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Determining languages that you will like the best through phonology

The sound of a language is often a reason people will feel drawn to it. Often many people will say that they like the writing or the words but... honestly I think there can be a lot more to that.

I was just thinking about the sounds I like in languages and I realized that the languages I like have very subtle and/or diverse consonant sounds and quite a few of them. For example;

  • Zulu: has clicks, the “hiss” sound (ɬ) and plosives. It has a large consonant inventory and only 5 vowels.

  • Welsh: one of the few non-African languages with the “hiss” sound, and the sounds can soften or harden based on what’s being said in mood or grammar (asking if you may have something will use softer consonants than normal speech, for example, and the words mutate accordingly). All the Celtic languages do this to an extent.

  • Korean: splits many of its consonants into base, hard and plosive, such as; ㅂ b, ㅃ pp, ㅍp.

  • Greek: Greek has fewer letters than English but some of the constants represent sounds that are either represented by 2 English letters or do not exist in many standards of English. There are fewer “hard” consonants in Greek, which gives a very soft sound to the language.

  • Arabic: Arabic is very consonant-based and it distinguishes from 3 types of “h” sounds, and has “harder” versions of some consonants (س s vsص ṣ). This can be hard for non-speakers to learn but it’s also one of the beauties of Arabic. (Hindi also has this, to my knowledge).

Of course what’s being said can be just as beautiful, if not more, than how a language sounds, but I wonder what kinds of sounds come up often in languages you guys like to listen to. I like [ɬ], [ð], [x], [ŋ] and [r] for consonants and for vowels I like [æ] and u.

January 10, 2018



I love hearing [ɾ]! It's maybe my favorite consonant.

As for following what you say, I actually focus more on how attractive its writting is because I read more than what I hear. Say, I love French and Hungarian orthography, and the Japanese writting system. BUT, phonetically, I think something that I've found is being interested to languages with vowel harmony (i.e. Turkic and Uralic languages), and the fact that I love love love [ɾ] (which is, actually, present in my native language), and using it a lot would be a decisive factor for me to learn the language (by the way, do you know a language that does?).


+1 for being drawn to vowel harmony!

It makes Turkish sound effervescent to me. Unfortunately the Duolingo TTS rendering thereof I find I think the most offputting of all the ones I'm familiar with on the site :(


Welsh: one of the few non-African languages with the “hiss” sound

Lots and lots (and lots) of American languages have /ɬ/ (it is difficult to think of one that doesn't); I have never heard it said that this sound is mostly confined to Africa.
/k͡p/ and /ɡ͡b/ might be better examples of sounds that are very common in large parts of Africa and extremely rare anywhere else. (They are quite enjoyable to pronounce, too!)


I recently started learning Arabic, and all the emphatic consonants are honestly hurting my throat. I'm struggling to get the emphatic consonants right (especially when they come at the end of the word or there are multiple in a word, like in واسع (waasi3, spacious), مصباح (miSbaaH, lamp), or صحيح (SaHiiH, correct)). It's still a really cool language and I'm enjoying learning it, but all the new sounds raises the barrier to entry.


This is why I LOVE the Languages of the Caucasus. So many sounds, so beautiful languages...

The Circassian languages have quite a large number of phonemes. Here's a few examples:

Г [ɣ]
Гу [gʷ]
Гъ [ʁ]
Гъу [ʁʷ]

Circassian manages to get many more phonemes than usual due to labialization and this letter: ъ. It also has a lot of ejectives. Here's how insane it can get with the letter к:

К [k]
Ку [kʷ]
Къ [q]
Къу [qʷ]
Кхъ [q͡χ]
Кхъу [q͡χʷ]
Кӏ [kʼ~t͡ʃʼ]
Кӏу [kʼʷ]

It's for this reason that I love the Circassian languages. I also love the other North Caucasian languages since they also have difficult phonology, particularly Chechen, with about 55 vowels due to a crap ton of allophony. Not to mention, Ubykh, the extinct Northwest Caucasian language with ties to Circassian, had about 88 phonemes and only 2 vowels. ❤️

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