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Re: !Ui phonemes

From:Paul Roser <pkroser@...>
Date:Tuesday, October 22, 2002, 18:05
On Tue, 22 Oct 2002 17:16:08 +0000, Andreas Johansson <and_yo@...>

>An article in the Oct 19th-25th issue of The Economist (page 48) mentions a >Khoisan language called "!Ui" as having 140+ phonemes, which's rather more >than the ~110 I've heard for other Khoisan languages. Is this reliable? And >what ARE these dozens of phonemes? How many are humanly possible?
It depends on how they are counting phonemes - in the UPSID list !Xoo Khoisan has (iirc) roughly ~145, including some 80+ clicks and a 5 (?) vowel system that is further multiplied by voice quality distinctions (breathy, creaky, pharyngealized, breathy pharyngealized (AKA strident), etc), and from the limited info I've seen on !Ui (I assume this is the same as !Gwi ~ !Gui ~ |Gui - can't remember the correct click) it has a click inventory easily as big as !Xoo's. How clicks are counted, or even how phonemes are counted, is another question entirely, and I know that And has certain views on this topic (with which I am in sympathy) that one ought to specify the environment one is counting phonemes in, eg prevocal/word-/syllable-initial or syllable-final.
>Also the article claims that spoken languages "usually" employ around >twenty phonemes - is this correct? I'd expected a bit more; even Hawaiian >has IIRC 14, and there seems to be plenty languages with something more >like 25-40. >Could 20 be correct median or average number, and if so, which?
I believe that the average is more on the order of ~30 phonemes (vowels and consonants included), but that depends on how one is counting them and what languages one is including in the sample. Bfowol