Rotokas is a Papuan language of New Guinea known for its very small and not particularly distinctive phoneme set. The wide variation in pronunciation has led to not-
Also of note, while Rotokas has a vowel-
Finally, early investigators (Firchow & Firchow, 1969
[In the Central Rotokas dialect] ... nasals are rarely heard except when a native speaker is trying to imitate a foreigner’s attempt to speak Rotokas. In this case the nasals are used in the mimicry whether they were pronounced by the foreign speaker or not.
All of these facts are interesting in and of themselves, but for a while now I have been Sitting and Thinking™ in our offices at the A.R. McHair Institute, waiting for a single unified theory to explain these disparate facts. Finally, it came to me. The key to unlocking the mystery lies in the phrase “nasals are used in the mimicry whether they were pronounced by the foreign speaker or not.”
If one is not particularly forgiving of foreigners’ generally feeble attempts to speak one’s language, what is the defining characteristic of such speech? Simple: foreigners generally do not speak one’s language very well.
If one is not particularly forgiving of those who do not speak a language “properly”, what characteristics are generally attributed to such people? Simple: stupidity, laziness, or ineptitude.
So, why would a speaker of Rotokas use nasals in the mimicry of foreign speakers? For the same reason that a rude Northerner in the U.S. might use exaggeratedly slurred pronunciation and non-
My conclusion? Simple: manner of articulation in Rotokas is a suprasegmental feature, with nasality indicating sarcasm or mockery.
Discerning the meaning of fricativization or liquefaction of voiced consonants will have to be left to another scholar, though introspection on this matter suggests that likely candidates include indicating anger, doubt, irrealis, teleology, contempt, sluggishness, or the need for pizza.
Note: Many apologies to my colleagues at A.R. McHair for the excess tardiness of this article
Firchow, I. & J., 1969. “An abbreviated phonemic inventory”. In Anthropological Linguistics, Vol. 11 No. 9.