Although I don't think it's been definitively proven, there is evidence to suggest that language is shaped, at least partially, by the physical landscape the speakers are using it in. 1 2

I'm preparing to work on a constructed language for a fictional culture that exists primarily at sea. I haven't yet determined if it will be a pidgin/creole or a separate language all it's own, but I am wondering how the sea/ocean itself will affect its phonology. If high altitudes encourage the use of ejectives (3), are there any particular sounds that low altitude and high humidity would encourage or discourage?

  • 3
    Spitting and guttural sounds, and the consonant "r", would be appropriate for a seafaring people. The dominant vowels should be [a, i] – voiceless vowels are a bad idea; consonants should be easily heard (χ, not θ).
    – user6726
    Sep 4, 2017 at 21:50
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    You should add some citations for your first sentence.
    – prash
    Sep 5, 2017 at 7:13
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    Among the sea-faring people are or were) Phoenicians and Arabs (with their consonant heavy languages), Polynesians, Greeks, Romans (Latin speaking), Germans, Dutch, English, Basque, French and Spanish, Chinese and Japanese, to name a few ... can you distil common features from that mixture of languages? Sep 5, 2017 at 15:35
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    Geolinguistics is alive and well. See, for instance, Caleb Everett's recent work.
    – jlawler
    Sep 7, 2017 at 10:50

1 Answer 1


After a quick look to WALS, my initial impression is that the number of unusual features in world languages tends to increase with historical isolation. Geographical proximity and language contact may result in the formation of Sprachbünde, or areas of linguistic convergence, which favors the use of common features instead of unusual ones. Influential languages may become sources for loanwords and cause spelling irregularities and sound changes.

Edit: Also, standardization, which occurs in advanced literate societies for languages with hundreds of thousands of speakers, also aims to remove much of the unwanted or redundant complexity, creating a prestige dialect that will be taught at schools and spoken by most people.

Assuming that your sea-faring fictional culture has a rich merchant tradition and interacts with many other cultures, I think that it should have a fairly typical language. 5-6 vowels, not too many consonants, lack of complex consonant clusters. A quite typical syllable structure is (consonant)(glide)vowel(consonant).

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