Letters to the Editor SpecGram Vol CLIII, No 1 Contents Moundsbar Consonantism—Metalleus

Linguistic Emissions Reduction Sought

SpecGram Wire Services

Sanaa, YemenTempers flared at global climate talks today, as environmental and linguistic concerns met head-on. The dispute is about so-called “inefficient articulations,” which detractors say increase the metabolic cost of speaking, while offering no linguistic benefit to speakers. These articulations, such as the large transition between the uvular [q] and palatal [i] in the Arabic surname Sadeqi, require more metabolic energy than most other segmental transitions, and are contributing to global warming, detractors say.

More difficult sounds require greater metabolic effort, which leads to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in exhaled breath. “No one language is responsible,” said one leading climatologist, “but we have to realize that we’re talking about upwards of six billion people, many of whom utter tens of thousands of phonemes daily. Even small savings [of articulatory effort] could add up quickly in reducing emissions.”

The problem is minor in many languages, experts say. English minimizes articulatory distance in several ways. Many English words use a “soft g,” actually a palato-alveolar affricate, before front vowels, leading to lower energy expenditure. Where velars are preserved, they reduce waste in other ways. Before [i], for example, velar /k/ is fronted to palatal [c].

Such phonological and phonetic accommodations are being touted as a new solution to the problem of carbon dioxide emissions, widely believed by scientists to cause at least a portion of the global warming trend that’s been observed over the course of the last century. Activists from many languages are pointing fingers at speech communities that they say don’t respect the environment.

One such accusation was laid by a Quechua delegate addressing an audience of Yemeni Arabic speakers. The delegate maintained a positive overall message, highlighting how indigenous efforts to reduce vowel productions in uvular environments have succeeded in reducing articulatory expenditures in many Quechua dialects. Nevertheless he made it clear that the international community would expect shifts away from wasteful linguistic processes on the part of the Arabs.

The Yemenis say they’re being unfairly targeted, and won’t change their language. They say that their language is an important part of their ethnic, religious, and national heritage.

The Quechuas disagree. They point to efforts in other Arabic dialects that haven’t harmed the local culture. “The Iraqis use a velar stop; many Gulf dialects use a palato-alveolar fricative.” And highest acclamation was reserved for speakers of Cairene Arabic, whose homologous glottal stop was praised as “a model of linguistic and ecological planning.”

As with many linguistic disputes, a solution is not readily apparent. Some in the emissions-reduction camp have indicated that they will seek an amendment to the Kyoto Protocols. In the interim, harsh words and fiery rhetoric are the only recourse for those who would like to see less waste in the maintenance of lexical contrast.

“The fact that speakers of Englishmany of them in the United Statesare doing more to reduce language-related carbon emissions than [speakers of other languages]... should speak volumes.”

Letters to the Editor
Moundsbar Consonantism—Metalleus
SpecGram Vol CLIII, No 1 Contents