Are there any languages in which a simple puff of air (like blowing out a candle) is phonemic?

Linguistics Asked on October 23, 2021

There are languages (English among them) that have a voiceless labialized velar approximant (ʍ in IPA), but that’s not quite the sound I’m after. I’m also trying to distinguish this sound from aspiration as a phonemic attribute (e.g. "t" and "tʰ", like the "t" and "th" in Vietnamese). Spoken French has something a little like this, but ingressive, not egressive (the "fast gasp", meaning "Yep, uh-huh"). Has anyone bumped into anything like this?

One Answer

Many languages have sounds that could be called puffs of air, which may be transcribed as [ɸ w̥ ʍ h ɦ hʷ] People generally blow out candles with pursed lips, which could reduce the set of candidates to [ɸ w̥ ʍ hʷ]. "Puff", however, implies a higher rate of flow that encountered in [hʷ] or even [ɸ] -- perhaps the aspiration of [tʰ] is closer to a "puff". [ɸ] is not "like" the puff of air used to extinguish a candle (the rate of airflow is not high enough to actually do the job). To get a "puff", you need a substantial pressure buildup, which requiresnot only a supraglottal constriction, but extra expiratory force above the normal level of human speech. Of course, if you define "puff" suitably, then there might be a number of sounds that qualify. I just experimentally verified that it is possible to extinguish a candle with the ejective consonant [t'].

Answered by user6726 on October 23, 2021

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