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Q: Linguistic, Phonetics ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   6 Comments )
Subject: Linguistic, Phonetics
Category: Relationships and Society > Cultures
Asked by: hava-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 14 Oct 2005 03:30 PDT
Expires: 13 Nov 2005 02:30 PST
Question ID: 580156
A question to linguists:
All languages I know contain sounds made by exhaling air.
Are there languages with sounds made by inhaling air? What languages are they?
(My reason for asking the question: My 2 months old grand 
daughter emits both exhaled tones (like goo, coo, arrrr) and inhaled tones.)
Subject: Re: Linguistic, Phonetics
Answered By: tlspiegel-ga on 16 Oct 2005 23:44 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi hava,

Thank you for a very interesting question.

Project ADEPT Introduction to Speech and Hearing - Dr. Pamela Broadston

"Speech is either produced on the inhalation of air which is the
ingressive or the exhalation which is the egressive air. Most English
sounds are produced on the exhalation of sound. Many other languages
actually have sounds that are done on the inhalation.


"Other languages such as African languages have a sound that is
produced on the inhalation."


Languages of the World - Xhosa

Xhosa has a complex system of consonants, including consonants that
occur only in southern Bantu languages, including the following:"


"implosive /b/ produced by inhaling rather than exhaling the air" 


Languages of the World - Swahili

"Sound system

The phonology of Swahili is characterized by a relatively small number
of vowels and consonants. Among the unusual sounds are implosives,
i.e., sounds that are produced by inhaling rather than exhaling the


Wikipedia - Implosive consonant

Implosive affricates and fricatives are extremely unusual. Imploded
affricates occur in Kung-Ekoka and Hendo (a Bantu language). Several
Central Sudanic languages, such as Mangbetu, have implosive
labiodental fricatives, which are "strongly imploded, the lower lip
briefly pulled back into the mouth".

Voiceless implosives are found in languages as varied as the Owere
dialect of Igbo in Nigeria, Krongo in Sudan, and some dialects of the
Quiche language in Guatemala, but they are quite rare. The IPA has
removed its earlier dedicated symbols for them, so now the bilabial
voiceless implosive is transcribed as [??].

(Owere Igbo has a seven-way contrast among bilabial stops: [p p? ?? b b? ? m].)

Implosives are commonplace among the Sub-Saharan African languages,
are widespread in Southeast Asia, and are found in a few languages of
the Amazon Basin. They are rare elsewhere, but do occur in scattered
languages such as Maidu and the Mayan languages in North America, and
Sindhi in the Indian subcontinent. They appear to be entirely absent
from Europe and Australia, even from the exotic Damin, which uses
every other possible airstream mechanism."



"John Bordie, using linguistic evidence of loss of certain words per
thousand years, suggests that Sindhi and Punjabi separated between
A.D.750 to 1400 and that the implosives of the Sindhi language 'came
into existence prior to A.D. 1400 and subsequent to the separation of
Sindhi from the mass of related languages.'95 Since Siraiki too has
implosive sounds, it too may have become a separate language around
this period. But Siraiki shares its vocabulary, or at least a major
part of the core vocabulary, with Punjabi so that the present writer
is unsure whether Siraiki is a sister of Punjabi which picked up some
features of the Sindhi sound-system (phonology) or a sister of Sindhi
which picked up Punjabi words as Grierson suggests."


Hausa consonant sounds  (Northern Nigeria)

"Hausa has 23 to 25 consonant sounds, depending on the speaker. Click
on the Hausa words written in red in the table below to hear words
illustrating each sound. Click on the blue comments for further

[turn on your speakers]

click on the red word babewa for 'quarreling'.

click on the red daidai word for 'one at a time' 


personal knowledge (my brother is consulting with me on hundreds of
languages around the world)

african languages inhale air
language speech inhale air 
implosive speech languages
implosive consonant


Best regards,
hava-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $10.00
Dear tlspiegel,
Thank you for the interesting and enlighting answer. I appreciate the
scolarly style, the references to websites helped a lot.
your answer supported my guess, that there must be such languages, but
added facsinating facts to my knowledge.

