jimydog000 wrote: ↑
22 Jun 2020 15:46
So I've been thinking about alien languages, "exolangs".
Good! More people should!
What effect on the rest of the phonemes and diacronics an entity would have, if the aliens had:
1) breathing holes or tubes under the mouth. Like the Ood from Doctor who, or the ****ing prawns from District 9.[/quote]
Do the Ood have holes under their mouth? I didn't realise they'd been shown in that much detail! But then, I've only ever varied between 'casual watcher' and 'non-watcher', so it's easy to believe I just missed that.
Anyway, fortunately we have an example of this to extrapolate from: humans. Well, humans have their secondary breathing hole(s) above the mouth rather than under it, but obviously that doesn't make a substantive difference per se.
Humans are able to open and close their secondary hole (actually two holes at the terminus, but a single tube for most of its length), independently of closure of their primary hole. From this human example we can extrapolate a range of possibilities for non-humans.
But first, what happens with the human secondary hole? Well, it's usually closed. Opening it sends out a second stream of air, so in a way it's kind of like issuing a vowel at the same time as whatever sound is being made in the primary hole. Theoretically, this open/close distinction in the second hole can co-exist with (almost) any primary hole sound - but in practice, only a small number of sounds use an open second hole, usually either primary vowels or primary stops; in most languages, there are fewer of these with the secondary hole open than with it closed. This is all probably because having in effect a vowel co-articulated over the top of a another sound kind of blurs that other sound and makes its distinctions less clear. Notably, it's mostly only really worth opening the human second hole when the human is vibrating their vocal cords - the additional airstream through the secondary hole, without this vibration, is too weak to be distinctive - voiceless nasals do exist in some languages, but they're very rare. Diachronically, it is not uncommon for the opening/closing of the secondary hole to become slightly detached from the segments produced through the primary hole ('nasalisation' and 'denasalisation'), but this only rarely has a profound effect on long-term sound changes.
So how could a secondary hole differ from the human secondary hole?
First thought: internal shape. The human secondary tube is relatively small - similar in length to the primary tube, but much narrower. However, it is still larger than it needs to be - partly to deal with the possibility of mucus build-up, but also probably to be more of use linguistically. The enlarged tube creates greater resonance, making sounds louder, and brings the resonance down in pitch into the vocal range. And alien tube could be smaller - it could be narrower, or shorter. This would probably make "nasalisation" quieter and less carrying, but would also perhaps make it more distinctive, by raising its pitch more noticeable. Alternatively, it could be larger - more cavernous, or longer. This would help to make it louder and make 'nasal' sounds carry further, but would even further muddy the 'oral' sounds.
Second: entrance control. The human secondary hole can be opened, or closed. It is possible to only slightly open its entrance - but only with difficulty, and it's debateable whether any human language uses more than a binary distinction. It also tends not to open and close than quickly. This tends to help 'nasalisation' 'spread' to adjacent segments, and makes it impossible to do anything complicated, like a 'nasal trill' (rapid opening and closing) or 'internal nasal fricative' or 'internal nasal stop' (creating friction or a sudden air release into the secondary hole, respectively). Aliens could potentially do these things.
Third: exit controls. The human secondary control has almost no exit control: it's possible to narrow the exit slightly, creating a slightly fricative sound, but this is cumbersome and ineffective - it's not used regularly by any known human language. An alien tube, however, could have a more controllable exit.
Exit and entrance controls effectively work the same way, but with a resonant chamber between them - they're the equivalent of labial and velar consonants respectively. And as with the primary hole, both could be used at once, creating the nasal equivalent of 'co-articulated stops' and 'clicks' or 'implosives'.
Alternatively, an alien might LACK entrance controls for their secondary hole, and ONLY have exit controls. Instead of being able to switch like humans between 'oral' and 'nasal' sounds, they'd instead switch between 'nasal' and 'really bad cold' sounds (with the second chamber resonating but lacking power due to lack of output).
