The Glossotechnia deck

(c) 2007-2008 Jim Henry III

This is a list and description of the cards found in my Glossotechnia decks. You are welcome to create your own Glossotechnia decks, and give them away to friends, but I reserve the right to sell Glossotechnia decks, manufacture them for sale, or license someone to do so.

Phoneme cards

Each Phoneme card consists of an IPA symbol written large, below which are written a featural description of the phoneme and one or more examples of that phoneme in words from English or other languages. If the only perfect examples of the phoneme are in other languages, I try to give an approximation in English as well. For instance,



close-mid front unrounded vowel

French "paté"
Approx. Eng. "may"

Besides the specific phoneme cards, there are two Wildcards and a Fill Gap card.



This represents any phoneme, specified at the time it is played.


Fill gap

Specify a phoneme that clearly fills a gap in the current phoneme inventory.

The phonemes in my main deck are:

Vowels: i, I, y, e, ɛ, ø, æ, ɑ, ɨ, ə, ɯ, u, ʌ, ʊ, o, ɔ

Consonants: m, n, ɲ, ŋ, N, p, b, t, d, c, k, g, q, ʔ, Φ, β, f, v, θ, ð, s, z, ʃ, ʒ, ʂ, ç, ʝ, x, h, l, r, ɹ, j, w, ʘ, ɻ, ǁ

Other: Wildcard, Fill Gap

ɑ, i, u, æ, p, t, k, f, l, j, s, m, n and Wildcard all occur twice in the deck.

Phonemic Contrast cards

Phonemic contrast


Place above the vowel array. While in play, nasal and oral versions of all vowels are available.

Phonemic contrast


Place above the vowel array. While in play, tone is phonemic. The player who plays this card specifies how many and what tones are used. Anyone may complicate or simplify the tone system with a Phoneme Merge or Phoneme Split card.

Phonemic contrast


Place above the consonant array. While in play, palatalized versions of all consonants are available.

The phonemic contrast cards are:

The Voicing card occurs twice in the deck.

It might be better to let the player who places down one of these cards optionally specify a subset of phonemes that the contrast applies to; for instance, applying only to fricatives or plosives, or alveolars or velars, or whatever, instead of all consonants.

Syllable cards

My original deck had a single set of cards for syllable structures: each labeled with a large-print abbreviation like CV, CVC, etc, followed by a smaller-print expansion of the abbreviation ("consonant-vowel", etc.). Later I've created decks with two sets of onset and rime cards, which independently specify the initial consonant or cluster of a syllable, and the vowel perhaps followed by a final consonant or cluster.

Syllable onset


fricative consonant
+ plosive consonant

Ex.: /fp-/, /st-/

Syllable onset/rime


Specify a syllable onset or rime structure available as long as this card is in play.

Syllable rime


+ nasal consonant

Ex.: /-an/, /-um/


Syllable onsets: C, (null), PF, FF, FP, FPA, PN, FN, NP, NF, CA, NN, Wildcard
(C = any consonant, F = fricative, P = plosive, N = nasal, A = approximant)
C, (null), and CA occur twice in the deck.

Syllable rimes: V, VN, VC, VPF, VFP, VNF, VNP, VA, VAC, C [syllabic consonant], Wildcard
V, VA, VN and VC each occur twice in the deck.

Syntax cards

Each syntax card specifies a word order to be used for the game language. They have a large-print brief statement of the rule (e.g., "SVO"), below which are a more explicit statement of the rule and one or more examples in English or pseudo-English of how that rule works.



verb + subject + object

Seeks Bilbo treasure.
Eats Trey mangoes.



Adjectives follow nouns; adverbs follow verbs.

dragon scaly the
eats voraciously



Postpositions follow their objects; postpositional phrases precede their heads.

shelf on books
cave in treasure


Syntax cards: SVO, SOV, VSO, OVS, OSV, VOS, V2, Topic-Comment, Comment-Topic, [?] head-modifier, modifier-head, prepositional, postpositional, Wildcard
SVO, SOV, VSO, head-modifier, modifier-head, and prepositional all occur twice in the deck.

Sound change, Grammar change, Meaning change, and Action cards

I'm not going to give layout diagrams for these cards, because they're all pretty straightforward: a small caption saying [Sound change / Grammar change / Meaning change / Action], a title in large print, and small-print text saying what the effect of the card is.

Sound change

Grammar change

Meaning change


Sound Shift (3), Phoneme Split (2), Phoneme Merge (2), Eliminate Contrast (2), Add Inflection (2), Add inflectional category (3), Secondary Word Order (3), Extend Meaning (2), and Constraint all occur more than once in the deck.

Typology cards

Fusional and Agglutinative each occur twice in the deck.


Possible cards not yet playtested:

Alternate deck compositions

Instead of having a set of cards for specific, individual phonemes, with wildcards and contrast cards that extend the potential phoneme inventory beyond the phonemes enumerated in the deck, I originally considered having a deck with no phoneme cards at all, but sets of "Point of articulation" and "Manner of articulation" cards. If for instance the Bilabial, Alveolar and Velar Point of Articulation cards, and the Plosive and Nasal Manner of Articulation cards, are in play, the consonant inventory would therefore be /p t k m n ŋ/. Additional Phonemic Contrast cards like Voicing could extend the consonant inventory further. The vowels would require a three-dimensional set of contrasts, perhaps, based on height, front/backness, and open/closeness, plus the existing contrast cards for rounding, length and nasalization. The problem with this is that it would generally produce a very schematic, boring phoneme inventory; but the existing system tends to produce ridiculously assymetric phoneme inventories. Ideally we want something in between, which produces more naturalistic phoneme inventories. The "Fill Gap" phoneme wildcard is an attempt at fixing this. Maybe there need to be more such cards, more Phonemic Contrast cards, and (relatively) fewer Phoneme cards in the deck?

David Salo suggested making the phonological part of the deck based on Optimality Theory. Instead of phoneme or contrast or syllable rime/onset cards, there would be constraint cards, and cards that promote or demote a constraint, swap the priority of two adjacent constraints, etc. New constraint cards could perhaps be added anywhere in the hierarchy, or perhaps only at the top and bottom... I borrowed a book on Optimality Theory to read up on it, but I'm still not sure how to implement this with a manageable number of constraint cards, or explain the rules of such a version of Glossotechnia in many fewer pages than René Kager takes to explain Optimality Theory in his book on the subject. A group of players who are all already familiar with OT could use such a deck, though.

I've thought about creating a deck for non-linguistically sophisticated players which would use English or pseudo-English orthography in place of IPA characters on the Phoneme cards (maybe called Sound cards in this version?), and a simpler set of Syllable cards in place of the Onset/Rime cards -- maybe without distinction of manners of articulation in consonant clusters, so the types would be simply enumerable as CV, CVC, CCVC, CVCC, CCVCC... The existing game was well received by my younger cousins at last summer's family reunion, including a couple of players as young as six and eight, and a simplified deck might be something children in early grades could learn to play with without having to have an amateur linguist like myself explain things constantly. Another possibility, for which I've already made a deck and soon hope to have the opportunity to playtest it, is to leave out the phoneme and syllable cards entirely, and modify the Sound Change cards so they simply refer to altering "sounds" in existing words, without reference to playing or discarding phoneme cards.

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Last modified August 2008