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Cold weather speak

asked 2015-03-19 14:01:54 -0400

anonymous user

Anonymous

Hi,

I happened to watch a Scandinavian movie with subtitles and had to remark to an Alaskan friend that it was not a particularly nice language to listen to compared to the Romance languages. He mentioned that when he was out in far northern Alaska for several days without benefit of a cabin to warm up in, he noticed that English speakers began to speak a lot farther back in their throats, becoming similar to Inuit-type voicing. Makes sense in a way that one's mouth doesn't open as far (thus letting cold air in), and the mouth doesn't have to contort as much to speak. Just curious if you have any thoughts.

Thank you!

Karen Davis

(Transferred from old LINGUIST List Ask-a-Linguist site)

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answered 2015-03-29 00:29:19 -0400

usagi5886 gravatar image

With a little editing to remove the weather reference, one of your sentences is:

He mentioned that when he was out in far northern Alaska for several days [...], he noticed that English speakers began to speak a lot farther back in their throats, becoming similar to Inuit-type voicing.

This makes it sound like it could be a straightforward case of substrate influence, i.e. whereby Inuit-influenced English could be recognized as a distinct variety. If so, then you might have an explanation that has nothing to do with the weather. I'd be more persuaded by this kind of 'language-internal' explanation than the 'language-external' one based on the weather.

Of course, the question would then become what specific attributes of Inuit are leading to that specific outcome in this particular variety of English. That's not something I have an answer to, but it seems like a tractable problem to investigate.

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answered 2015-03-19 14:02:49 -0400

anonymous gravatar image

I believe an effect like that would be perfectly possible, but I don't know whether it did actually happen with Scandinavian languages.

"Nice language to listen to" is clearly a matter of taste! French is a Romance language, and I couldn't imagine anyone thinking that was pleasant, purely in terms of the sound -- though of course one may be fond of it for other reasons, the attractive culture, etc. At the purely phonetic level I would prefer the Northern European languages I know to those of Southern Europe.

Geoffrey Sampson


It's hard to say just what factors contribute to the impression you write about. Certainly the high frequency of back consonants, i.e., velars, uvulars, and pharyngeals, as well as consonant clusters might be involved. But then those sorts of consonants are also common in the Semitic languages of the Middle East and North Africa. And then there are cold region languages like Finnish that don't fit this description at all. The correlation is very impressionistic and difficult to pin down so that it can be defined and tested.

Herbert Frederic Stahlke

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answered 2015-03-19 14:24:30 -0400

To me it sounds kind of like a meteoro-phonological Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

Consider French as spoken in (the arguably cold in the winter) province of Quebec. It's clearly a different language (accent-wise) than Continental French. Must be a weather correlation....

... not really. It's closer to how French was spoken by the French aristocracy back when Quebec belonged to France.

Et cetera. There is no quantitatively "nice" sounding language: for every pot there is a lid.

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Asked: 2015-03-19 14:01:54 -0400

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Last updated: Mar 29 '15