Subject: Re: Linguistic, Phonetics
From: senatus-ga on 16 Oct 2005 21:46 PDT
The phonetic reference chart that is the standard is the IPA
(International Phonetic Alphabet) which contains a symbol for every
known sound in world language. Babies are known to make all the sounds
on the chart at random during their early development, they then lose
those as they find the ones they actually need.

The IPA can be viewed at --
The sounds you are looking for are bottom left of the top chart and
are labeled, "Consonants (Non-Pulmonic)" The sub category you want is
"Voiced Implosives"

You can find them in a number of languages, the most well known being
Swahili, Thai and the Kru family of languages. A number of exstinct or
nearly extinct American languages have it as well. Mayan and some of
the others in the Amazon basin for example.

The only continents it is entirely absent from are Europe and
Australia (Thus European languages like English/Spanish/etc do not
have this sound regardless of their geographic location).

Hope this helps --

Subject: Re: Linguistic, Phonetics
From: myoarin-ga on 17 Oct 2005 15:31 PDT
Let me point out to you as a first time user, that was an "overprice"
answer for a two dollar question!  As the search explanation
indicates, Tlspiegel just happens to be very familiar with your
interesting subject.  Lucky you!

And, TL, thank you from me for such an interest answer.

In European languages we do have two implosive sounds that are
commonly used, but in words:  the kiss  - contradictly described as
"blowing a kiss - and the actual sound that is described in writing as
"tut tut", an implosive T.
In Turkish and perhaps in some related languages, a negative reply is
expressed with an implosive with the tongue touching the palate while
one raises one's chin, the gesture that gives rise to the saying that
in the Orient people nod their head  instead of shaking it when they
mean "no".
Who knows, maybe our "tut tut" is entymologically related.
Subject: Re: Linguistic, Phonetics
From: hava-ga on 18 Oct 2005 02:32 PDT
Thank you senatus for your comment and the phonetic reference chart.

Thank you myoarin for the addition about European languages. 
Middle east languages (Arabic and Hebrew) also have an implosive "tsu"
with the tongue touching the front teeth or front palate, for a
negative answer (sometimes with a nod of the head, depending on
nuances of the meaning of the answer). May be it is a Turkish
influence from the period of the Turkish Empire, which this area was
part of until world war I.

In Israel an implosive "h" is used for expressing alarm or surprise,
like discovering you forgot something important, etc. Do other
languages or cultures have it too?

I think that in French, the word "oui" (meaning "yes") is sometimes
uttered by inhaling in certain contexts. May be someone familiar with
French can elaborate on this.

Best regards
Subject: Re: Linguistic, Phonetics
From: tlspiegel-ga on 18 Oct 2005 10:15 PDT
Hi hava,

Thank you for the 5 star rating, comments and very generous tip!

Best regards,
Subject: Re: Linguistic, Phonetics
From: myoarin-ga on 18 Oct 2005 18:45 PDT
Or maybe the "tsu" is Arabic, picked up by the Turks.
Of course, not just in Hebrew do people gasp with an implosive H in
those situations  - and a few others -  but to me that seems more a
reflex, but there are words that can be voiced both ways, a common
four letter explative that can also be gasped if one is inclined to
use it.
In English (other European languages?), the "cluck" to encourage a
horse is also an implosive "tch" or some variant, sometimes also used
to immitate chipmunks or squirrels.
Very interesting.  We can do it, use implosives, but it is not a part
of our formal language.
Regards, Myoarin
Subject: Re: Linguistic, Phonetics
From: senatus-ga on 18 Oct 2005 21:13 PDT
I actually spent some time in college doing French Phonetics, so I'll
add a comment on that one --

"Standard French" (that is, the French spoken in the French Academy)
does not contain any implosive sounds. Standard French has fewer
sounds than English and is very regular with them. That isn't to say
that there are not non-standard dialects out there, like with English
there are many. I've been to France, Canada and spoken with a number
of French speakers in Africa and have never actually heard anyone use
an implosive in their speech.

If you wanted to find that, you'd probably have the best luck
searching in the Southern part of French speaking Africa. That region
might have preserved the sound from its native languages and
transferred it into French after the colonization. Just a guess...

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