So, let's say an alien species has 4 lungs: a pair of smaller lungs for passive breathing and a larger set for conscious breathing and vocalization. Airways are separate from the digestive system. would it be possible for a sort of muscular valve to block airflow evolve into a sort of tongue?

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    $\begingroup$ Sure, why not. Humans already have a valve like this which splits food+drink from air, why wouldn't an alien be able to evolve a similar valve? $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Oct 20, 2020 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ If the tissue/organ has purpose such that there's no pressure for it to vestige away, then there's no reason it could not happen or would not remain. Things can also evolve with no plain purpose, as long as the cost is negligible and and it imparts no disadvantage. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Oct 20, 2020 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ You mean like our epiglottis? We did it, so why wouldn't they do it too? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Oct 20, 2020 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answers. i really didn't know how a windpipe tongue would evolve, but thanks. $\endgroup$
    – DedKatEDM
    Oct 20, 2020 at 19:22

1 Answer 1


If you mean an organ used to produce speech, yes it can. It happened with birds in our own world.

Birds vocalize not with their tongues, but with an organ inside their chest called the syrinx.

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. Unlike the larynx in mammals, the syrinx is located where the trachea forks into the lungs. Thus, lateralization is possible, with muscles on the left and right branch modulating vibrations independently so that some songbirds can produce more than one sound at a time.

We vocalize using vocal folds at the throat and the tongue at the mouth to make different sounds. Birds can do it using just the syrinx. Your alien could have a syrinx too.


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