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In my world, through the work of magic, a group of humans were mutated into half-bird people. I've figured out most of the anatomy so I wanted to know how their speech would work. If it matters, before the mutation they had a culture inspired by a mix of Chinese and Brazilian. They have the throat tissues of a human, but basically the skull of a bird. I know birds don't have lips so P's and B's are out, and their tongues aren't as flexible so they can't do sounds like sh and ch, or French R's, but do you think they could get away with pallet and behind-the-teeth sounds? They obviously don't have teeth but could their beak act like one? Alternatively how do you think the Mandarin and Portuguese languages would evolve with these restraints? I'm curious to hear your input and samples or examples of your ideas would be cool to see!

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    $\begingroup$ You may be interested in ConLang.SE. $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Aug 3, 2020 at 9:19
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    $\begingroup$ The avian phonatory apparatus is extremely unlike the mammalian phonatory apparatus. Birds can make all human sounds and very many more; some birds can imitate pretty much any sound. When you already have avian syringes available, it is silly to downgrade to a mammalian phonatory anatomy. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 3, 2020 at 9:41
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    $\begingroup$ An interesting potential here, is that birds often have absolute pitch, as opposed to us humans that have relative pitch (in our perception of sound). So for a human, as long as the individual tones have the same relative "distance", we regard it as the same word irregardless of where on the scale it is. For a bird on the other hand, the same relative set of tones on a different pitch is a completely different "word". $\endgroup$ Aug 3, 2020 at 9:44
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    $\begingroup$ @LiJun yes, it does. Linguistics SE probably wouldn't, but that's well within the purview of conlangs. $\endgroup$ Aug 3, 2020 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ Does this answer your question? What are some assumptions we could make about the linguistics of a civilization evolved from birds? $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2021 at 4:48

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You don't need to worry about what sounds we can make that they can't. Unlike humans, birds don't modulate the sounds they vocalize on the mouth. They have an organ in the chest for that, the avian syrinx. Give them this organ and you have one less thing to worry about.

The syrinx (Greek σύριγξ for pan pipes) is the vocal organ of birds. Located at the base of a bird's trachea, it produces sounds without the vocal folds of mammals. The sound is produced by vibrations of some or all of the membrana tympaniformis (the walls of the syrinx) and the pessulus, caused by air flowing through the syrinx. This sets up a self-oscillating system that modulates the airflow creating the sound. The muscles modulate the sound shape by changing the tension of the membranes and the bronchial openings. The syrinx enables some species of birds (such as parrots, crows, and mynas) to mimic human speech.

Don't believe me just because I'm quoting Wikipedia. Check this video of a cute african grey talking.

-What's your name?
-Petra

-Petra, where's your laser?
-pew pew pew pew pew!

She even does peek-a-boo's!


If you don't want them to have a syrinx, then yeah remove the P and M sound from their language. They'll never be able to pronounce the B sound, but they might me able to to the V sound from Spanish, which is basically the same as B for people with Que Hora Es level of Spanish.


I would put more thought into sounds that they can do and we can't. Avian people could probably add many whistles, clicks and Star Wars droid sounds as phonemes to their language which would be hard for people to precisely mimic.

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    $\begingroup$ Insert joke here about teaching a raven to say "nevermore" and then ambushing literature professors in the hallways with it. $\endgroup$ Aug 3, 2020 at 16:21

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