Guttural consonants in world languages

A. Katz amnfn at
Sun Oct 31 12:24:47 UTC 2010


The answer to your question might depend on whether we believe in 
monogenesis or not. If language arose only once, then it had a certain 
phonetic inventory at that time. Then historical processes set in.

My guess is that guttural sounds and clicks and pharyngeals were part of 
the phonetic inventory of the original language (or languages), but that 
they tend to disappear with time. In less urban settings, where there is 
less commerce and less noise, the sounds can survive. But in other places 
they tend to disappear.

Have you ever heard of a click developing from a non-click, a pharyngeal 
from an oral sound? I think there's some kind of directionality in the 
process of change.


On Sun, 31 Oct 2010, Yuri Tambovtsev wrote:

> Dear colleagues, it is still an enigma for me why in some languages labial consonants are used more frequently while in some other palatal or guttural consonants are preferred. When I asked J.Greenberg about it in 1973, he wrote me that he was wondering about that as well. I think that J.Greenberg published an article on the frequency of speech sounds in the chain of some Amer.Indian language. Is that true? Do you know Greenberg's article on the frequency of occurrence of speech sounds? He urged me to calculate the frequencies of phonemic occurrence in different world languages.  I have calculated the degree of the use of the guttural consonants in the speech sond chain in the world languages. By guttural consonants I mean velar, uvular, pharingeal and glottal consonants. The use of guttural was calculated in per cent to all sounds in the speech sound chain. The least guttural languages are Rumanian (1,45%) and Latvian (5.55%), while the most guttural are Wichita (30.23%) and Naukan Eskimo (26.76%). It means nearly every third speech sound in the chain is guttural. I can send my list of publications to those interested. Please, write to yutamb at  Be well, remain yours most gratefully for different fruitful discussions on the list, Yuri Tambovtsev, Novosibirsk

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