51 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], ...
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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 ...
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14 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 ...
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13 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" ...
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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 ...
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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 ...
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12 votes
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Can a stop be both voiced and aspirated?

Definitely yes, only your phonetic notation is not very correct. Proto-Indo-European had such stops, Sanskrit and most Indian languages have them, too ([bʱ], [d̪ʱ], [gʱ], [dʒʱ], [ɖʱ]), the very name ...
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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 ...
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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. ...
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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 ...
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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 ...
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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 "...
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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 ...
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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 [...
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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) ...
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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 ...
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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 ...
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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&...
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7 votes
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Why might consonants have been thought of, as sounds only produced together with vowels?

The Latin term is a calque from Greek σύμφωνον "pronounced with". According to Dionysius Thrax, they "do not have a sound on their own, but, when arranged with vowels, they produce a sound". Aristotle ...
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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, ...
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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'.
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7 votes

Dataset/Database similar to WALS in Vowel/Phonology

There is the famous UPSID database: http://phonetics.linguistics.ucla.edu/sales/software.htm
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7 votes
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Non-African Click Languages

This is an example of areal phonetics, where certain phonetic properties are relatively widely exploited in one area, but is rare (or nonexistent) elsewhere. Another example is labiovelars such as [kp]...
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7 votes
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Are consonants more stable than vowels?

There are some factors that make vowels more volatile than consonants in general Consonants have fixed points of articulation and modes of articulation while vowels live in a continuous space In most ...
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7 votes
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Pronunciation of double IPA consonants

Short answer: yes, it generally means the same consonant twice, but that doesn't necessarily mean there's a gap in between them. If you're a native English-speaker, think about how you'd say "...
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6 votes

Are there languages with consonant clusters that include consonants that never occur alone?

If there were some consonant than only appeared in clusters, the standard analytic assumption would be to reduce it to some consonant that does not appear in clusters, thus if [γ] only appeared in ...
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6 votes

Does any language contrast more than two trills?

In some Berber languages, we can find 4 sorts of trill : [r], [rˤ], [ʀ], [ʀ̥]. But it is not certain that it may be considered phonemes (for some Berber varieties it can be true whereas for others ...
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6 votes
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The soft Spanish "t" (other languages are available)

I think you're just hearing the lack of aspiration; English and German "t" is generally aspirated at the start of a syllable, while Spanish and Italian generally lack aspiration on voiceless plosives (...
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6 votes
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Term for consonant elision

Syncope is actually a particular kind of rhythmically-governed vowel elision. There is no general word that refers to intervocalic consonant deletion. The closest you can get is "lenition", which ...
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6 votes

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

I'll just add a bit of fuel to the above fire. As Sumelic notes, Zulu (and other Nguni languages) have /ɮ, ɬ, l/. The fact that /ɮ, l/ contrast suggests that /ɬ/ which is a voiceless version of /ɮ/ is ...
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