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52 votes
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What is the longest word without a vowel in any language?

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], ...
user6726's user avatar
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26 votes
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What is the function of the soft sign (Ь) in Russian?

WARNING: The question is sooo many-sided, it is very wide and can be split into at least 3 different questions. I'll answer it all, don't tell me later that you haven't been warned the answer would be ...
Yellow Sky's user avatar
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23 votes
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Why were vowels secondary citizens in many of the worlds sound-based writing systems?

In Ancient Egyptian, like many Afro-Asiatic languages, the consonants generally determine the root of a word, while the vowels inflect it. Sāḏam means "to hear", saḏma means "might hear&...
Draconis's user avatar
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21 votes

Are there languages with more vowels than consonants?

Probably the best-known and most often-cited example of this is Danish. Danish is generally said to have around 17 or 18 consonant phonemes, a fairly invariant number. The number of vowel phonemes ...
Janus Bahs Jacquet's user avatar
15 votes

What is the longest word without a vowel in any language?

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 ...
Mellifluous's user avatar
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15 votes

In Classical/Biblical Hebrew, why is CHAF not considered a guttural?

Alef, He, Ḥet, Ayin are the names of the phonemes originally pronounced [ʔ h ħ ʕ], which are phonetically laryngeals and pharyngeals, sometimes known by the cover term "guttural". Kaf [k] ...
user6726's user avatar
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15 votes

Why isn't the American r considered a vowel?

Many phonologists do consider "r" in "girl" to be a vowel, I being one. There are many reasons for people to consider it to not be a vowel. First, in "rabbit", nobody ...
user6726's user avatar
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14 votes
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What are the differences between palatal consonant and palatalized consonant?

Theoretically, there is a difference in most cases. In IPA, the raised j symbol <ʲ>, represents "palatalization," or a "palatal secondary articulation." The concept of a "secondary articulation" ...
brass tacks's user avatar
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13 votes
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Is there a voiced-unvoiced pair for R or L in any language?

As leoboiko mentioned, there are languages with voiceless liquids, like Icelandic. In the IPA, they are simply transcribed with a voicelessness ring diacritic: [r̥] and [l̥]. In Icelandic, these ...
brass tacks's user avatar
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13 votes
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Is there a theory challenging the "strict" distinction between Thai and Vietnamese?

There is a theory, applicable to all human languages, that is even encoded in what certain words mean in linguistics. Namely, "related" is taken to be a claim about genetic (historical) relations ...
user6726's user avatar
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12 votes

Non-African Click Languages

Not even African languages in general: clicks seem to have originated only in the Khoisan language "family" (*), and spread from there into neighboring languages. In other words, clicks don't seem to ...
Draconis's user avatar
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12 votes

Why were vowels secondary citizens in many of the worlds sound-based writing systems?

One reason is that vowels are much less important for distinguishing words than you might think. Years ago I did an analysis of the Carnegie Mellon Pronouncing dictionary. I asked what would happen if ...
adam.baker's user avatar
12 votes

Are there languages with more vowels than consonants?

The conventional understanding of "phoneme" is that it is a segment. There is vast disagreement over what constitutes a "segment". Given that, one example of a language with many ...
user6726's user avatar
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11 votes
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Is there some equivalent of a "Grimm's law" that applies to the Semitic language family?

Quite a lot of them, in fact! Grimm's Law is probably the most famous description of a regular sound change. But there are an enormous number of these in historical linguistics, some named, some not. ...
Draconis's user avatar
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11 votes
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Are there languages with more vowels than consonants?

I have yet to see anyone bring up the Iau language of West Papua, Indonesia, which has only 6 phonemic consonants (not counting allophony) but 8 vowel qualities even before accounting for diphthongs ...
Arcaeca's user avatar
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11 votes
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How would vowel-heavy names be written in a pure abjad?

