Afenmai is unusual in reportedly having a voiceless tapped fricative as the "tense" equivalent of the "lax" voiced tap /ɾ/ (compare [aɾ̞̊u] 'hat' and [aɾu] 'louse'), though is other descriptions it is described simply as a fricative and analyzed as the "lax" equivalent of the "tense" voiceless stop /t/.
Vowels are /i e ɛ a ɔ o u/. Long vowels and the large number of diphthong in the language are derived from sequences of short vowels, often from the optional elision of /l/.
Afenmai has a complex system of morphotonemic alterations based on two phonemic tones, high and low. At the surface level there are five distinctive tones: high, low, falling, rising and mid. Mid tone is the result of downstep of a high tone after a low tone. The contour tones (falling and rising) either occur on long vowels or diphthongs, from a sequence of high+low or low+high, or on short vowels produced from the contraction of such a long vowel or diphthong. Rising tones are rather uncommon, as they tend to be replaced by high, low or mid.
Consonants of the Ekpheli dialect are:
|b p||t(ː) d||kː ɡː||k͡pː k͡p ɡ͡bː ɡ͡b|
|ts dz||(tʃ dʒ)|
|f v(ː)||θ||s||(ʃ)||x ɣ|
The consonants marked long have been analyzed in various ways, including 'tense' or 'fortis' and paired up with 'lax' or 'lenis' partners, though there is no phonological basis for grouping the supposed 'long' consonants together, or for partnering them with particular 'short' consonants. The clear cases are /k͡pː ɡ͡bː mː/, which are twice as long as /k͡p ɡ͡b m/ but otherwise identical in a spectrogram. /kː ɡː/ are likewise twice as long as /x ɣ/. However, alveolar /t/ is only slightly longer than dental /θ/, and while /v/ is longer than /ʋ/, that's to be expected for a fricative compared to an approximant.
The postalveolar consonants are allophones of the alveolars before /i/ plus another vowel, where /i/ would otherwise become [j], as in /siesie/ [ʃeʃe] 'to be small'. It addition, /ts/ optionally becomes [tʃ] before a single /i/, as in /itsi/ 'pig' ([itsi] ~ [itʃi]). The other alveolar consonants do not have this variation, unless the triggering environment is provided within a prosodic word: /odzi/ 'crab' ([odzi] in citation form) > /odzi oɣie/ 'the king's crab' ([odʒoɣje]). (The sounds transcribed with ⟨ʃ ʒ ɲ⟩ may actually be closer to [ɕ ʑ nʲ].)
Apart from /p ts dz θ/, these consonants appear in all dialects of Afenmai investigated by Elimelech (1976). /p/ is absent from Uzairue dialect, being replaced by /f/, and is quite rare in most other dialects. /ts dz/ are fricativized to /s z/ in Aviele and South Uneme dialects. /θ/ is retracted to /ɹ̝̊/ in most other dialects, as in [aθu ~ aɹ̝̊u] 'hat'.
- Yekhee at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Yekhee". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- Udo, Reuben K. (1970). "Geographical Regions of Nigeria".
- Laver (1994) Principles of Phonetics, p. 263.
- Elimelech (1976) "A Tonal Grammar of Etsako", UCLA Working Papers in Phonetics 35