Is there a sound that we make when speaking that is not resonant? I just recorded myself humming a vowel sound, and when I play it back there seems to be a resonant sound, one defined by the movement of the vocal chords, and another sound of a different, and more musical / pure / less vibratory sound.

Am I imagining things?

  • 4
    Based on your description, you might be using the word "resonant" where other people sometimes use the word "voiced" (to refer to sounds that include the vocal folds vibrating). In English, unvoiced sounds include the sounds made by p, t, k, f, and s. English doesn't have unvoiced vowels (except in whispering), but a very small number of languages (I think Japanese is one) have unvoiced vowels in normal speech. Dec 23 '19 at 19:24
  • there's nothing else i could mean @matan-matika ? do vowels have an unvoiced component to them? Dec 23 '19 at 19:37
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    Yes, but it's very soft compared to the loudness of the vocal cords moving. With approximants and even more so fricatives (these are consonants), the sound created by the vocal cords, if any, becomes less prominent compared to the "turbulent" sounds created by the various types of narrowing of the vocal tracts these consonants have.
    – LjL
    Dec 23 '19 at 21:17
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    @user3293056 I'm afraid I've no idea. However, the Wikipedia article about fricatives mentions that the turbulent airflow creates a type of noise, where that's defined as a sound that is not periodic, or in other words that's spread all over the frequency spectrum; on the other hand, the article about vowels says that they are mainly resonant sounds, with the vocal tract being the chamber, and which create periodic sounds...
    – LjL
    Dec 24 '19 at 2:33
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    ... Now, although these two types of sounds are contrasted, any voiced consonant will contain resonand/periodic portions, and conversely, even a vowel will contain some amount of noise created just by the fact air is getting out of your mouth. So within this framework, I'd call the non-resonant part of vowels "noise", but I realize that's probably not satisfactory. It is also kind of remarkable that we can still distinguish vowels from each other (less easily) even when they are unvoiced, i.e. whispered, which points to the resonant frequencies (the formants) being still present in some form.
    – LjL
    Dec 24 '19 at 2:36

In English, there are no words that have only voiceless sounds, since all words in English have vowels and vowels in English are voiced. (There are noises that English speakers can make which are all voiceless, like "shh!", "pst!", but these aren't words). Some languages have words without vowels, such as Bella Coola (Nuxalk) and some dialects of Berber. For example in Bella Coola, [xłp̓χʷłtłpłłskʷc̓] is "then he had had in his possession a bunchberry plant". In Tashlhiyt Berber [tftktstt] is "you sprained it (fem.)". There are languages with phonetically voiceless vowels, such as Japanese and Comanche, but from what I can tell, no word of Comanche can be composed of only voiceless segments. Tsuchida (2001) notes that in Japanese you cannot devoice two vowels in a row, so every word has at least one voiced vowel.

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    It may be too strong to say that interjections aren't words.
    – amI
    Dec 24 '19 at 7:53
  • @aml that wasn't claimed, though. I see the implied claim as being that interjections that don't respect the language's usual phonotactics (laymen may just call them "noises" one makes) may not be considered words, and that's a narrower claim.
    – LjL
    Dec 27 '19 at 20:23

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