. But the moras help explain the facts of the language, and thus are useful to us.

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