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(see edit below before you answer!)

I'm not a linguist, but I've always been fascinated by the fact that in Czech, there is a 9-letter word without a single vowel: čtvrthrst. It means "quarter of a handful" and although it's not really commonly used, it isn't nonsensical either. Some other Czech words without vowels can be found here: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:Czech_words_without_vowels

Now I'm curious whether there are even longer words without vowels in other languages. I have tried googling, but only got results for English words which are not very impressive: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_words_without_vowels.

Does anybody know where to find more and if there are words without vowels that have 10 letters or more?


EDIT:

The question is posed in simple terms with many inaccurate assumptions (e.g. what is a vowel? can we compare consonants and vowels across languages? is it letters or sounds that matter?) because that's how I (and surely many others) have been wondering about it for some time. The accepted answer, however, reveals a deeper problem. Realizing that a seemingly simple question is not so simple after all is, I think, why we all come to this website.

So, to specify my question, rather than asking for a record-breaking word, can we even ask such a question in the first place? Does it make sense to ask it? And why?

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  • Note that you can add the enclitic -s also to other past participles in the list, not just scvrnkl -> scvrnkls. E.g., zmrzls. – Vladimir F Apr 18 at 9:39
  • Also, you cane make a quarter of other stuff: čtvrtprst, čtvrtprsk although čvrtscvrnk is probably too much. – Vladimir F Apr 18 at 12:31
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    Slovak štvrťžblnk beats the Czech by one letter :-). And if you get a bit creative (and unrealistic), you can even get štvrťvzžblnk. – Radovan Garabík Apr 18 at 19:01
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    I’m voting to close this question because it's trivia and has nothing to do with the scientific study of language. – curiousdannii Apr 18 at 22:14
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    @curiousdannii I agree that the way the question was posed invites a type of response where people just shout words and argue about how long or meaningful they are. However, user6726 recognized (as I suspected) that a better way to pose the question is: "Can we ask what the longest word without vowels is?" and provided a great response to it. This, I think, has a lot to do with the scientific study of language. So what do you say I edit the question with this in mind? It has certainly helped me learn something about linguistics! – honzukka Apr 19 at 7:38
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The question could be interpreted as being about "vowel letters". "Twyndyllyngs" is a candidate: said to come from Welsh. If we take "vowels" to be the letters [ieaou], then Norwegian råbygg has no vowels. The defect in the reasoning there is that in Norwegian, y, å, ø, æ are also "vowel letters", so you have to assume some definition of "vowel letter" for each language. Then in Arabic you write sentences without vowels: رأيت الكلب , although there are some diacritics that allow you to mark vowels, which are used in the Qur'an and in language-teaching materials. In Tigrinya, a word like ባልዶንጓ "beans" has no vowel letters – because every letter is a combination of a consonant and a vowel. And then there is the fact that Chinese writing (characters, as opposed to pinyin romanization) doesn't have letters at all. So the question might need to be limited to alphabetic systems (excluding Arabic, Tigrinya, Chinese), and then we'd need to define the vowel letters individually for each language. That can be done.

The other interpretation is about vowel sounds, which will reduce the count for words of Nuxalk like "lh" which is one sound [ɬ], "th" and "ng" in English when they are the sounds [θ, ŋ]. This brings us to Nuxalk (Bella Coola) and Tamazight (in the broadest sense) = Berber, and potentially Kabardian. These are languages said to have few or no vowels. However, if you listen to Kabardian, you would not think "Gosh, that language has no vowels!", you would hear dozens of vowels. So we have to talk about "vowel sounds" in at least two different ways, one being phonological where the question is "do we look at the 'phonemic' representation of the word" and the other being based on actual physical output. The claim about Kabardian is kind of based on analytic trickery of phonemicisation, so that language is not all that exotic.

The problem with answering the question at the phonetic level is that there isn't a well-justified phonetic definition of "vowel" as distinct from "consonant release" that doesn't presuppose a particular analysis of these languages (or similar languages). "tsskʃftstt" is a word of the Tashlhiyt dialect said to have no vowels, but does it have a bunch of voiceless schwas or does it have no vowels and a bunch of noisy consonants that simply sound like there are surrounding vowels? Languages do have voiceless vowels (Comanche, but should we not count them as vowels? Is there a vowel in the ordinary casual pronunciation of "potato" – [pʰtʰɛɪɾoʊ] or [pʰə̥tʰɛɪɾoʊ]?

Reliance on raw sound is not a tenable approach, IMO, because there's no language-independent definition of "vowel" based on pure physical sound that doesn't either arbitrarily declare that voiceless vowels aren't vowel, or else force consonants to often be declared to be consonant plus vowel sequences because the consonant has some amount of release.

