The English Great Vowel Shift made a huge discrepancy between English pronunciation and English orthography. In perspective of conlang creators, that's something that should be prevented.

It seems like, if a language has a considerably many number (more than 5 or 6) of vowels, a vowel shift is going to happen (gradually) anyway. I'll take Korean as an example. ㆍ and ㆎ were lost, ㅐ [aj], ㅔ [əj], ㅚ [oj], and ㅟ [uj] had become [ɛ], [e], [ø], and [y] respectively, the difference between ㅐ and ㅔ is disappearing, and ㅚ and ㅟ are becoming diphthongs.

Currently, the conlang I'm making has 10 vowels: A [ɑ], Ä [æ], E [e], È [ɜ], I [i], Ì [ɯ], O [o], Ö [ø], U [u], and Ü [y]. This vowel structure doesn't quite seem to be stable either. [ɜ] seems likely to clash with [ɑ] or [ɯ]. A way of preventing that clash is adding a suprasegmental to [ɜ] to become [ɜ̃], [ɜ̰], [ɝ], etc. But I don't want to let that happen either. So I'm seeking for an external way of preventing it. Is it really possible to prevent every vowel shift?

  • 1
    No, you can't prevent these things, as they happen through usage. Unless nobody speaks your conlang -- in that case it would never change. But the timescales involved probably mean that you won't live to see it anyway. Jul 5, 2023 at 8:18
  • What timescale do you want to prevent vowel shifts on? Ten years, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand?
    – Draconis
    Jul 6, 2023 at 0:50
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    Why should glossopoets seeks to avoid disjoint between orthography and pronunciation? This doesn't make sense!
    – elemtilas
    Jul 9, 2023 at 5:04
  • I would be more worried about [ɯ] clashing with [u], honestly. Jul 10, 2023 at 15:24

1 Answer 1


As you are asking for an external way of preventing vowel shift, here is a suggestion: Design some texts (religious text, spells, whatever you want) that must be preserved in their pronunciation exactly. Your constructed culture has written down exact pronunciation rules for those preserved texts, and thus keeps the vowels of those texts fixed.

Of course, in any natural scenario this leads to a split between a vernacular (with all kinds of sound shifts) and the ceremonial language that is conserved over time, similar to the roles of Sanskrit compared to Modern Indo-Aryan languages, or the role of Latin compared to Modern Romance languages.

  • I'm skeptical about its efficacy. Without sound recordings and without expert linguists, vowel sounds are going to drift, and nobody will be able to tell they're drifting. Modern Latin has many pronunciations that are hard to understand for people who learned Latin from a different tradition.
    – prosfilaes
    Jul 5, 2023 at 20:09
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    I'd argue that Latin is not a good example, as Ecclesiastical Latin largely follows Italian in its pronunciation. I don't think Sanskrit is any better an example. Certainly, the educated use of Latin and Sanskrit did not prevent any kind of change in vowel shifting in any descendant language.
    – elemtilas
    Jul 9, 2023 at 5:01
  • Sanskrit is a particularly bad example because there are actual writings from around 700 BCE in late Vedic Sanskrit debating about how words written in earlier Vedic Sanskrit would have been properly pronounced. Jul 11, 2023 at 2:50

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