I know that Rotokas language has fewer consonants than most (all?) languages. But I haven't been able to find a language that has no consonants (whether phonemic or phonetic). Does such a language exist that only uses vowels? I'm talking about spoken languages, not sign.

  • 4
    No. As you say, Rotokas is generally held to be the language with the smallest consonant inventory, and it has consonants; it logically follows, therefore, that there are no known languages that have no consonants at all, otherwise that language would be the one with the smallest consonant inventory. All languages make use of both vowels and consonants. Jun 30 '21 at 7:45
  • See also this question on Constructed Languages Jun 30 '21 at 7:50
  • For basic production reasons, you need syllables, which have vowels in the nuclei. But they need to be distinguished. How would you tell /aa/ from /aaaa/? Consonants are the sounds that occur on the fringes of vowel nuclei, separating the syllables. You really can't do without them and still have real language, any more than you can have a fence without fenceposts.
    – jlawler
    Jun 30 '21 at 15:39
  • You can tell /a/ from /aa/ from /aaa/ by duration, and this happens in real languages. There is a limit s.t. I doubt that /aaaaaaaaaa/ could be reliably distinguished from /aaaaaaaaaaa/, though [kɛ̄̃ɛ̀̃ɛ̀̃ɛ̀̃ɛ̄̃ɛ́̃] is a Gokana word made famous by Hyman glossed "wake -CAUS -LOG -3SG-FOC". /eieio/ and /eiaou/ are distinguishable. Syllables, assuming they exist, only need vowels. Anyhow, your argument doesn't rely on syllables or production, it relies on perception and the increased probability of misperception.
    – user6726
    Jun 30 '21 at 20:42

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