Ka'ekala has twelve consonants.
Plosives: /p t k ʔ/
Liquids: /l r j w/
Nasals: /m n ŋ/
The consonants /p t k ʔ s/ are often pronounced [b d g h z] intervocalically in quick speech, though this is hardly mandatory. /r/ is always [r] word-initially after a pause, and always [ɾ] in the cluster /sr/; in all other environments the two phones are in free variation.
The consonant /w/ features both dialectal and environmental variation. The northeastern dialects feature bilabial realizations ([β] and [w]), while the southwestern dialects have labiodental realizations ([v] and [ʋ]). The fricative allophone ([β] or [v]) is generally called "hard", while the approximant allophone ([w] or [ʋ]) is called "soft". The hard version is always heard at the onset of a syllable with primary stress and usually at the onset of a syllable with secondary stress, and is more common than the soft version at the beginning of words. The soft version is always heard in the cluster /sw/. In all other environments the two are in free variation, although a person deliberately enunciating a word will almost always pronounce it hard. It is common among English speakers to pronounce the hard version [v] and the soft version [w] because of the familiarity of these two sounds from English, or alternatively to pronounce it [w] in all environments, but no dialect contains both [v] and [w], nor do any native speakers lack the "hard" allophone.
Ka'ekala has five vowels, which may be long or short, totaling ten vowel phonemes:
/a e i o u/
/aː eː iː oː uː/
Ka'ekala also allows a variety of falling diphthongs ending in /i/ or /u/:
/ai ei oi ui/
/aːi eːi oːi uːi/
/au eu iu ou/
/aːu eːu iːu oːu/
If any of these sequences are present within a word, even through the concatenation of two separate morphemes, they are pronounced as a diphthong and considered as such for syllabification and stress purposes. Any other vowel sequences are separate syllables.
The basic syllable structure in Ka'ekala is (C)V; a vowel or diphthong forms the nucleus, and any consonant may form an optional onset. This rule has two exceptions, both at word boundaries: a word may begin with a consonant cluster consisting of /s/ followed by any consonant other than /s/ or /ʔ/ (/sk/, /sp/, sŋ/, etc.), and a word may end with a nasal consonant (/kom/, /an/, /skiŋ/, etc.). These only
occur at the beginning or end of a word, respectively. If another morpheme is attached to the word such that an illegal cluster would be formed, it is broken up with an /a/:
/ki/ + /skuːra/ = /kisakuːra/
/kom/ + /pe/ = /komape/
A few common words use a different epenthetical vowel; these instances are noted in dictionaries.
Stress is phonemic, but only partially predictable. Words following certain patterns have predictable stress:
If the penultimate syllable of a word is long (i.e. its nucleus is either a long vowel or a diphthong), that syllable is stressed. If the penultimate syllable is short but the final syllable is long, the final syllable is stressed.
If the final two syllables are short, but one of them begins with /ʔ/, the syllable preceding the /ʔ/ is stressed. If both final syllables begin with /ʔ/, the syllable before the first /ʔ/ (that is, the antepenultimate syllable) is stressed. If the word is a two-syllable word beginning with /ʔ/, the first syllable is stressed.
If the final two syllables are short and do not contain /ʔ/, but the word ends with a nasal consonant, the final syllable is stressed.
These rules are almost never violated; the only exceptions occur in borrowings and certain onomatopoeia.
In words that do not meet the conditions described above, the stress is unpredictable and must be memorized. There is a strong, though far from universal, tendency for long vowels to receive stress.
In contrast to primary stress, secondary stress is rigidly predictable, based on the length of the syllable immediately preceding the syllable with the primary stress, e.g. the syllable /ka/ or /kaː/ in /leka(ː)ˈmote/. If this syllable is long, it takes the secondary stress: /leˌkaːˈmote/. If it is short, the secondary stress falls on the preceding syllable: /ˌlekaˈmote/.
Ka'ekala has two written forms today: a Latin-based alphabet and a native syllabary.
The Latin alphabet for Ka'ekala is fairly straightforward:
/p t k ʔ/ <p t k '>
/l r j w/ <l r y w>
/m n ŋ/ <m n ng>
/a e i o u/ <a e i o u>
/aː eː iː oː uː/ <ā ē ī ō ū>
An early version of this alphabet was created by British missionaries in the late 18th century; that version did not indicate vowel length, it sporadically indicated /ʔ/ as <h> in words where it was commonly pronounced as such, and did not otherwise indicate /ʔ/ at all. Other consonants with allophonic variation, especially [β ~ w], were sometimes written with multiple characters depending on the most typical realization of that phoneme. The character <'> was added in the early 19th century, and the long vowel diacritics in the early 20th; these introductions combined with the standardization of a phonemic (rather than allophonic) transcription scheme created the modern-day Latin alphabet for Ka'ekala. This Latin-based alphabet was the primary alphabet until the mid-20th century, and the only one used by the government until 1969. Today it has been largely displaced by the native syllabary, and is primarily used for transliteration of Ka'ekala words and names in English text.
The primary writing system used for Ka'ekala text today is a syllabary commonly known as the Ka'ekala alphabet. This syllabary has a symbol for each CV combination, one for each vowel without a preceding consonant, one for an initial /s/ before a consonant, and one each for the three possible final nasals. Diphthongs are written as though they were separate syllables. Long vowels are indicated with a diacritic over the relevant syllable, resembling an acute accent but longer; this was only added to the alphabet in the early 20th century, and though it is usually found in printed material it is often omitted in handwriting.
This alphabet was commissioned in 1820 by King Ro'otana, who saw the value in having a written form of the language but was concerned with the westernizing influence of the missionaries. This syllabary was slightly less commonly used than the romanized alphabet for most of its history. However, in the 1960s, the indigenous Ka'ekala population began a political struggle attempting to return the country to native control. This was ultimately unsuccessful, but a number of governmental reforms were passed, including making Ka'ekala a co-official language of the country (and changing official references to the language from "Lorradinian" to "Ka'ekala") and mandating the teaching of it in schools up through age sixteen. As a result of these reforms as well as the resurgence of indigenous Ka'ekala nationalism, the Ka'ekala script has almost completely displaced the romanized alphabet.
The individual characters for each symbol are highly abstracted depictions of various objects and creatures whose names begin with the respective syllable. Initially these names were also the names of the letters; however, these names were eventually replaced by simply saying the syllable, and today most Ka'ekala speakers are unaware of the pictorial origins of the characters. (The names for the s-, -m, -n, and -ng symbols are "sen", "em", "en", and "eng" respectively.)
Stress is not indicated in either alphabet.