Recently I was pondering mermaids and was wondering how their respiratory systems work. Most importantly, how could their vocal chords continue to function? Secondly, how would they draw the water through external gills? It would have to be different than human breathing because there is no suction.

Two points to note: 1. They have a lung system which can function above water 2. The gills should preferably be external

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    $\begingroup$ Hello and welcome to Worldbuilding Emily. Your question is kind of answering itself. You are asking the equivalent of "How does this completely fictional being work?". Answer: it works in whatever way that you as the author of your story / creator of your fictional world decide it works. There are no set and fixed answers here since merfolk are entirely fictional. There is no final authority on the biology of merfolk. :) And your two points of note seem to provide credible explanations for your questions. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Jun 30 '16 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ Similar question whose answers may be useful: How to Breathe Both on Land and Under the SEA $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Jun 30 '16 at 13:35

Mermaids have human-like breasts, but those should never have evolved since it makes them less streamlined and hydrodynamic. Ever wonder about the function of those?

Turns out that just like a female human's breast, a mermaid's breasts contain a high amount of fat - which is not a bad thing in itself. The "melons" of a mermaid work just like the melon of a cetacean!

In another question I described their respiratory system as having something I called gillungs... Those are kinda like branchial chambers with internal gills, and those gills could vibrate just like vocal cords. The breasts of the mermaid can then function as resonating chambers, so that she can sing like a dolphin. Yes, that luring song they sing comes not from their throats, but from their chests (in fact, that's very close to how parrots speak - they don't have vocal cords either, their vibrating organs are located quite closer to their lungs).

And that's how mermaids communicate among themselves - just like whales and dolphins do. Your mermaids may learn how substitute their gills for vocal cords, and how to make strange sounds with their tongues and lips in order to communicate with humans, but that may be unnatural to them.

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    $\begingroup$ So check out the mellons on that one… $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 30 '16 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ Now I'm just imagining a school of mermaids swimming after a ship, repeating everything the sailors say. $\endgroup$ – emo bob Jul 1 '16 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ ...through their breasts $\endgroup$ – adrian Jan 21 '18 at 2:54

How could their vocal chords continue to function?

Probably they could still the lung system. Humans produce sound by expelling air through the vocal cords, I guess the merfolk could try expelling water in a similar manner (though it requires suction to work).
Or you could use the mechanisms used by dolphins and whales. They have a specialized organ that produces clicks and whistles, and some sort of "vocal cords" in the head.

How would they draw the water through external gills?

I guess, like all other creatures with the external gills? The gills are usually attached to a stalk made of muscle tissue, so the animals can stir up water with the gill.

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    $\begingroup$ dont some fish have the ability to empty their mouths of water, creating a low perssure zone that water rushes to fill when they open up. Some definitly do, but I have only seen them use it to suck prey into their mouths on video. Its the same principal for our Lungs, by expanding them, we create more volume but with the same amount of air, a low pressure zone that physics demands gets equalized by the air outside of our mouths $\endgroup$ – Ryan Jun 30 '16 at 16:11

Gills and vocalization are completely different entities.

There are plenty of fish that make sound and have multiple ways of doing it. Just Google "How fish make sounds."

Not only can fish make sounds, but some fish have gills and lungs. Since some fish have lungs and can breath air, there is no reason to believe they cant make sounds both above and below water.

Your notion that fish cant create suction is false. Many fish rely on suction to predate. So they can suck in water and air.

Again, everything you need to have a mermaid speak above and below water is already available.

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