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Sometimes when building a world, and in particular since Tolkien, one may wish to create original languages for the inhabitants. There are some information around the site about the creation of conlang, but @knave made a good summary on our blog. From there, we learn that one of the first step is to decide on the phonemes of the new language.

However in the world creation steps, it is likely that we define the climate and geography of the world before populating it.

I was thus wondering whether the climate or geography had some influence in the phoneme used in a given region. Are colder countries more prone to use guttural sounds? Etc.

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    $\begingroup$ I haven't read this (and probably wouldn't understand it well enough to provide a decent answer), but this paper seems to suggest climate does impact phoneme development. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Sep 25 '15 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre, thanks for the paper, I'm going to have a good read :) $\endgroup$ – clem steredenn Sep 25 '15 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ Geography certainly has an influence. Some sparsely populated mountain regions use Whistled Languages because it enables them to communicate over long distances. This article has some examples. And if our atmosphere had its nitrogen replaced by helium, speaking low-frequency tones would be impossible $\endgroup$ – DenDenDo Sep 26 '15 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ Human languages, being influenced by just about everything, not being influenced by climate would be an extraordinary claim. Why do you think that they are not? $\endgroup$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 27 at 1:58
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    $\begingroup$ Are colder countries more prone to use guttural sounds? Etc. - I think you need some linguistics experts - they will probably know the real-life answers linguistics.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Sep 27 at 13:28
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I can't remember what to search for to find the article again, but I found a neat article on the tonal languages, such as Chinese, which depend on the pitch of the vowels to convey meaning. They found that all such languages were found in equatorial regions. They postulated that the tonal languages may depend on reasonable climates and high humidity, because those are conditions which make it easier to maintain the level of vocal chord health required to continuously create such changing pitches.

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  • $\begingroup$ Could it be the one Frotfyre mentioned in a comment above..? $\endgroup$ – clem steredenn Sep 25 '15 at 22:41
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There are some theories.

Ejectives are predominantly found in languages at high altitudes (e.g. Caucasus). Does lower air pressure help the pronunciation of ejective consonants? Maybe. See Everett C (2013) Evidence for Direct Geographic Influences on Linguistic Sounds: The Case of Ejectives. PLoS ONE 8(6): e65275.

(This one is a speculation) If you have a climate that facilitates survival of abandoned children or groups of children (say, pre-teens in a jungle whose parents are lost or dead) with not quite mature language, they, after they grow up, will pass a mangled and heavily modified version of the language to their children, and languages will diverge quickly. In a hostile climate (e.g. the Arctic), survival without you community is impossible and the language will be passed relatively unchanged. Now, compare the linguistic diversity of Subsaharan Africa or Brazil (thousands of widely diverse languages) with that of the Arctic - historically, there is Inuit and related Yupik... and that's about all.

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Language is not inherited biologically. It is a cultural phenomenon, it is inherited through culture.

The climate of an area has very little to do with the language spoken in that area. What counts is the history of the region, who conquered it last, what was their cultural level, how many people they brought in and so on.

Languages, at least successful languages, do not remain fixed in the place they were born, like plants. They spread, they move, they evolve. English was born on a cold, foggy and rainy island; but it is now spoken in sunny California, and in parched Australia, and in frigid Alaska. French was born in the sweet heart of France, blessed by the mildest climate of all Europe; but it is now spoken from Montreal in Quebec, to Cayenne in French Guiana, to Brazzaville in Congo. Russian is spoken over an unimaginably large territory, from the Pontic Steppe in the south-west to the Siberian taiga in the north-east, comprising fertile plains, and unforgiving steppes, and rugged mountains and whatever have you.

So here we are: three examples of languages spoken over every imaginable climate and geography. And what do those examples show? They show that the climate of a district is irrelevant when it comes to finding out what language is spoken there. What counts is its history.

Consider the perfect example: Asia Minor, known as Anatolia nowadays.

What languages are spoken in Asia Minor?

Well, it all depends on when.

There were the Anatolian languages, Hittite, and Luwian and Lycian and so on; and there was Phrygian; and there was Armenian. And we know that those languages were not autochthonous, for they are Indo-European languages, and we even have direct references in ancient Hittite texts to a previous language which had been replaced by Hittite. And then came the Greeks, and Asia Minor spoke Greek, a language quite unlike the languages it replaced. And then came the Turks, and nowadays Asia Minor speaks Turkish, a language utterly unlike Greek. So that, the supposed influence of the climate of Asia Minor becomes irrelevant when compared to the overwhelming importance of history.

