question about phonemes

Suzette Haden Elgin ocls at MADISONCOUNTY.NET
Wed Apr 2 16:58:16 UTC 2003

April 2, 2003

Could someone(s) on the list give me their opinion(s) on the maximum number
of phonemes in human languages? Long long ago I was taught that it was
roughly 70; in recent years I've seen claims that it's roughly 150. I keep
seeing different totals in different sources, and there's a lot of space
between 70 and 150.  (It makes me wonder if it's analogous to deciding "how
many languages exist" and showing a range from 5000 to 10,000 based on how
one defines "language" and "dialect.") And -- if 150 is near the mark -- is
that a rare extreme?

Thanks for your help. I realize that it's not a profound question [at least
I don't _think_  it is, but I'm not a phonologist and may be wrong about
that], but I'm not satisfied with the answers that I'm finding.

Suzette Haden Elgin

More information about the Funknet mailing list