I would like to know how a person without teeth, produces, dental clicks (in a language where dental clicks are a characteristic).

Does such person use a different language in adult life, or what?


  • 2
    The same way someone with no teeth produce dental stops in languages that have those, I would assume: by substituting alveolar equivalents instead. It’s very rare for dentals and alveolars to be distinctive, so you can usually do this with no worse side effects than sounding a little odd to your fellow speakers. Of course, someone with no teeth at all in their mouth would need to adjust a lot of other sounds as well, not just dentals, but it’s not insurmountable. Jan 27, 2023 at 9:55
  • "Does such person use a different language in adult life, or what?"
    – Lambie
    Jun 27, 2023 at 15:39

1 Answer 1


Clicks are often labeled according to the name of the symbol in IPA used to transcribe them, and usually does not involve detailed physical inspection. There are some articles on physiology of click production that could clarify matters for you. "Anatomical biasing and clicks" investigates the comparability of Khoisan anatomy with that of others, that !Xóõ speakers generally do not have an alveolar ridge; see also Traill Phonetic and phonological studies of !Xóõ Bushman, Ladefoged & Traill Clicks and their accompaniments, Snyman The phonetics of Zu|'hoasi, a Khoisan dialect of South West Africa/ Namibia and so on.

Labeling of click place of articulation is usually based on auditory perception and the linguist's attempt to model what they perceive by micro-adjusting their tongue position when they mimic speakers producing clicks. This is similar to what happens with "retroflex" as a place of articulation, where a wide range of articulatory configurations is mapped to a single perceptual cluster – that is, it matters less how you produce the sound and more than the production produces the right sound. It is well known in phonetic studies that there are many anatomical ways to produce highly similar segments. What matters most is making the sound be distinct from other sounds in the language.

There are languages (such as Malayalam) which phonemically contrast dental stops from alveolar stops (and then there can be more exotic distinctions), but there is no contrast between physiologically dental and alveolar clicks. The click written "|" is generally in the front region of the mouth and the one written "!" is further back, and these two can contrast, but the presence / lack of teeth or an alveolar ridge is nor determinative, what matters is how far forward the constriction is. Constriction location determines the size of the front and back oral cavities, which is what determines the resonance properties of the clicks – what they sound like.

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