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    $\begingroup$ And light-skinned people are found in tropical climates, while dark-skinned people are found in the Arctic. People who have a genetic traits providing greater survival against malaria are found in regions where there is no malaria. Why all those traits evolved was, however, influenced by where those people came from, so geographically determined. That said traits can be found all over the place now doesn't change that. There are some theories that languages have developed in a similar fashion, and after that spread. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Sep 28 at 6:22
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the input. However, there are some, in my view, weaker points. As Keith mentions, comparing the current globalized words with languages occurrences is quite unfair. There were some other languages spoken in all the regions you mentioned before those came. And then, French was not "created" in France, but is the result of many earlier influences. But then again, there are some pronunciation differences. See e.g. French spoken in Normandy and Vendée... $\endgroup$ – clem steredenn Sep 28 at 6:43
  • $\begingroup$ @clemsteredenn: The questions asks about climate influences on the languages spoken in a given area. Not about languages which evolved in a given area five thousand years ago. Yes, there were languages spoken in those areas before the current ones. That's what the Anatolian example was supposed to illustrate; we know the linguistic history of Anatolia for about 3,500 years, and during this time all languages we know of came from somewhere else. (And anyway, related to the "guttural" question: Arabic is pretty "guttural", isn't it? How cold is Arabia?) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 28 at 7:49
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison: Ordinary people won't be able to recognize a language after two or three thousand years of change. (Less than four thousand years ago English and Russian were the same language.) Professional historical linguists may be able to push it to about six thousand years in ideal condiftions. It is utterly irrelevant where the ancestors of a given language were spoken ten thousand years ago: linguistic change would have erased all traces. Languages evolve very very very much quicker than animals and plants. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 28 at 7:54
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP, spoken, yes, but no period was defined. No French was spoken 2000 years ago in Quebec. But yes, my assumptions might have been uncleared: I was only asking about the original regions where a language (somewhat standardised) stemmed from. And the guttural point was meant as an illustration to clarify the question. But you are right, guttural would actually better fit desert countries closer to the equator. $\endgroup$ – clem steredenn Sep 28 at 11:01
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Although scientifically I have little to offer, there is something I'd like to add here. Generally speaking our names for things start with what is around us, and we name things off of that afterwards. For example, guinea pigs are not pigs, koala bears are not bears, red pandas are not pandas. Or perhaps my favourite, the flying fox. We could have called it a giant bat, but then you can imagine the first time its name was used. "It was huge! Like a fox with wings!"

I believe this also extends itself to naming simpler things. We have names for snow, frost, sleet. But there could be cultures that could never have seen snow, that may have a word for frost, but not snow, and hence call it "falling frost" instead.

Our surroundings definitely change our language. A rainbow comes from the words rain and bows yet has existed long before mankind invented the word bow, so why that name?

In Norwegian there is the term "stormskritt" which is literally "storm steps" but means something more like "progress by leaps and bounds". Why use the word "storm" at all? Well, I imagine it's because historically the people loved and feared storms, because they had a lot of them and lived by the sea. So it worked into the language. If storms weren't common in their climate, then those people probably wouldn't have used that phrase.

Edit: I realise the question is specifically about the sounds of the languages, and therefore my answer doesn't offer much, except I would like to highlight: We re-use a lot of parts of words because they use something we already know that is easy to say. So I imagine if a climate makes a particular sound harder to make, that's the main impact I would expect. For example, in climates where keeping your mouth open could lose precious body heat, avoiding sticking your tongue out would make sense.

Edit edit: Another thing to consider is sometimes we copy sounds of other things. Such as the cuckoo, or dik-dik. Since we then copy the noise that animal makes, we can re-use that. Such as cuckoo going from a bird sound to meaning 'bonkers'. A cuckoo lives in its own climate to survive, and therefore areas without that living creature would never develop that terminology because of that animal. Therefore, climate defined a piece of that language.

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At least pitch of language depends on climate. I talked with lady who works in post office in village of Verhneimbatsk, we both talk the same language, but she talks like machine gun, at least 2 times faster than me. Probably, because it was winter, and there is ~ -40 degrees C (-40 F) at winter.

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Language has nothing to do with the climate. Language depends on social and historical circumstances.

The simplest example is that half of the world speaks English, although these people live in different climates. For example - in the hot climate of California, in the cold climate of Canada and in the mild climate of Great Britain, people speak English.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding.SE! Could you explain why you don't think this is the case? Currently this answer is very short and lacks detail, and will likely be deleted unless you can expand it out a bit. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Sep 27 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ @F1Krazy: Ugh, because for example French is spoken from Quebec to French Guiana? Because English is spoken from Canada to Australia? The question is silly, and it is silly because language is not inherited genetically, it is inherited culturally. Successful languages do not develop and die in the place where they were born, so that the entire premise of the question is flawed. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 27 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ But does Californian English sounds exactly like Canadian English? Or Australian? Or any of dialects in England itself? $\endgroup$ – user28434 Sep 30 at 14:02

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