1. Bilabial trill
What? When you roll an r, that's a trill. What's a bilabial trill? When you "roll" a b or a p.
Who does that? Speakers of a few languages in Africa (Kom, Ngwe), Indonesia and New Guinea (Kele, Nias, Titan), the Pacific Islands (Unua), and South America (Pirahã, Wari').
When did I do that? Last time you blew a raspberry.
2. Pharyngeal fricative
What? Fricatives are sounds that buzz or hiss, like "s," "z," "f," and "v." Pharyngeal means you make the sound in your pharynx, which is deep in your throat.
Who does that? Lots of people. Speakers of Arabic, Hebrew, and Somali, but also speakers of some European languages (Galician, Maltese) and various North American indigenous languages.
When did I do that? More than likely sometime when you were trying to clear your throat or cough up a popcorn hull.
3. Implosive velar stop
What? A velar stop is "k" or "g." An implosive stop is one where your windpipe is closed and you create a suction effect with your tongue to release the stop with a more emphatic sound. Implosives are usually done with voiced stops ("g" in this case).
Who does that? Speakers of some African languages (Ega, Fula, Tera, Zulu) and at least one South Asian one (Sindhi — with nearly 60 million speakers).
When did I do that? If you've ever imitated someone drinking a bottle of water by making a glugging "gukgukgukguk" sound, you may have made this sound.
4. Uvular trill
What? Your uvula is the little punching bag hanging at the back of your mouth. We've already talked about what a trill is above.
Who does that? It shows up in dialects of quite a few European languages, including Dutch, French, Portuguese, Romani, Swedish, and German.
When did I do that? You may have done it when gargling or when imitating a dog growling.
5. Alveolar click
What? Clicks are those famous sounds used in the languages of some South African peoples, and made known to much of the world by the early 1980s movie The Gods Must Be Crazy. An alveolar click is a click made in the same place you say "t."
Who does that? Clicks are used in the Khoisan language family of southern Africa; a few centuries ago they spread into some neighboring Bantu languages, most notably Zulu and Xhosa.
When did I do that? Tsk. Come on. Last time you said "tsk."
6. Palatal click
What? See above. This click is done on the roof of your mouth, where peanut butter sticks.
Who does that? See above.
When did I do that? Sometime when you were imitating knocking.
7. Lateral click
What? This click is done not with the tip of your tongue, like the previous two, but with the side of your tongue.
Who does that? As above. You can't even say the name of the language Xhosa without making this click.
When did I do that? You may have done it when summoning a horse or a dog. More likely, you did it as a sort of vocal nudge-wink, possibly twice together.
8. Pulmonic ingressive voiceless lateral fricative
What? "Pulmonic ingressive" means you do it while inhaling. "Voiceless" means it sounds the same whether you're speaking or whispering. "Lateral fricative" means it's like "l" but a little tighter.
Who does that? Hmm, well, almost no languages have distinct pulmonic ingressive consonants, actually. But it's theoretically possible. It's very hard to change from breathing out to breathing in in the middle of a word. Some will do it as variants on a regular lateral fricative. A regular voiceless lateral fricative is used in assorted languages, including Welsh and Icelandic.
When did I do that? If you're my mother (or maybe even if you're not), you did it every time you saw someone almost get into a nasty accident.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The 10 best networking tips for people who hate networking
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- Why the West should let Russia have eastern Ukraine
- 11 scientific studies that will restore your faith in humanity
- 9 Harvard dropouts who became fabulously successful
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- Why baseball is America's most dangerous spectator sport
- The dangers of our passionless American life
- Your literary playlist: A guide to the music of Haruki Murakami
Subscribe to the Week