Vemkha language

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Vəmɣə ɣuɣs, Vəŋx kuɣs, Wamx kuɣs
Pronunciation[vəmɣə], [wamx], [vəŋx]
Ethnicity6,430 Vemkha
Native speakersc. 6,400  (2020 census)
Language family
Language isolate or one of Sahar's primary language families
Early forms:
  • Vemkha
Vemkha map.png
Approximate distribution of Vemkha speakers

Vemkha (Vemkha: Vəmɣa [vəmɣa ɣuɣs], Wamx [wamx kuɣs] or Vəŋx [vəŋx kuɣs]) is a language isolate or small language family spoken by the Vemkha people of Kasiiralq.



The classification of Vemkha has been highly controversial. It has not been conclusively proven to be related to any other language family, despite numerous attempts by linguists. Most attempts have focused on geographically proximate families, such as Tulipi-Lakup, Maakpauean, Yucho, East Mirarian or Shaelic. Other proposals have focused on more distant connections, such as the Amaian languages of eastern Vaniu, the Maithic languages of Central Miraria and even the Darkinic languages of northern Soltenna.




Vemkha consonants
Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Stop plain p t c k q
aspirated t̪ʰ
voiced (b) (d̪) (d) (ɟ) (ɡ) (ɢ)
Fricative voiceless f θ s ~ ʃ ~ ɕ x χ h
voiced v ð z ~ ʒ ~ ʑ ɣ ʁ
Approximant l j w
Trill voiceless
voiced r

Vemkha is notable for its six-way distinction in obstruents, distinguishing labial, dental, alveolar, palatal, velar and uvular plosives and fricatives. All plosives show a two way distinction between voiceless aspirated and unaspirated, although many varieties have innovated voiced plosives from former clusters between nasals and unaspirated stops. This may also apply across word boundaries.

The full 6-way phonemic distinction is limited in many positions. The distinction between uvular and velar consonants is neutralised in onset position in roots: uvulars appear before the vowels /a o/ while velars appear before the vowels /i e ə u/. However, the distinction remains phonemic in codas (including when a coda is converted into an onset by a following suffix). The distinction between dental and alveolar fricatives is also limited: neither can appear in a cluster with the other, and regressive assimilation will occur in order to prevent this. This restriction applies to both obstruents and sonorants.

Further Reading