Trying to get a sense of what a complicated language sounds like, all the different pronunciations possible. Wondering if one could link to one of the most complicated spoken languages today. I just read that the Japanese writing system is considered one of the most complicated. I'm not sure if it is in terms of sound. Wondering what the sound / spoken language equivalent would be. If there are a few, would be interested to know what the top are.

I don't mean in terms of accents. I mean in terms of actual letters or consonants that go into words, or mora (which I am just being introduced to). But not accents, of which there could be a huge range.

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    I feel that this post is making a lot of confusion between writing and sounds. These are separate. The phonetics of a language are generally analyzed independently of its writing system(s), although the analysis may be partly steered by the writing system as it may shed some light on how its speakers perceive the sound units making up the language (or not, depending on how "native" the writing system is). In any case, you should clarify whether you are talking about phonetics, or writing, or somehow, both, and if both, to what extents. – LjL Aug 28 '18 at 0:48
  • Ok thank you for clarifying. Yeah I just learned about the difference between writing and sound, shouldn't have made that assumption. – Lance Pollard Aug 28 '18 at 0:50
  • I am in particular thinking about the IPA, which is a sound writing system. So I was thinking you could analyze a language with that and produce something that is more complex than another language. – Lance Pollard Aug 28 '18 at 0:51
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    The IPA can be used in various ways, basically a continuum between phonemic (which sounds speakers perceive as distinct, and which sounds can actually result in distinct words) and phonetic (trying to spell out every difference between a sound and another sound even if those are allophones, i.e. sounds that are perceived as the same sound by speakers, and just happen to be pronounced differently depending on the context, the speaker, or sheer chance). Between these extremes, a linguist can analyze a language in many different ways, ending up using different numbers of IPA symbols. – LjL Aug 28 '18 at 0:54
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    This is why the answer by @user6726 points out that even among some of the languages commonly considered to have "the most sounds", the actual amount stated can vary widely depending on the underlying analysis that is being used to count them. – LjL Aug 28 '18 at 0:56

There are a lot of senses of "complicated" that can be invoked for languages. There are two kinds of complexity often applied to sound systems, one being the number of segmental units (often divided into consonants versus vowels), and the other being the degree of sequential unpredictability. An example of the first kind is the Khoisan language Taa (ǃXóõ), which has a lot of consonants and vowels -- around 140, though you can't take such numbers at face value because they are influenced by analysis. Likewise, the Caucasian language Ubykh had a massive inventory of consonants. An example of how analysis affects the count is that Taa has been claimed to have "prevoiced" consonants, but another analysis is that they have clusters of voiced plus voiceless consonant.

Sequential unpredictability gives you languages with "complex" combinations of consonants and vowels. Polish allows things like wstrząs, krnąbrność and W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie. In languages with really simple syllable structure, you know that what follows a consonant is a vowel, and what follows a vowel is a consonant; in English you know that what precedes p,t,k in the syllable is s. Georgian has some odd onset clusters such as bg, known as the harmonic clusters, which either constitute examples of "complexity" in diverging from the syllable architype CVCVCV... or which constitute complexity in being additional complex consonants (analogous to "prevoiced" consonants in Taa).

There is a third sense of "complex" not implied by your question (which seems to take the word to be a given, rather than the product of a computation), which is the complexity of computing a given form. Classical Arabic is a good example of that kind of complexity, because the system of rules for deriving a given form (e.g. 1 pl. imperfective jussive 1st measure of the root /wḍʕ/) are complex – there are many rules. The complexity of Japanese writing arises not just from having a lot of graphic primitives, but also from the rules for using graphemes.

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