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Rare speech sounds discovered in African languages

Using ultrasound, a team of linguists has documented the distinctive vocabulary and rare speech sounds of the Kx'a languages of Botswana and Namibia. The researchers discovered three unknown consonant click types and a completely new class of sounds called linguopulmonic consonants.

In the course of creating a database of the sounds of !Xuun and 'Hoan, Bonny Sands of Northern Arizona University and Amanda Miller of Cornell University found that some of the sounds in these languages occur only in these languages and have never before been documented.

The description of the physical properties and mental representations of unrecognized consonants resulting from this research will allow these rare consonants to shape universal linguistic theories far beyond their current languages, which are in danger of disappearing. 

The researchers chose ultrasound imaging because it reveals tongue movement in real time without any harm to the speaker. In the past, researchers used X-rays to study the movement.

Image

  • a researcher works with a !xuun speaker in namibia
A researcher works with a !Xuun speaker in Namibia.
Bonny Sands, Northern Arizona University

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