Monday, 1 April 2013

a new sound

I thought that for today I’d recycle a blog entry from seven years ago, seeing that it may well still be of interest.

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My colleague Olaf Lipor tells me that the International Phonetic Asssociation is considering recognizing a further new symbol, in order to cater for the voiced linguolabial trill, a sound-type recently discovered to be used contrastively in Caslon and Ki-Flong, languages spoken on the island of San Serriffe.

Linguolabials, articulated by the tongue tip against the upper lip, are very rare in the languages of the world. Nevertheless linguolabial plosives, fricatives, and a nasal are known to occur in a cluster of languages in the island state of Vanuatu. Among these languages are Tangoa and Vao. But until now there had been no report of a linguolabial trill.

The way in which the IPA would symbolize the new sound is with the ‘combining seagull below’ diacritic, U+033C, thus [].

Incidentally, we are hoping to have the Serriffean phonetician Dr Charis Doulos, a native speaker of Caslon and the person who first described the linguolabial trill, come to UCL Phonetics & Linguistics as an academic visitor at this time next year. She will no doubt be willing to act as a language consultant for our practical phonetics class, so that the students can have the opportunity of observing the sound first-hand and of learning to perform it to the native speaker’s satisfaction.

The island of San Serriffe sprang to world fame as a consequence of a feature article in the Guardian newspaper, published on 1 April 1977, the tenth anniversary of its independence. But at that time its native languages had not been thoroughly investigated.

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Since writing the above, I have come across a report of an Amerindian language, Santo Domingo Coatlán Zapotec, in which this sound is now, excitingly, further attested, though disappointingly not as part of the phonemic inventory:


  1.  A happy new month to all of you!
     I do love typography.

     Charlie Ruland

  2. Dr. Charis Doulos? This is not a joke? If this is true, then all I can say is: Oh, the joy! Imagine having to wait a decade for some no-one's-heard-of-it typeface to include the new symbol.

  3. Your post omits to mention that the bilabial variant, in which lips are tensed and air is forced through a small gap. This is quite close in sound to the linguolabial trill (and really quite distinct from ʙ or its unvoiced equivalent). As a layman, I wouldn't know the IPA symbol for it. Neither would I know how the choice between that and the linguolabial variant differs between speakers, either on San Seriffe or more widely, so please let me know of any relevant surveys. I would be particularly interested whether there are speakers who have the two as separate phonemes.

    1. Nobody knows? I should point out that San Seriffe is a full 36 hours behind UTC due to a reverse fold in the date line, so there is still plenty of time to produce some recordings of suitable minimal pairs.

  4. Where's the 'like' button on here :-)

  5. Amongst the (Indo-)European languages, Lithuanian seems to be rich in such onomatopoeic words as Coatlan Zapotec, tho' not so rich (as is C.Z.)

    Otherwise very funny. The Semi-Colons... I wish I were a member of the Full-Stops ethnic group...

    Full true name --- see Profile (Google)

  6. More on San Seriffe, courtesy of Barbara Beeton to whom I sent a link to this article :

    Philip Taylor