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Souk (phe:râosa sou:k) is the native language of the Kai people in Southeast Asia. With a little over one million L1 speakers, it is by far the most widely spoken of the Kai-Souk languages, the only extant branch of the Song language family. Souk is head-first and primarily isolating, but employs a pattern of infixes and vowel change. It is syllable-timed and has a simple tone system.

phearaosa souk
Head direction
Nouns decline according to...
Case Number
Definiteness Gender
Verbs conjugate according to...
Voice Mood
Person Number
Tense Aspect


The below tables represent the 'standard' dialect of the capital region. Some rural dialects have preserved additional sounds which have since disappeared in the modern, urban standard below, especially long vowels:


Each vowel can be either short or long, except for schwa (ə). A semicolon (:) is placed after a vowel to indicate it is long, much like the IPA symbol. Most long vowels centre towards schwa; this means that the quality of the vowel is almost completely neutral (ə) by the end: eg. /e:/ is [eə], /i:/ is [iə], etc. Souk does not have true diphthongs, in that the only permitted diphthong-like forms are any vowel followed by a semivowel (j or w). For example, what we spell as ai is really [aj]; ao is [aw]. If two vowels appear next to each other, they are pronounced as separate syllables.

IPA a ə ɛ e i ɨ ʉ u ɒ
Latin a eu ae e i ea u ou o aw


Nearly any consonant can appear in coda, or as one half of a word-initial cluster; some are much more common than others. The voiceless plosives /p, t, c, k/ have aspirated variants [pʰ, tʰ, cʰ, kʰ]; these can be better analysed, however, as clusters, since infixes can appear between the plosive and the aspiration, eg. kho ("island") > koh ("island of").

m n ɲ ŋ p t c k ɓ ɗ1 ʄ l ɹ s z h j ʋ w
m n ñ ng p t c k b d j l r s z h y v w
  • 1. Word-final /ɗ/ is a dental approximant [ð]


Souk employs a system of three tones: mid-falling, low, low-rising. Many words are distinguished only by tone, however, not all words can carry all tones. Because the system is mostly predictable, tones are marked orthographically only when ambiguous otherwise. This system is described below:

1. Word carries low-rising tone by default if,

  • short, ends with vowel, or
  • long, ends with non-nasal-consonant

2. Word carries mid-falling tone by default if,

  • long, ends with vowel or nasal consonant, or
  • short, ends with non-nasal-consonant, or
  • it carries a circumflex accent (^)

3. Word carries low tone by default if,

  • short, ends with nasal consonant, or
  • it is marked with a grave accent (`)

Most words are not marked, because mostly they follow the pattern above. It is when words do not follow the pattern, that tone begins to distinguish words and thus requires notation. Look at this table:

Tone Example Meaning
low maeñ "dike"
low màe "ten"
low-rising mae "river"
low-rising mae:t "wall"
mid-falling maet "hand"
mid-falling mae: "girl"
mid-falling mâe "jewel"
mid-falling mâem "nurse"

As you can see in the table above, the tone is determined by the rules we have described. The rules can only be broken with the use of diacritics, allowing us to have words with are distinguished only by tone. If it were not for the diacritics, tonal differences would always be accompanied by the variations which effect tone, and thus tone would not be phonemic. As described above, not all available tones exist on all words. For example, mâem (nurse) must be spelled with the circumflex (^) over the ae, because otherwise it would be pronounced with rising tone. This would be spelled maem; however, such a word does not exist. Notice also that there is no diacritic to represent the low-rising tone; this is because this tone only appears in standard form.


Souk is primarily an isolating language, which means that most words consist of a single morpheme, and can be combined to form compound words without having to worry about inflection or suffixes. There are, however, some inflections used in word derivations; this is described below in further detail.


Souk can be analysed as having a topic-comment structure. The word que ([kǝ], note the spelling) functions as a basic copula and topicaliser, normally appearing after the topic at the beginning of a sentence. Consider the phrase,

Khñom que reak si rouñ
1SG COP/TOP 2SG GEN friend
"I am your friend"

In the above sentence, que both topicalises khñom (1SG) and acts as its copula. In constructions where there is a verb (rather than copula), que is simply a topicaliser. Consider,

Khñom que reak si rouñ dai mâi
1SG TOP 2SG GEN friend like IND
"I like your friend" (as opposed to another liking him)


Reak si rouñ que dai mâi
2SG GEN friend TOP like IND
"I like your friend" (as opposed to someone else)

In both phrases above, we can see that que is simply a topic particle, and that because it loses is copula function, we now require to end the statement with mâi, which tells us the statement is indicative. Indicative sentences must always end this way unless que is copular. The two examples above also demonstrate the topic-comment structure of Souk, as well as the fact that the direct object of a verb appears right before the verb, and does not require a particle or suffix to demonstrate its being in the accusative.

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