question about phonemes

Jouni Filip Maho jouni.maho at AFRICAN.GU.SE
Wed Apr 2 19:55:51 UTC 2003

Cclaire Bowern wrote:
>The largest inventories usually quoted are from San languages like Xoo and
>!Kung. Clicks + accompaniments + vowels + phonation types + tones adds up
>to well over a hundred (Xoo has something like 86 clicks if you count
>click + accompaniment as one phoneme).

I remember seeing a total figure of 160+ phonemes (incl. c.45 vowel
sounds) for !Xoo.

One of the main reasons why (some) Khoesan languages tend to have
such large phomeme inventories is that it's been a long tradition to
recognise their syllable structures as mainly CV(N); thus potential
consonant clusters become distinct phonemes.

(They clearly have complex sound systems, though the large figures
could be decreased depending on analysis.)

Jouni Maho
Department of Oriental and African Languages
Goteborg University

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