I have a hunch and I'm not sure if it is correct or not: it seems like tonal languages prefer an exhalated pronunciation over an inhalated pronunciation. My original thinking was that it shouldn't make a difference, but that doesn't seem to actually be the case.

Does breathing in or breathing out have any affection in the proper pronunciation of a tonal language?

  • 1
    Maybe you could expand on what you mean by an exhalated pronunciation / an inhalated pronunciation, esp. in light of user6726's answer.
    – JD2000
    Jan 26, 2020 at 16:01
  • @JD2000 If aspiration is an example of expulsion, what's the opposite? I feel like I always "suck in" when pronouncing instead of pushing out...?
    – Mou某
    Jan 27, 2020 at 12:24
  • Have a look at Ljl's link below for the terminology. I don't think there's a specific term for an ingressive aspirated consonant, but then I don't think anyone has come across a consonant like that. I can't see how you can be sucking in - could you be latching onto something else and mislabeling it?
    – JD2000
    Jan 28, 2020 at 2:29

1 Answer 1


All human languages use exhaled pronunciations and not inhaled pronunciations ("inhalation" i.e. breathing is talked about in phonetics as using "ingressive lung air": read a basic speech and hearing science textbook to understand the mechanics of inhalation, for example Minifie, Hixon & Williams 1973). So tonal languages, specifically, do as well. It is difficult to speak while inhaling, it doesn't sound right, and you can't do it for very long.

Air can flow into the mouth because of negative pressure relative to atmospheric, and this happens systematically in the production of clicks and implosives, where the oral cavity is sealed with the tongue of larynx and then a slight vacuum is created, resulting in brief in-flowing of air into the mouth. This last for maybe some hundreds of milliseconds. Ordinary speech involves egressive lung air and lasts for a number of second between inspirations.

  • 3
    I think "all" may be a bit of an overstatement. The vast majority of human languages employ exclusively pulmonic egressive sounds, but ingressive ones do exist although their strict linguistic use is somewhat limited.
    – LjL
    Jan 26, 2020 at 16:37

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