question about phonemes

John Kyle jkyle at KU.EDU
Wed Apr 2 18:15:08 UTC 2003

I find that 150 is a very high number for phonemes although I can't say it's
not possible.  Most languages that I've looked at have between 20 to 40
phonemes.  If anyone knows of languages with that many phonemes (150),
please post.  It would be interesting to see if there are any effects on the
morphology of the language such as word size, etc.

John Kyle
jkyle at
----- Original Message -----
From: "Suzette Haden Elgin" <ocls at MADISONCOUNTY.NET>
To: <FUNKNET at>
Sent: Wednesday, April 02, 2003 10:58 AM
Subject: question about phonemes

> April 2, 2003
> Could someone(s) on the list give me their opinion(s) on the maximum
> 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
> 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 --
> that a rare extreme?
> Thanks for your help. I realize that it's not a profound question [at
> 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

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