That all said, the previously-posted Nuxalk example seems to win the prize at least based on current linguistic literature 13 vs 10. The Nuxalk word apparently actually includes an enclitic /kʷt͡sʼ/, perhaps clitics can also be tacked on to the Tashlhiyt word to make it longer.

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    I am honestly amazed by the spectrum of languages you discussed. I know that this is SE Linguistics but as a physicist (by education) or IT (by work) I could not speak that broadly of my area. Chapeau bas. – WoJ Apr 18 at 20:27
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    Well, in Welsh, w is unambiguously a vowel letter, as is y. – TRiG Apr 18 at 22:04
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    @user6726 On Tashilhiyt Berber: Words like /tsskʃftstt/ indeed have no vowels whatsoever — voiced epenthetic vowels are rare, and any voiceless epenthetic vowels are difficult enough to distinguish that they may as well not be there. (Source: halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00382862/document) Also, Wikipedia has a Shilha utterance which beats the Nuxalk example: /fr.ħʁs.lm.ʕrf.tn.nk/ ‘I’m glad to make your acquaintance’, 14 phonemes. – bradrn Apr 19 at 0:41
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    This answer seems to have been written with the assumption that readers have already read the other answers on this page (it uses phrases like "the Nuxalk example" despite never listing any Nuxalk example). Now that this is the accepted and topvoted answer, that assumption doesn't work. The answer should be edited to include any necessary information, or at least to explicitly refer to that information (e.g. with phrases like "in Joyful Sadness's answer" or whatnot). – ruakh Apr 19 at 23:56
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    It's one thing that "vowel" is extremely difficult to define, but if you look at the question closely, it also assumes that "word" can be defined. In reality a similarly long answer could be written on why defining "word" is extremely problematic as well – maritsm Apr 20 at 7:17
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There's a word (a sentence actually) in the Canadian language Bella Coola (aka Nuxalk) that only consists of obstruents (no vowels at all) and is longer than the Czech word you mentioned in the question:

  • clhp'xwlhtlhplhhskwts':

    [xɬpʼχʷɬtʰɬpʰɬːskʷʰt͡sʼ]
    /xɬ-pʼχʷɬt-ɬp-ɬɬ-s=kʷt͡sʼ/

it translates to “then he had had in his possession a bunchberry plant” (Nater 1984)


Another example is:

  • [k’xɬːtʰsxʷ.sɬχʷtʰɬːt͡s]

and it means “you had seen that I had gone through a passage” (Nater 1984)


[All the above information comes from the Wikipedia article on Nuxalk]

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    now I feel an unhealthy urge to group-travel to Georgia and provoke a situation in which I would be able to rightfully accuse a local of an act of collective peeling, so I could show off my newly acquired knowledge. – dlatikay Apr 19 at 17:57
  • @dlatikay it may be easier to smuggle a largish dog there and then ask for a trainer – John Dvorak Apr 21 at 9:52
  • I don't think Georgian has any words at all with no vowels though. – hippietrail Apr 23 at 2:55
  • @dlatikay: I satisfied my urge to travel to Georgia and ask random locals to გვფრცქვნი a decade ago and feel all the more healthy for doing so. Fortunately for me a I travelled alone. დავაი. – hippietrail Apr 23 at 3:20
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Some claim that vzcvrnkls exists. It is pretty artificial, though, even if perfectly pronounceable.

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    (I may be wrong, but I hear a clear vowel after the [r] in the recording you linked to.) – Mellifluous Apr 18 at 14:57
  • @JoyfulSadness Which vowel in particular? I have experience of Brittons being completely unable to say Brno, they always say Bruno. However, no such vowel is in the city's first syllable, it is just [ˈbr̩no]. – Vladimir F Apr 18 at 16:58
  • It sounds something like a raised ɐ to me – Mellifluous Apr 18 at 18:51
  • @JoyfulSadness I am not aware of such sound in Czech phonology. There used to be vowels (accompanying, svarabhactic) that accompanied the syllabic liquids in Old Czech but it is not clear, when they were just graphical), but that is no longer the case, it is really normally analysed as [r̩] (although the points raised by user6726 do apply). – Vladimir F Apr 18 at 19:23
  • This is technically two words which are however written together in Czech. The first one is a verb "vzcvrnkl", contributing 2 syllables, and the second one is another verb "s", contributing no additional syllables. If you try to analyze "vzcvrnkls" as a single verb, you'll likely end up with postulating a null ending before a suffix, which is impossible in Czech. Cf. "vzcvrnklas" for a form with a non-null ending. – Jirka Hanika Apr 18 at 21:11
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Although some of the letters are now used as vowels in varying cases, ancient written Hebrew had no vowels.

Source

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