Many languages have sounds that are very hard to pronounce to certain speakers.

For example, the French "R" sound is hard for English speakers. What if we have a language that accepts many variations of a word so that it's still accepted even if it sounds a little different?

Another example, Japanese phonology does not distinguish between L and R. This video shows how incredible it is.

I think this is a similar concept to how languages can change how many things you can notice, even colors can be hard to distinguish if you don't have a word for it.

But if you're coming from a language that does distinguish between the sounds, it will be easier for you to pronounce words of a language that doesn't distinguish it. I think that the Japanese L/R sound is easy because they don't care which one you pronounce, it sounds the same to them.

However, I know it might cause the language phonology to be too simple, which will cause very long words. I have not studied every single language in the world. But is really that bad if we are to create this "combined phonology?"

2 Answers 2


It is indeed possible to create a non-trivial ‘lowest common denominator’ phonology. I know because I made one myself a while ago. For consonants, I took the 10 most common segments from PHOIBLE disregarding voicing distinctions:

/m n/
/p t k/
/s h/
/l j w/

Vowels are much easier: /a i u/ is suitably lower-common-denominator, and is widely attested.

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    It is worth noting that /h/ is not phonemic in a couple major world languages, namely French and Spanish (though in some dialects of the latter it's a word-final allophone of /s/). Sep 21, 2021 at 13:32

There are both natlangs and conlangs with extremely simple phonologies.

For natural languages, Central Rotokas holds the record for the smallest attested inventory of consonant phonemes (6).

For a conlang, you may want to look at Toki Pona with an inventory of 14 phonemes: 9 consonants and 5 vowels. Toki Pona has some speech community and is more than just a Plansprachenprojekt.

These examples show that languages with extremely minimal phonologies are feasible. Yes, words and phrases become longer, but this is compensated by a higher speech rate.

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    With fewer phonemes you can be more careless (ie faster) with pronunciation, as there is more redundancy -- you need to distinguish between fewer elements. Hence the faster speech rate. Don't worry if you slur your vowels if /a/ and /e/ are the same anyway... Jul 23, 2021 at 11:21

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