Sure. You'll find very few abjads in the world that don't have any way of representing vowels—in fact I'm not aware of a single one—but in Egyptian, about the closest you can get, a name like /...
Draconis's user avatar
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9 votes

What's up with the letter W?

Don't take spelling too seriously, it's often conventional and arbitrary. Language is primarily a spoken thing rather than a string of written letters. Don't confuse sounds (phonemes) with their ...
Artemij Keidan's user avatar
9 votes
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What's up with the letter W?

"W" developed as a standard, distinct letter by about the 17th century, taking its sweet time getting there. It is the result of standardizing a ligature of "vv", ramming the letters together. Bear in ...
user6726's user avatar
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9 votes
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What does '# of Cs' mean?

Tragically, the letter "#" has two meanings. In linguistics, it is used to refer to a word boundary. More generally (i.e. not in the special usage of linguists), it (the number sign) stands for "...
user6726's user avatar
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9 votes
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The German consonant "c" changes to the English "g"

You'll notice that all of these words include ch in German and gh in English. These originally represented the same sound: a voiceless velar fricative, written as /x/ in the International Phonetic ...
Draconis's user avatar
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8 votes
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How unusual is the English J sound?

The English "j" sound is a voiced postalveolar affricate, transcribed in the International Phonetic Alphabet as /dʒ/. It is indeed the voiced counterpart to the voiceless "ch" sound /tʃ/. The phones [...
brass tacks's user avatar
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8 votes
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The difference between a regular consonant and a syllabic consonant

One way to get a better grasp of the phonetics of syllabic consonants is to listen to a minimal pair in a language that has them, such as here. This is the pair [mbááŋgàà m̩̀bááŋgàà] (in that order) ...
user6726's user avatar
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8 votes

Why isn't intervocalic /ŋ/ analyzed as an onset in English?

The first reason for [sɪŋ.ɪŋ] is the premise that [ŋ] only appears in the coda. The main argument for that conclusion is the analogy between word position and syllable position. Steriade has some ...
user6726's user avatar
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8 votes

How to Tell Apart Voiced Consonants and Unaspirated Unvoiced Consonants

There is no general solution, other than practice, practice, practice. The most important thing to understand is that purported /p,b,pʰ/ are not the same in all languages, so you have to learn them in ...
user6726's user avatar
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8 votes
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Where can I find a list of phonetically possible consonant clusters?

There aren't any "phonetically impossible clusters". If you can articulate [ʔ], you can do that and they articulate [k], followed by [q], then [g], and so on. "Phonetically impossible&...
user6726's user avatar
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8 votes

What is the difference between [ɚ], [ɝ], [ɹ̩], and [ɻ̍]?

There's not necessarily a difference at all! It's like how there's not necessarily a difference between [j] and [i̯], or [d̥] and [t]. It's entirely possible to make two IPA characters that refer to ...
Draconis's user avatar
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7 votes

Is there a voiced-unvoiced pair for R or L in any language?

Welsh has 'rh' and 'll' as the unvoiced counterparts of 'r' and 'l'.
HP Williams's user avatar
7 votes

Is there a voiced-unvoiced pair for R or L in any language?

I'm sure there's a lot, but one example would be Icelandic. hlít /l̥iːt/ ‘throughly’ lít /liːt/ ‘I look; you look’ hraða /r̥aːða/ ‘to speed up’ raða /raːða/ ‘to put in order; to employ’ Of course, ...
melissa_boiko's user avatar
7 votes

When did the sounds of 'w' and 'v' change in High German?

The change of /w/ to /v/ is not considered to be part of the High German Consonant Shift. It looks like it probably occurred later than that; it seems safe to date it after 500 AD and potentially as ...
brass tacks's user avatar
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7 votes
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Why r, h, and w aren't vowels

The International Phonetic Alphabet draws a very arbitrary distinction between consonants and vowels, and categorizes them completely separately. But in truth, there's not any major phonetic ...
Draconis's user avatar
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