Here's a world much like Earth, except it's inhabited by a race of shapeshifters. On one side of the appearance divide there is an appearance much like a large Earth wolf; on the other is an appearance much like an Earth human.

The actual mechanics of the shapeshifting process are undefined, and I'm willing to do a little fudging there (but not really to the point of just saying "use magic"), but both forms should keep an exterior appearance actually resembling their respective species. So no humanoids with a large muzzle, nor brachycephalic wolves.

It's not too hard to find references to IPA charts, but I'm having trouble applying those to my particular question.

So basically, if we're allowed to make the internal anatomy as that of either a wolf, a human, something in between or something completely different, but are constrained by the external apperance of a human and a wolf and to the extent possible would like for them to also be able to make sounds resembling spoken English at least in human form (though with a strong accent is fine), then what sounds would be common to both forms of such a creature? For bonus points, rather than just making a list, also explain why those and not some other ones.

To clarify, these creatures (in either form) don't need to reliably fool someone with a training in medicine or anatomy (think doctor or veterinarian), especially upon close medical examination, into thinking that they are what they appear to be. However, they should maintain the respective outward appearance as much as is reasonably possible (small adjustments are allowed, but not major deviations, as illustrated e.g. by the human-with-a-muzzle example above).

Also to clarify, you are allowed to adjust the internal anatomy! So there is no need to be constrained by a wolf's (or a human's) voicebox, for example. What I want to avoid changing much is the exterior appearance. It is however best if the exterior appearance is as close to the only thing as possible that changes when they shapeshift.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Would hiding a human mouth in the back of a wolf's mouth be allowed? $\endgroup$ – user25818 May 1 '18 at 22:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @notstoreboughtdirt I think I'd rather not go that route, to be honest. It'd definitely add a lot of complexity. But remember that you're allowed to tweak the internal anatomy, as long as the exterior appearance meets what I'm after. $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 2 '18 at 5:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Look up Kevin Grevioux on Youtube. He played the werewolf Raze in Underworld. When I saw the movie, I assumed they had digitally altered his voice for the role. Then I heard him speak. Holy crap! That's what I would expect a lycanthrope passing as a human to sound like. $\endgroup$ – Devon_C_Miller Jun 2 '18 at 5:13

Let's start from an easier position. Let's start with what a wolf can't do.

  • Wolves form very few front-of-the-mouth sounds. A whistle, for example, is beyond them. As would be a hiss or an "oooh" sound (indeed, O and U vowels might be beyond them). Wolves don't have significant lip control (at least I've never seen a dog smirk, though that's likely not conclusive evidence....) so they have a limited control of pitch.

  • Wolves also can't form tongue-sounds such as clicks and the "th" sound. They can't roll their R's or make a buzzing sound.

Or can they?

However, your wolf isn't just a wolf, it's an intelligent brain inside a wolfey-looking body. It remembers speech, does it not? Two interesting tidbits from here:

  • The shape of an individual's vocal tract is partly genetic, partly learned.

Which suggests that your intelligent wolf can increase the sounds it could reproduce. A good example are those tongue sounds. Yes, that lengthy thing might be a challenge to click off the soft pallet or push up against teeth, but it could be learned nonetheless.

  • More than 100 muscles work together when you sing or form a single phrase.

Here's where some of your world rules can work in your favor. I frankly don't know enough about canine physiology to know if that block of 100 muscles exists in the species — but I'm willing to bet it doesn't. In other words, all the jaw, neck, shoulder, and chest muscles that we use to produce a very complex set of sounds simply may not exist in wolves.

At least not normal wolves. Perhaps your shapeshifters retain this particular trait? That would mean a slightly increased chest area (might impact the use of front legs) and a thicker throat/neck area. It might also mean a thicker snout to permit greater lip and fore-palate control. In other words, if you know what you're looking for, you can see the difference between a wolf and a lycanthrope.

And that's what makes creature design interesting, isn't it?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "It remembers speech, does it not?" It definitely should. They do maintain memories and mental faculties (though limitations in their body may mean they're less able to make use of them in one form or the other), so I don't think it's much of a stretch that this would extend through speech. "if you know what you're looking for, you can see the difference between a wolf and a lycanthrope" That's acceptable; they don't need to fool a doctor (or a veterinarian), as long as they can pass for both forms to a more casual observer. $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 2 '18 at 5:38
  • $\begingroup$ So you're basically saying there's little reason I can't have what I want, with human-like and wolf-like creatures alike being able to make human-esque sounds, with only minor tweaking of the outer appearance of either form? $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 2 '18 at 5:39
  • $\begingroup$ That's what I'm thinking. You'll get a shift in pitch or timber due to the long snout and palate, but other than that I think that the combination of brain + extra muscle set makes the creature completely believable. $\endgroup$ – JBH May 2 '18 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH: Spot on, but don't forget the other direction, Wolves are already capable of pitch control to some extent, but are capable of more guttural sounds then most humans, so therefore the human form would most likely be able to perform these easier as well. $\endgroup$ – Blade Wraith May 29 '18 at 11:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Also worth considering the amount of communication that is non verbal, body language pays a huge part in wildlife and still a huge part in humans as well, might be interesting to see the human forms acting somewhat wolf like in body language while talking because they've forgot what form they are in, i know this wasn't part of the question, just worth noting $\endgroup$ – Blade Wraith May 29 '18 at 11:20

Well, seeing as the more limited of the two forms (vocally, I mean) is the wolf, I find it logical that most such shared sounds would originate from the wolf side. Wolves have several distinctive sounds that can be transferred through to the human:

Whining. Whining is quite a common canine sound which often signifies sadness, discomfort and several other emotional states. I would assume it would carry well to the human side and would enrich the social communitation between speciments of that species. Since wolves have a pack mentality, whining would often signify a lower social standing in relation to another specimen.

Growling. This would probably be less impressive and more subdued in human form, but it communicates threat quite clearly so I think it would transfer.

Sighing. A sigh is quite universal. Granted, its not exactly a full sound, but it does transfer well.

Laughing. While it would be a bit distorted in wolf form, its still transferable.

'Huh?' An inquiring sound would probably transfer well as well and its useful.

Groans. When aiming to voice displeasure, a groan is a basic sound and it would transfer well.

As a side note, I would advise you to think of other things that would be shared, like body language. wolves use body language, the position of the body, ears and tail for social ranking. This is bound to transfer to the human side in some way, you just need to determine how.

  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget about yawning.... $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay May 2 '18 at 3:00
  • $\begingroup$ I feel that you're missing out on the part where the internal anatomy is allowed to be adjusted, and therefore miss out on a lot of possibilities. Could you Edit to elaborate on why that wouldn't allow human-like sounds, if you feel that remains the case? $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 2 '18 at 5:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.