I was pleased to learn, via a thread at Tenser, said the Tensor, that a lack of fricatives or affricates is “virtually universal for all Australian languages, of all families.” Furthermore, the phenomenon is almost entirely limited to Australia and the adjacent regions; the list given by The Tensor (created from the UCLA Phonological Segment Inventory Database) has only two outliers (AUCA: S. American, Andean; DINKA: Nilo-Saharan, Eastern Sudanic, Nilotic, Dinka-Nuer); as he says, “That’s an areal feature if I’ve ever seen one.” And yet another rebuttal to the universalists (who used to claim that all languages have fricatives).


  1. joe tomei says

    For some more information about Australian languages, check out this page for some more details. The phonology of Australian languages is very interesting, with 6 way nasal distinctions and no voicing contrast. One wonders what our theories of phonology would look like if we hadn’t lost so many of them…

  2. Yet another rebuttal to the universalists (who used to claim that all languages have fricatives).

    Sign language must have come as a bit of shock, then?

  3. Some Australian languages have fricatives. Kala Lagaw Ya has the word kwasarr for 2 (

  4. the list given by The Tensor

    To be precise, Tensor queried UPSID for languages without *sibilants*, not languages without fricatives or affricates. UPSID can still be queried today through a web interface, and the answers to those questions overlap a lot, but not completely. Some languages have fricatives but only non-sibilant ones (for some of them, like Hawaiian, the only fricative is /h/, if you count that as a fricative). And some have the sibilant affricate /t͡ʃ/ but no fricatives.

    WALS has a map of Absence of Common Consonants: bilabials, fricatives, and nasals. Caution: a few languages don’t have fricatives but do have affricates as just mentioned, and WALS can’t filter those out for you, you have to dig for that information elsewhere.

    Also caution: some languages have fricatives and stops as allophones of each other, like the b in Spanish. Do they count as having no fricatives? Depends on which one gets chosen to label the phoneme. In the name of the Australian language Martuthinira, the spelling “th” represents [ð], an allophone of the dental stop, but WALS counts this language as having no fricatives.

    As the map shows, there are also a handful of no-fricative languages in South America.

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