Creating a Language: Selecting Sounds

Good Morning, Interweb. Let’s Worldbuild. When creating a language the first, and most
important, step is to write down all the sounds the language uses. Without this, you’ll end
up with a mess of sounds that are implausible, contradictory and incomprehensible to both
you and anyone wishing to speak your language. This is not a good thing­. Avoid this by
setting yourself some rules. Here’s mine: ­
1) The sounds my language uses should, for the most, come from English. Rare, non-english
sounds are totally permitted but only if they are relatively easy to produce – no point
creating a language that neither you nor I can speak. And 2) The fewer sounds the better. I’m a minimalist,
I want my language to reflect my personality. Those sound like some good parameters, Xidnaf? I never agreed to this. Hey, if I hadn’t helped you with your video
you would have missed ALL the interesting stuff. You owe me one, now help me with my
video. …yeah, ok, fine. So, you want to mostly
use English sounds and you want to use very few sounds. So… we’re basically just gonna
hack at this until it fits in a shoebox? Couldn’t have said it any better, Xidnaf.
That way it’ll feel exotic yet, familiar! Eh, could work. OK, let’s start with vowels. From a minimalist
standpoint, English has WAY too many vowels. How about we knock it down to a 3 vowel system?
Something like /a/ /i/ and /o/? Wait, /a/, /i/ and /o/??? Usually when languages
only have three vowels, they have /a/ /i/ and /u/. Classical Arabic, Southern Quechua,
Aleut, Greenlandic, all of them have those three vowels. So, you should probably change
that /o/ to an /u/. Aw…but I like the sound of /o/. Also, Pirahã
features a 3 vowel system with /o/ instead of /u/. Huh. Alright, well, if a known language does
it I guess I’m fine with it. Still seems kinda weird, but … also kind of cool and
exotic? Now that I think about it it’s kinda growing on me. I like it too. I mean, we’re using the entire
vowel space and we’re sticking to the vocalic universals – which basically state that
all human languages distinguish vowel height and have a least one back, one front, and
one rounded vowel. Alright, /a/ /i/ and /o/ it is then! With
such a small vowel inventory we might want to add at least something else. We could introduce
tones, or phonemic length, or- Diphthongs! …or we could just be boring, throw in some
diphthongs and call it a day. See, I’m thinking we need to go all in with
the diphthongs! Let’s allow every possible combination of vowel pairs: /ai/, /ao/, /io/,
/ia/, /oi/ and /oa/. You know, you’re allowed to have diphthongs
that aren’t just combinations of monophthongs you already have. Like, my dialect of English
has an /oʊ/ diphthong, but no pure /o/ monophthong. Yeah, but this makes it simpler and easier
to understand, and it has a symmetry to it I really like. Yeah, that’s reasonable. So, three monophthongs
and six diphthongs for a total of nine vowel sounds. That it? Actually, now that I think about it we should
probably add in the schwa. The schwa is that kinda ‘uh’ sound we English speakers produce
during unstressed syllables – think telephone, support, about, present and condition. It
is by far the most common sound in English and chances are that, when I begin speaking
my language, I’ll begin ‘schwa-ing’ any unstressed syllables. Might be prudent to include this
sound if for no other reason than to cover my ass. So, ye, 4 pure vowels, and 6 diphthongs! Happy? Quite. Can we move on to consonants now? Yeah, so, I’m thinking some of these plosives
need to go! Dude, we only have six to begin with. That’s
like, the bare minimum. Either we get rid of all voiced plosives /bdg/
or all unvoiced plosives /ptk/ …you want to only have one voicing for the
plosives? Yep! I mean, I guess it’s plausible. When dealing
with sounds, it’s good to think in terms of features. Adding or removing entire places
of articulation, manners of articulation or voicings is more natural than picking and
choosing sounds randomly. But, if you don’t mind me asking: Wwhhhhyyyyyyy??????? Conlang fan service. See, most famous conlangs
have a habit omitting entire areas of sound: Na’vi features only voiceless plosives, Klingon
features no velar plosives and Dothraki features no bilabial plosives. I like Na’vis system
the best, so I’m thinking we should have only voiceless plosives, /ptk/ That’s probably the nerdiest thing I’ve
ever heard, but /ptk/ sounds like a good idea to me! Although, maybe we should also add
in the glottal stop. Like, we already kind of have it in English, but we do it in weird,
random, phonotactically convenient places. Making it a proper sound could simplify things.
We could use it to differentiate between words like /pai/ and /paʔi/. As long as we use
it strictly in between vowels I think it will be easy for most people to pronounce and it’ll
also make your language sound cooler. Funny you mention the glottal stop. There’s
