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I would like to construct a language for a fictional world. From what I gathered in different places, the first element to consider are the phoneme used by the speakers.

However, since I already have a built world, I know the climate and geography conditions of the country where that language should be.

I am not a linguist, but I think that, in general, languages travel with the people, and evolve depending on the situation (e.g. contacts with other languages). However, I was wondering whether the phonemes used by the languages depends on the natural environment where those languages appeared/are used/etc.

Do people in colder countries tend to speak with more guttural languages? Or are there some similarities for languages in similar climate/geography conditions that are not explained by historical or political connections?

As I am more often there, I asked the same question on Worldbuilding, until I realised that there were a dedicated site for language related questions.

  • Please let me know if that does not fit the expected standard of Linguistics SE. – bilbo_pingouin Sep 28 '15 at 14:06
  • Would you also like to consider other factors such a the degree of civilization; Type of communities besides climatic or politico historical factors? – ARi Sep 28 '15 at 14:31
  • Welcome to Linguistics SE! Well, my hunch is that your question fits here better, since it's about observed typology of natural languages. As cross-posting is discouraged, you probably should remove the one on Worldbuilding. As far as its content goes: for all I know, phonemic inventory is not conditioned by environment. Probably lexico-semantic domain is the one most notorious for its deteministic relation to environment. – Ivan Kapitonov Sep 28 '15 at 14:32
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    Fair enough. Oh, and that paper suggests that there is impact! I should look at it :-) – Ivan Kapitonov Sep 28 '15 at 14:39
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    Caleb Everett has recently been doing some research on geographic and climatological features and how they interact with phonology and language change. – jlawler Sep 28 '15 at 23:36
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Arabic, spoken in one of the hottest countries on the planet, is far more guttural than Finnish (which nobody would consider "guttural"). There could be a correlation between climate and phonetic typology, but it would be coincidental. The phonetic properties of a language today are heavily influenced by the properties of its ancestor millenia ago -- Arabic has a lot of gutturals because proto-Semitic did as well. And proto-Semitic probably inherited gutturals from proto-Afro-Asiatic. This relates to geography because that ancestor language was spoken in a relatively small area in Northeast Africa, where it is generally not cold. In the modern era, one can easily move across the globe in a few days (I'm being realistic about airplane connections and border crossings), but in the pre-technological era, people tended to stay put for generations. To the point that Khoisan speakers in southern Africa have probably been there for tens of thousands of years.

So for humans, climate is irrelevant to language, and what matters is population movement patterns and contact between typologically-different languages. If this world is populated by non-humanoids who e.g. communicate (sometime) by blowing bubbles in water, then a different mode of communication such as belching fire might be necessary if the setting is Pluto.

  • Sorry about the misunderstanding about the guttural part. I did not mean to make a statement about it, just trying to illustrate my point. I tried to convey the point about the population movement in my question, so yes, no question about that. Just for me to know, your statement that there are no link is based on...? A research which concluded on the absence of link? The lack of research on that subject (as far as you know of course, I understand)? Or your own impression/experience/feeling? Or...? – bilbo_pingouin Sep 28 '15 at 17:51
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    I understood your guttural question to be just an example. Let's say that my conclusion is based on a few decades of cross-linguistic research into phonological systems across the globe. My central point was that if one found a correlation, it would be due to historical accident, such as where Afro-Asiatic was spoken and quirks of Afro-Asiatic (or some other phylum). – user6726 Sep 28 '15 at 18:16
  • I once heard a Persian joking about the Arabic language: Why does Arabic contain so much guttural sounds? Because the Arabs always have sand in their throats. – jknappen Dec 28 '17 at 16:44
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I remember reading about a study that associated warm, humid climates to tonal languages. Give it a read, it might inspire you: (Everett, Blasi & Roberts, 2015)

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Another interesting one from Everett is the connection between ejectives and high altitudes. Everett did not control for phylogeny or do proper statistical analysis, but others have and found that the relationship remains significant.

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The question seems a reasonable one, to see if there are any correlations of language features with extra-linguistic situations. And if memory serves, there has been lots of cross-linguistic research to attempt to find these correlations a good rainy day can be spent in armchair exploration of WALS to this end.

With all this research I'm pretty sure that no such correlations have been found...

...except for one. Described in the paper

Charles Hockett et al., F

they found that there was one phoneme, F (the unvoiced labio-dental fricative) that was correlated with a cultural use of cultivating grain. Many cultures are hunter-gatherer, many others are pastoral and yet others stay in one place and grow crops. The hypothesis is that those cultures that grow crops have a certain way of cooking and eating grains and that somehow (I can't remember their details) that is conducive to having labiodentals where the other ways of cooking eating do not. Of course this was statistical and not strictly determinative. But there was some correlation (I don't know how strong).

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