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Number and frequency of phonemes, homophones and polysyllabicity.

From:Steven Williams <feurieaux@...>
Date:Sunday, April 10, 2005, 21:31
I've got a few questions for those more knowledgeable
than I am on this sort of thing.

1. What is the mean number of phonemes in the
'average' language? I keep hearing numbers between
25-40, but that doesn't help me much, since that's a
pretty big spread there. I've gotten a vague idea of
the number of phonemes from counts I've done on
languages I know well enough to make such statements,
but I'd still like to be certain (i.e., I feel like
I'm coming up with an average biased towards IE
languages; I'd like something based on data from other
language families).

2. Is there any correalation between a large number of
phonemes and monosyllabicity versus a small number of
phonemes and polysyllabicity? What about complex
phonotactic allowances? English has very complex
syllabic structures, and at least a quarter of our
words are monosyllabic (rough guess); but Japanese has
a very limited syllabic structure, and a great deal of

Is there also a connection (or at least a tendency)
for that, apart from the practical need to limit the
number of homophones for intelligibility's sake?

3. I've been trying to come up with a table of the
phonemes in my conlang, showing their approximate
statistical frequency, based on what I've read about
the markedness of given phonemes (e.g., uvular and
pharyngeal phonemes being very marked versus dental
and alveolar phonemes). My conlang has a somewhat
unusual inventory of phonemes (e.g., a set of lateral
plosives, fricatives and approximants and their
palatalized counterparts), and I'm going by some very
basic rules here.

Can someone help me figure out the 'universals' on
phoneme markedness? Basically, I'm working with the
tendency for voiceless sounds to be half as common as
their voiced equivalents, and a couple of other rules
of that sort (e.g., dental and alveolar phonemes being
more common than velar or glottal phonemes).

Thank you all.


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