a Klingon opera… a wut? A Klingon opera!? Ah, man, it’s magnificent… Never mind. THAT was the nerdiest thing I’ve
ever heard… Anyways, that opera’s called “u”. Only
it’s not called “u”, it’s called glottal stop – u – glottal stop. Just thinking
of pronouncing this breaks my brain so I think you’re right, inter-vowel glottal stops are
the way to go. Bit like in the Na’vi words “a’aw” and “a’a’aw”! Alright, plosives
done! Now, as we continue, we should probably keep
in mind that languages tend to be symmetrical in their places and manners of articulation.
So, like, if you have a bunch of sounds of a particular place of articulation, and a
bunch of sounds of a particular manner of articulation, then you’re much more likely
to have a sound with both that place of articulation and manner of articulation. So in this case,
we’re probably going to want to have nasals with the same places of articulation as our
plosives, so /mnŋ/. Which is exactly what we already have. Unless you want to do something
very strange here, let’s just keep the nasals as they are. As much as it pains not me to cut things,
I think you’re right. /mnŋ/ it is. Speaking of keeping things the same as in
English, I think we should keep all the approximants /ɹ /, /j/ and /l/. However, I’d like to devoice
the labio-velar approximant, that is, /w/ should be become /ʍ/. I am quite fond of
approximants, they always remind me of the majestic beauty of the Elvish languages. Sounds good. Let’s move on to fricatives.
Again, for the sake of symmetry, we should probably add the at least one velar fricative. How about the voiceless velar fricative, /x/?
It seems like the natural choice given that my dialect has it in words like ‘loch’ and
it’s a sound common to many fantasy languages. Cool! /x/ is in. Aaaand the dental fricatives are out! Wait, why? My dialect of English doesn’t have ’em. For
me, these are not ‘teeth’ rather ‘teat’. I’d like
to comfortably to able to speak my own language so /θ/ and /ð/ have to go. And while we’re
hacking away at things, do we really need /∫/ and /ʒ/? I mean, I could live with
just /f/, /v/, /s/, /z/, /x/ and /h/. Ye, so could I. It’s minimal, but it works
and it also makes it more symmetrical. Tap or flaps? Nope! Agreed. Aaand no thrills…so we’re done!
FINALLY! Actually, here’s an idea… What now??? How about we make this language a trill heavy
language. Trills sound amazing, such rich sounds. I love them. Alright…em…let’s move the alveolar approximant
/ɹ/ to an alveolar trill /r/. Simple. A word like /ɹas/ would become /ras/. I really like
this. Let’s do it. Okay, but the only problem is that I can’t
roll my Rs What!? C’mon, sure you can? Try saying /ras/ I’m telling you Xidnaf, I can’t. TRY IT! Rrrrr Rrr … Wow, considering you love trills so much,
that’s kind of tragic. Well, we can’t put a sound in your language that you can’t
pronounce yourself, so maybe we should just give up on trills. Not necessarily, let’s put in a bilabial trill
/B/. It really easy to pronounce and it plays up to this idea of consonant symmetry. I dunno. It’s a seriously rare sound. All the more reason to drop it in. It will
give the language a very distinctive sound. Okay, but why not go the whole way and add
in the uvular trill too /R/…I mean you did just say you want a trill heavy language and
including it will make things even more symmetrical. Granted a velar trill would be better, but
I’m not entirely sure velar trills are actually possible. Our uvular trill then acts like
a velar trill substitute in a way, and our alveolar approximant acts like an alveolar
trill substitute. Sold! This is a great idea. Right, that’s
consonants done. On to affricates! Do we have too??? I’m thinking we should have /ts/ /pf/ and
/tʃ/. Thoughts? /pf/!? Does that even exist in human languages? Ye, German has it. The German for horse is
‘pferd’. …oh. Wow, I really should have known that.
Ok, but it’s a seriously difficult sound to produce. I know you’re half german and all
but most of us aren’t, and on all of our behalf, I’m begging you: drop the /pf/.
Actually, /ts/ isn’t much better. It’s a little easier but think of how many English speakers
actually pronounce tsumani the original japanese way – with a /ts/. Not many. Ye, good point. I suppose if we’re cutting
/ts/ and /pf/, we may as well cut /tʃ/ and just have no affricates. Yeah, that’s probably for the best. So….NOW
are we done? I think we are, Xidnaf. I think we are. Looks
like we’ve created a trill heavy reduction of English. Not the most adventurous phonological
inventory ever devised but it’ll make for a very useful demo conlang. Thanks for coming
on board the good ship Artifexian, Xidnaf. T’was an absolute honor having ya. Ok, ok, great. Can I go now? Not that I don’t
like hanging out and creating languages and stuff but ever since I got here I’ve felt
all weird and … bloated. Can I get back to my own channel now? (sigh) Ok, you may leave. Woohooooooo!!!!!!!

