I'm writing up a conlang for a story wherein there exists a society of foreign creatures who are very physiologically diverse. Some are mammallian, others avian, reptilian, and some more fantastical. With all these different

When reading this article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Articulatory_phonetics#Airflow I came across the following sentence:

For all practical purposes, temperature can be treated as constant in the articulatory system.

This got me wondering if there could be anything special to creatures for whom this sentence isn't true. Maybe they might be able to incorporate certain whistles or tones that humans would find difficult/impossible? Perhaps they might have entirely different sounding vowels we're not capable of articulating?

I went searching online for anyone else who has thought about this and came up dry. If anybody knows of something like maybe a story about dragons communicating in a denser language than humans in the story, or anything like that, I would appreciate it! As I would also appreciate any thoughts or ideas on the subject.

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    $\begingroup$ "A-a-a-ah" - she said, accidentally burning the book she was reading. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Aug 30, 2017 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ Please be aware of the complexity of the topic of this question. One would have to investigate muscles and other biological stuff at extreme temperatures = first invent a new biology and then determine what would be possible. Bare in mind humans can already make pretty crazy noises, I don't think anyone truly knows what can't be done (since you are not asking about how one can be super loud) . I don't think anyone can give you a meaningful answer that is any better than what you can just make up - even if they end up using fancy words. $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Aug 30, 2017 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Remi and welcome to World building. Please take some time to visit the Help Center if you haven't already. $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Aug 30, 2017 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ I have a question that is probably going to greatly impact your potential answers. What is the mechanism for fire-breathing? is it a catalyst in the teeth and really bad breath? Or is it an organic spark generator in the throat connected to a separate set of fuel bags? You may want to edit your question with some more information to avoid getting it closed as too broad. $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Aug 30, 2017 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Paul! Thank you for the warm welcome. $\endgroup$
    – Remi Autor
    Aug 30, 2017 at 20:46

2 Answers 2


What that line means is that, inside the human body, the air exhaled from the lungs is warmed to the body's core temperature. Thus any sounds made with that air will be made with air of relatively constant temperature and thus relatively constant tonal properties (speed of sound, pitch, etc).

Short answer: not a whole lot of difference. And assuming their vocal anatomy isn't terribly different than ours.

Obviously, in a fire breathing species, there is the potential for sound to be made using much higher temperature exhalant. The most striking sound such people could make is the channeled sound of internal combustion itself. Kind of like the roar you get with a fire or a good propane torch. This is an artifact of waste gasses being expelled from the combustion chamber, not really of much use in language. Could certainly be used the way we use roars and hisses and so forth --- exclamations of emotion. This is a sound humans can emulate, however, so not really unique.

The only other phenomenon I can think of off hand is their voices might change pitch slightly due to the changed density of the hot air being exhaled. Kind of like how a person's vocal pitch becomes higher when they inhale less dense helium and deeper when they inhale SF6. Hot air and hot steam are much less dense than air at STP. Chances are good Smaug wouldn't sound anything like Cumberbatch's rich tones once he heats up his dialogue a bit!

But ultimately, you're not really going to get any different or extra vowel sounds that such a person could not already produce using ordinary temperature air. The vowel (and consonant) sounds we can produce are effects of anatomy rather than temperature of exhaled gas.

  • $\begingroup$ Makes sense to me! Thank you for helping to steer me in the right direction. Although I'm a little bit disappointed that the answer appears to be "it wouldn't" I'm happy with the answer you've provided! $\endgroup$
    – Remi Autor
    Aug 31, 2017 at 5:15
  • $\begingroup$ Why only slightly? $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Sep 3, 2017 at 2:56
  • $\begingroup$ The density doesn't change enough. Even helium & hydrogen really don't raise the pitch of voice all that much, and they are much less dense than heated air. A quick youtube search for "helium voice" and "hydrogen voice" will demonstrate. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Sep 3, 2017 at 21:57

The temperature is not significant, as such. Anyone that has used oxy-acytaline for welding or cutting knows the sound of the gas can vary quite a lot. Enough to be useful as a language, sure. Consider the speed at which we control sounds, while oxy-acyteline is slower in our world we use fingers on knobs to make the adjustment. Inherently slower than mouth shape.

The speed at which the sound can change is quick enough that it might compare with human voice. Mouth shape, gas mix, circular breathing, gas flow or a saliva-type gland to mix fuel with oxy laden air. Interesting problem as running out of fuel means reduced communication as well as defense/offense issues.

Examples; slow exhale with too much gas will be guttural (aka too little oxy) the carburizing flame. An oxidizing flames hisses and roars. Sounds like dragons, little, polite dragons anyway. A full on shout, could be quite loud. A cough, with a small fireball for a laugh. That would be fun.

You might consider pyrophoricity, two fuels that burn on contact with each other, check out SR-71 Fuel. The one for starting the engines.



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