There are all kinds of videos showcasing "talking" dogs like huskies jabbering away, but I'm curious: In theory (in a world where dogs could have human brains) what would they physiologically be capable of saying? What syllables would be limited or impossible due to their physiology?

  • I assume you're asking just about the physiology of the vocal tract articulation and the resulting acoustics, not whether their brains have the capacity to send fine motor-control programs (or, for that matter, to analyze things into phonemes in the first place), right?
    – abarnert
    Feb 2 '19 at 21:02
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    Yes. If a dog had a human brain, what would be the range of sounds they could make? Feb 4 '19 at 1:35

Huskies are phonologically incapable of forming anything (phonology is about the grammar of sound systems). They are phonetically capable of things that might vague resemble speech sounds. It is an interesting and under-studies quirk of the breed that they are closer to parrots in their vocal abilities. I believe that the differences are actually brain-based and not based on articulatory anatomy, since their anatomy is not radically different from bark-only breeds. Basically, they can produce a range of voiced vocoids, with some laryngeal and back-tongue trilling. We love to interpret their outputs as human language sounds, but most of that comes from our interpretive efforts and not what they are doing.

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    For some reason, nobody ever manages to record the part after the demonstration, where the Huskies turns to his owner and says "Why did you have me say 'Hello' on your YouTube video, when you know I have a problem with both fricatives and laterals?" :)
    – abarnert
    Feb 2 '19 at 23:25
  • That's cuz they say it with their eyes.
    – user6726
    Feb 3 '19 at 0:18
  • If you had a werewolf, for example, a human stuck in a wolf's body, how well would they be able to communicate? Asking for creative writing purposes. Feb 4 '19 at 1:40
  • Hard to tell. They can't control their "speech anatomy" like we can, which is about brains and not just meat. You'd need to get a specialist in dog and human anatomy to field that.
    – user6726
    Feb 4 '19 at 2:24
  • @AlyssaShurtz As far as I know, people haven't done much research on what the wolf muscles might theoretically be acoustically capable of. It seems like it would make more sense to focus on our closest relatives and reconstructions of our ancestors, or really interesting cases like parrots, or very simple animals. So, if there are any non-obvious ways in which dogs or wolves might be better than chimps at human sounds, there's a good chance nobody's found that out.
    – abarnert
    Feb 4 '19 at 2:56

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