100 Replies to “Creating a Language: Selecting Sounds

  1. You wanna create a language that more people can pronounce? Dental fricatives need to go. Most English native speakers don't realize it. You sir made the right decision.
    As for the trills though… I can't roll the r, but I actually can't do the bilabial trill either. I don't know, maybe most people have tried at least once in their life to imitate a horse, but not me.

  2. Im making a language and i have no name for it yet but here are some of my longest words

    Alathatavas – 😉 u know what
    Alathatavasva – ew
    That's it for now

  3. So…your part German…well, that would explain why it sounded like you said the German word ‘gut’ when you says ‘good morning.’

  4. The “B” bilabial trill is harder than the trill for “r”. More people can do the “r” trills more naturally than “b”. So, only you & a select few out of 7 billion will be able to speak your language. You were do well until the trills.

  5. Actually arabic does have an O sound.
    It's made by mixing the short A sound and a short U sound.
    أُو Like in
    Meaning "or"

  6. When he talks about the 'pf' sound on the German subtitles
    'Die Deutsch für pferd ist 'pferd'.'
    Thats like saying 'The English for horse is 'horse'.'

  7. So I’m a YT recommendation victim.
    Every once in a while they get my interests correct……
    Well Done, Sir
    I’m a subscriber now!
    I’ve been using a pictograph system for technical work for almost 40 years at work based on my own language. Never thought of it this way !

  8. Pinkie should be facing Edgar rather than Xidnaf, given that it was him that called her a horse.

  9. my own language…… neeioorshber goftuiorgeh fro tuooue hesfrezuhs noouer yuioshoernousch. it means '' my made up language is called noouer''.

  10. I came here to learn how to make my own language to bad I don't FUCKING UNDERSTAND HALF THE FUCKING VIDEO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. I’m actually inventing a Language it’s called Chrift and it’s going great instead of letters it has more like symbols and it has Spanish,English and Italian accent you have to memorize the letters. The letters are in symbols and already made the alphabet and I named the letters and I know it. And I can read it. It has the same letter sound as in English and Spanish and understand it. I’m making more and more words and has no accents like Spanish and Italian does and will not stop until it’s complete i’m halfway through and it’s tough and I speak Chrift (Chriftsolo)and write it too to my friends and family and that have no idea what I’m saying or writing they say it’s like a bunch of squiggles. But I tell them everything and I’m teaching them a bit of my new language and it’s going great. Hopefully more and more people will speak it someday.

  12. 0:32 Actually, I'm already working on a conlang made of sounds just what the human mouth can produce as a joke.

  13. I’m guessing this isn’t a fictional language. With fictional languages, you can get much more creative, complex, and exotic.

