I am looking for languages which have separate words for the visible opening of the mouth (the external part, including or not including the lips), and the cavity (the internal part). Put another way, a language which would use different words in the phrases 'closed mouth' and 'full mouth'.

For 'ear', Spanish has oreja for the outer part and oído for the entire organ of hearing. It's that sort of distinction I am looking for.

1 Answer 1


It all depends on what you call "a separate word". The English 'mouth opening' and 'mouth cavity' can well be considered separate words even though they have a space inside each of them in the current English spelling. They are compound nouns, it is just a convention that they are written with each component separated by a space. In German they are written as one word:

Mundöffnung 'mouth opening' (literary "mouth opening", öffnen is "to open");
Mundhöhle 'mouth cavity' (literary "mouth hole").

The same in Hungarian:

szájnyitás 'mouth opening' (száj "mouth" + nyitás is "opening");
sájüreg 'mouth cavity' (száj "mouth" + üreg"cavity, hole").

In Chinese, Japanese and in dozens of other languages it is also the same way. I am sure, Google translator can be of much help for you.

  • 1
    This is clearly not what the question is asking for. Obviously, there are no languages that don’t have the possibility to describe the opening to the mouth and the cavity of the mouth by different words; the point is whether there are languages who consider the two fundamentally different body parts and use different words when referring to them. Nobody says “don’t talk with your mouth cavity full” or “close your mouth opening when you eat” – English has just one word, mouth, that refers to opening and cavity together, and they’re not distinguished in speech. Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 15:20
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - Do you mean that Spanish speakers in their everyday life can talk about the ear as "the entire organ of hearing"? However tiny my knowledge of Spanish is, I can see that oído is the masculine past participle of the verb oír "to hear, to listen", so it's something like 'hearing' or 'hearer'. What is so special about it that makes it different from Mundhöhle?
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 16:04
  • Yes, that’s more or less how it works. Oído does mean ‘hearing’ (or ‘heard’), but it is the word used to refer to (the inner part of) the ear seen as an organ of hearing, as opposed to oreja, which refers to the physical bit of skin and sinew that sticks out of your head. The former is used in phrases like ‘be all ears’ (ser todo oídos) or ‘turn a deaf ear’ (hacer oídos sordos), the latter in ‘seeing the wolf’s ears’ (ver las orejas del lobo, sensing danger) and ‘donkey talking about ears’ (el burro hablando de orejas, pot calling the kettle black). You wouldn’t switch them. Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 16:13
  • In both cases, the English translation just uses the word ear, because English does not have separate (common) words for the physical feature and the internal hearing-organ feature. It’s similar to how some languages do not have a common word for ‘arm’ or ‘leg’, but do have separate words for ‘upper/lower arm/leg’, while others (like English) have it the other way around. Consider also nose/nostril – you can get something stuck up your nostril or up your nose, but you can’t hit someone in the nostril, only the nose, because the nostrils are specifically the inner parts of the nose. Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 16:18
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    Janus, nostril refers to the two openings of the nose and to the interior cavities. You can say "I have a pea deep inside my nostril" or "I have a zit next to my nostril". So it's not exactly the same. Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 19:26

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