Basically, when designing alien and fantasy races, I tend to try and figure out how they would sound. I originally figured that their language would be made of growls and barks, but then I realized that was too basic. Ask any linguist, and they'll probably tell you that there are no languages that are just merely basic. Every language in real life (and those that have been constructed, i.e. Klingon and Tolkein's Elvish languages) has some sort of complexity and uniqueness to it.

So, this all boils down to the question of how would the spoken language of a caninoid species sound like? Please note that I said spoken language, as I have already figured out that there would be a great deal of body language going on, since they would have tails and ears.

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    $\begingroup$ Realistically, they will probably develop more advance vocals than a dog to be able to communicate so the idea that just because they are dog like would make them sound like dogs isn't really a thing. It's not like humans languages sound like advanced ape sounds. There is no reason to expect them to sound like anything but making them use dog puns would be interesting. $\endgroup$ Jul 13, 2017 at 22:59
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    $\begingroup$ Though I don't remember if there was a unique spoken language, the book A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge has a race of sentient dogs/wolves. There's some really cool "pack consciousness" going on, where each member has a share of the total consciousness. $\endgroup$ Jul 13, 2017 at 23:03
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    $\begingroup$ @AdamHalatek I'll have to look that book up. $\endgroup$
    – SCPilot
    Jul 13, 2017 at 23:11
  • $\begingroup$ @A.C.A.C. , yeah that's what I want to avoid. I mean the dog puns do have a certain interesting take to them, but I do want their language to be unique and sound more than just dogs barking and howling. $\endgroup$
    – SCPilot
    Jul 13, 2017 at 23:11
  • $\begingroup$ Easily one of the best books I've ever read. $\endgroup$ Jul 13, 2017 at 23:29

3 Answers 3


I'm going to take a different tack from the other answers and start from the basis that we have talking canines and figure what about dogs would influence the way they speak. Most of these assume that their mouth somehow retains a somewhat doglike anatomy. If that mouth evolves to come very close to humans' before they start speaking, then the anatomy would have very little effect.

  • As I remember it, dog mouths do not close hermetically. So it makes sense that dogs would not be able to pronounce labials (/p/, /b/ and /m/). At least not with the same sort of sound as humans can produce.
  • Dogs have muzzles. It seems like an obvious thing to say, but the major differences between vowels (i.e. /i/ and /u/) as well as the various consonants, especially stops (but also fricatives), is where along the palate the tongue make contact. In humans, there are about four such major locations for stops and vowels (depending on your definition), three for laterals (l sounds) and 8 for fricatives, however, it is entirely possible that a species with a muzzle could have access to more sounds (from the point of view of humans) by simple virtue of having more space to clearly separate them.
  • I'm not sure what, phonetically speaking, a growl is. It may well be the dog's equivalent of a pharyngeal or uvular fricative or thrill. If it's not, though, it would make for an interesting, foreign phoneme too.
  • It's also possible, even likely that dogs's panting would lead to the heavy presence of interdentals (th-sounds), which are crosslinguistically uncommon (and hence are such a bane to foreign learners).
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    – Secespitus
    Jul 25, 2017 at 10:43

Dogs larynx doesn't have the flexibility needed to emit proper phonemes.

You have then two, possibly combined, approaches:

  • enhance canine vocal chords, and then you can have almost anything, phoneme can remind of barks or not (Klingon would be a good approximation, if you want to maintain a canine-sounding language, but that is not required by any extent).
  • switch to sign language. Here I'm not referring to "body language" (which is not a real language, even if it conveys a lot of information), but to real sign language, similar to what is used by deaf people; notice the "standard" deaf language is derived from "spoken" languages, but that needn't be the case (see: Nicaraguan Sign Language).

The two approaches may be combined with "enhanced barking" complementing sign which can be hand-signs (if your canine-race is standing upright and as "hands", of course) or other tail/ear/body gestures.

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    $\begingroup$ As canids, they would most likely be descended from carnivorous ancestors, in which a sign language would be highly advantageous, since it is harder for potential prey (or rival pack) to detect your presence if your pack doesn't need to make a sound to coordinate the attack! The only vocalizations necessary would alarm cries and names, to catch the attention of pack members when their not looking directly at you. For example, "Above!" could be shouted by a pack member who spots a large eagle swooping in, or "Max, behind!" to alert Max to the tiger stalking him. $\endgroup$
    – DracoAtrox
    Jul 14, 2017 at 8:11
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    $\begingroup$ @DracoAtrox: very true. The downside is it's much more difficult to "communicate" over (relatively) long distances and when not in plain sight (which kind of defeats your purpose). This must be taken int consideration when developing the race. OTOH sign language is (probably) leading to (ideographic?) writing in quite a direct way. $\endgroup$
    – ZioByte
    Jul 14, 2017 at 8:22

I think instead of dogs you should use foxes as your basis. At the end of the day dogs are dogs and wolves are scary dogs. Foxes are canids too but they have weird vocalizations including screams, mews, coos and "gekkering". As well as more creative Nordic speculation about what they say.



The problem is that unless you are making a movie and can dub in your canidoids there is no good way to convey how your creatures sound. Describing a sound relies greatly on analogy, like describing a smell. If you spend too much time with descriptive verbiage you risk getting lost in the weeds.

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    $\begingroup$ What does the fox say? $\endgroup$
    – user458
    Jul 14, 2017 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ Does this really answer the question though? $\endgroup$
    – Hannah
    Jul 25, 2017 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Hannah - here is the question: "how would the spoken language of a caninoid species sound like?". My answer: they would sound like foxes. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jul 25, 2017 at 23:21

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