Guttural consonants in world languages

john at john at
Sun Oct 31 13:31:13 UTC 2010

In a generally similar vein, Niloofar Haeri has argued convincingly
that in sound changes, women are overwhelmingly more likely to lead
if the process involves fronting while men are overwhelmingly more likely
to lead if the process involves backing. Another mystery of human language...

Quoting Yuri Tambovtsev <yutamb at>:

> 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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