Zmee have three languages that operate independently, two of which are vocal — Zmiysh (Low form) & Zmeezh (High form).
The third is non-vocal, and is formed of the facial tendrils of adults, whose subtle movements appear meaningless to outsiders. This tertiary language springs as much from the coloring of these tendrils, and conveys such nuances as importance, urgency, extent, ambivalence, and a gamut of emotions. Adult Zmee default to non-vocal communication, and therefore give the impression to outsiders of being passionless and inexpressive.
Owing to the construction of their palate, as well as to their almost invisible ears, there are many sounds Zmee cannot make or differentiate; likewise, there are many sounds they make which are too subtle for outsiders to distinguish.
In Low Zmiysh all word forms are age-less, class-less, and gender-less; whereas in High Zmeezh, the opposite is true. The Low form is used only when communicating with one’s equals, and the High when addressing one’s superiors or for public broadcast.
The following bilabials and labiodentals are completely absent from Zmeezh, and indeed, Zmee cannot precisely duplicate them.
Fricatives F & V
These are entirely absent in Zmeezh. Zmee can only vocalize F (IPA: f) by SH (IPA: ʃ) and V (IPA: v) using DTH (IPA: ð – similar to dθ).
Velars K & G
Zmee have only long-breathed approximants of these otherwise hard sounds, K (IPA: k) & G (IPA: g). The sounds for K and G are respectively voiced as KH (IPA: x) and GH (IPA: ɣ).
Plosives P & B
These are entirely absent, and Zmee approximate such foreign sounds using KH (IPA: x) for P (IPA: p) and GH (IPA: ɣ) or J (IPA: ʤ) for B (IPA: b).
These, too, are entirely absent, such as rolled R’s (IPA: r & ʀ) and B’s (IPA: ʙ)
Substitutes for L
While all versions of L (IPA: l, ɭ , ʎ) exist in some dialects, they are very rare. Zmee prefer to vocalize such a sound using W (IPA: w or aʊ), or even replace the sound entirely with a glottal stop. So some tribes might voice “ala” as “a’a” or “awa”. This form of pronunciation is the equivalent of a Zmee lisp, and became perpetuated by the lisping progenitor of that tribe.
Nasal labials M & N
The N sound (IPA: n) isn’t common, and M (IPA: m & ɱ) is truly rare. The M sound forms part of a meditative chant, and so any whimsical misuse would be considered sacrilegious by all Zmee regardless of faction. Where the M sound occurs in foreign loan words, Zmee articulate it is as either N (IPA: n) or W (IPA: w or aʊ).
Most Zmee words are based on modified root sounds. Unless they are foreign loan-words, new words and place names are constructed from one or more of such roots.
- Aj-, -aj — As a prefix, pertains to possession; as a suffix, pertains to belonging.
- Dthe-, -de- — a root pertaining to a remote location or direction, i.e. “where” or “whence”.
- Dthu-, -tu- — a root pertaining to a known location, such as “here” or “there”.
- Gh- — As a prefix, usually referring to earth, ground or hills.
- Hr- — as a noun prefix, usually a mark of something unique or precious; so, Hro-ssla-raz-gha: a gemstone
- Hau-, -haw- —usually makes an adjective; “is already like”; makes adjectives, giving a sense of present tense.
- Je, j’ — a root pertaining to a pilgrimage, pilgrims, or devotion; gives a sense of history, or of continuity. As a prefix, can also mean “before.”
- Okh — a root pertaining to a specific person, or just “this” or “that”, or to make nouns of unclear phrases. Thus, Okh-do: right here.
- Rakh-, -rakh — depending on context, often a root or suffix meaning danger, death, or something or someone to be wary of. Often shortened to a suffix of -’kh for mindless creatures. If used as a prefix, then the agency is intentional; whereas, if used as a suffix, then the agency is unintentional.
- Rii — a root always pertaining to flight or wings.
- Sha-, -shai — as a prefix or suffix, pertains to activity or growth; makes verbs, giving a sense of “becoming like.”
- Ss — used a prefix to a common object, similar to Sha- but the implication is that of devotion to that thing, or worship of it. Used only of people.
- Ssl — a root meaning light, or shining.
- Ssw — a root pertaining to truth or fact (used interchangeably with Ssl- ).
- Uz — a root having to do with water.
- Uzh — a root having to do with seas or lakes.
- Ush — a root having to do with creeks and rivers.
- Wi-, -wi — generally makes plural of singular beings, particularly Zmee. It makes no implication of community, merely many of the same kind. Na- or -na is used for conveying a sense of community devoted to something or someone, or a memorial to the same.
- Lengthened supplementary or final vowel — generally makes plural of non-sentient things. The longer the sound, the greater the number that’s implied. Here the vocal stress is shifted to the longer supplementary vowel. Also implies gradual progression when used in verbs.
- Repeated syllable with (optional) intervening vowel — Ch…ch-, Ss…ss-, Sh…sh-, Kh…kh-, Gh…gh- — always a sign of grandeur or magnitude — sometimes pejoratively.