Fourth: cavity shape control. The human primary hole is easy to alter: the jaw and the tongue together provide a variety of shapes for the oral cavity, including the possibility of bottlenecks within the cavity (alveolar stops, for instance). The same could be true of the secondary hole too. It's hard to see why a 'tongue' would be present in the 'nose' (except maybe to remove mucus?). But it could certainly be more flexible, with would allow easy changes in pitch and possible bottlenecks. It could also be possible to form, or open, subsidiary cavities for added resonance.
All these features of heightened control in the secondary hole make secondary hole sounds more complicated and distinctive, which raise the possibility of using the secondary hole for entire phonemes, rather than as just a secondary articulation.
Having talked about the shape of the hole itself, the next question is how it relates to the primary hole. In humans, the bifurcation point is after the phonation equipment, but before the primary articulation equipment.
So, fifth: late bifurcation. The air goes into the secondary tube much later. Imagine your secondary tube opening into your palate, for instance. If you had that, but could still control the entrance to the secondary tube, then the airflow into the secondary tube could be influenced by a velar sound, for instance. In humans, a nasalised voiced velar fricative is just a plain nasal airflow (siphoned off before the velum) plus a voiced velar fricative. With a later bifurcation, you could in effect route a velar fricative THROUGH your nose instead of, or as well as, through your mouth. In other words, you could choose which oral cavity to send a sound through, making it easier to have a range of shapes and sizes of cavity.
Sixth: early bifurcation. Split the tubes before some of the phonation equipment. We can actually expand on this idea in a few ways.
The effect of post-phonation bifurcation is that our primary and secondary tube sounds need to have the same phonation. You can't have a voiced nasal and a voiceless oral at the same time, because the air to both tubes must pass through the larynx. If you branch the second tube off BEFORE the larynx, or equivalent, then you can indeed have one phonation on the oral flow and a plain phonation for the nasal flow, independently. You could even have larynges for both tubes independently!
The second issue here is air supply. Most human sounds rely on the lungs as the airbox, and the lungs of course feed both tubes. A small number of languages have sounds that instead use the part of the tubes: ejectives use the tubes above the glottis, as do pharyngeal clicks (i.e. before the bifurcation), while uvular clicks use the tubes above the uvular (i.e. after the bifurcation). Using pre-bifurcation closure to create this upper airchest means you can only nasalise the release, whereas using post-bifurcation closure means you can genuinely nasalise the whole click.
So, moving the bifurcation before the glottis, for instance, would mean you could have nasalised ejectives. Alternatively, you could put a secondary air chest onto the secondary tube - which could potentially create very loud, trumpet sounds.
Having some sort of air chest on one of the tubes would also mean you could breath in while speaking, without having to make implosives. This would be useful, but probably not revolutionary.
Would having the nose below the mouth make any particulary difference? No. Although it would make it easier or more likely to have an earlier bifurcation, I suppose, since that would let the secondary tube (which has to be longer with an earlier bifurcation) be shorter than it otherwise would have to be.
Of course, the big question is why a species would have its nose below its mouth. It makes little sense. The primary reason to have a separate nasal tube that bypasses the oral cavity is that it lets you breath when your mouth is covered or full - but most covering things cover you from below, so your under-nose would already be below the waterline by the time your mouth was covered. Admittedly, it would still let you breath with your mouth full, but that's only retaining an advantage of the overnose, not an actual advantage to having an undernose. Contrariwise, it's usually useful to have your eating hole low, because most food is below you, both for herbivores and carnivores, and because eating from lower in your head makes it easier to continue to see while you eat. So there's reasons both to have a high breathing hole and to have a low eating hole, so it would be weird to have them upside down - I can't see any advantages to this. I don't think it's so improbable that it would be impossible, but it certainly would strike me as unlikely.
Anyway, just a few thoughts there, hope something's useful.
2) A bilabial lateral.