  14. Are you thinking "pf" is hard to pronounce? I'm french, I do really know about awful sounds. begins to bring nasal vowels

  15. 8:27 My native language is Polish, wich has /ts/ (type as 'c' like in Esperanto) and I'm study Japanese. And I know that Poles sadly say tsunami like in English 🙁 They doesn't know that This is like 'cunami'.

  16. I like this however I think about making a word in a language using your selection of sounds and that /B/ trill will sound weird.

    Try yourselves, say /aBar/

  17. "Dental fricatives (a feature found in a single digit percent of all languages) are out."
    "Wait why?"
    Smh xidnaf

  18. Today I learned that I may be a very rary case who can pronounce all of these sounds with ease, that just an extra bonus for the language learners??

  19. Before I even knew what the /pf/ sound was, I had it in this Pleboynian-Kidonian (my conlang) word, "Aphfir".

    Ironically, it's in one of the less German sounding phrases.

  20. so you want a trill heavy inventory right? add the faciomanual trill and the bimanual trill
    edit : and linguolabial trill

  21. io ia & oa don't sound like diphthongs to me at all. It seems like it's either 2 syllables, or the first vowel is really a consonant sound (namely j & w).

  22. Ugh, I tried using a bilabial trill in a conlang, it was horrible, just soooo clunky to use at all frequently

  23. you german some1 germ? german answer me bitte ich erbitte antwort im namen meiner deutschen demut plz do like please mofuckeers

  24. In the country I live in, Thailand, there are 32 VOWELS!
    As someone who is not 100% Thai it’s so hard to get right

  25. I'm sorry y'all, your advice is very helpful… but I need a dictionary to understand even the minimum of what you're talking about.

  26. A language I'm planning to make later (I'm learning Spanish right now and I don't want to accidentally create a horrifying amalgamation of the two languages lmao) will be spoken by my version of Wendigos. Since they're very emaciated and I'm sure their vocal chords are all outta wack, everything is spoken in a loud whisper (a.k.a pretty much everything is unvoiced/breathy).
    Since it's in a whisper, I don't want too much consonants. I don't want every sentence to sound like "T-K-PTF-KHHKKK-PFAK" because the consonants will just drown out the vowels.
    (keep in mind this is going to be my first conlang so that's a rip for me)

    So the consonants I chose are:
    p, f, s, k, t, h, n and whatever the unvoiced equivalent of ð is. (Edit: it's θ)

    The vowels I chose are:
    i, ɛ, œ, u, ɒ, ɘ

    The vowels may seem very similar, but keep in mind Wendigos (my version, at least) have extremely good hearing, and can pick up on the differences fairly easily. And, to any non-Wendigos who would want to learn it, the word order and spelling does a decent job of making sure the vowels don't just blend together or become indecipherable.
    Example. Most adjectives will generally have certain combination of vowels, nouns will have a different combination, etc, etc.

    I know this vid is 3 years old now but just wanted to share 😛

  27. Trills… I could do them as a kid, but I can't anymore. Much to my annoyance. No matter how hard I try, I can't quite seem to get it right… I can at least get it slightly closer sounding that Arti though.

  28. Ok, I've never heard on you, never look into language at all, but Youtube suggested this so I'm watching it, and I gotta say it's awesome. "You only want to have one voicing for the plosives?" Me, through a mouthful of dinner: "You heard the man!"

  29. For trills I discovered if you push your jaw forwards so that the bottom teeth are in front of the top teeth, it makes it way easier. Can you do it now?

  30. "This is a GREAT idea!"
    That sounds like something someone would say immediately before realising it was a terrible idea.

  31. Fun to find notes not used in any phenomics, the labiodental plosive is sort of a mixture of a p or b mixed with a v

  32. I did some stuff like you did, but not all the way. I have some affricates, despite my family being english for multiple decades, and dentals. But I liked your idea with the trills, piggybacked on that. I still got pulmonics that I have to decide if I want. I'll probably ignore that for now lol

  33. When I clicked on the thumbnail I was like "oh hey, this is kinda Xidnaf inspired, they even got his stick figure with the dome hat" and lo and behold, he's a guest star

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