question about phonemes

Claire Bowern bowern at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Wed Apr 2 21:11:41 UTC 2003

According to the source I used for making up a Kabardian problem recently,
it had 49 consonants and 2 vowels. My memory for Xoo is that it has five
places of clicks, times about 16 possibilities for accompaniments. Then it
has non-click consonants, vowels (with length, nasality, etc) and if you
count tones too it ends up being about 150. Baroque, anyway.

On Wed, 2 Apr 2003, Geoff Nathan wrote:

> At 10:58 AM 4/2/2003 -0600, Suzette Haden Elgin wrote:
>       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?
> The definitive place to go for the answer is Sounds of the World's Languages, Peter Ladefoged and Ian Maddieson, 1994
> (I believe--I'm not in my Linguistics office at the moment).  My memory is that 150 is way over the top, but it is the
> case that !Xoo has a lot of clicks, as Claire Bowen mentioned.  The San languages do certainly seem to be at the
> extreme end of the continuum, but languages without clicks that are large, such as Kabardian (over forty consonants and
> more than five vowels) and Thompson (Ntlakapmxw) with about the same number seem to be at the top end otherwise, so
> totals around fifty are pretty close to the top without clicks.  But check SOWL for the final answer.
> Geoff
> Geoffrey S. Nathan <geoffnathan at>
> Faculty Liaison, Computing and Information Technology,
> Wayne State University
> Linguistics Program
> (snailmail)
> Department of English
> Wayne State University
> Detroit, MI, 48202
> Phone Numbers
> Computing and Information Technology:  (313) 577-1259
> Linguistics (English):  (313) 577-8621

Claire Bowern
Department of Linguistics
Harvard University
305 Boylston Hall
Cambridge, MA, 02138

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