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Overview and Otherness
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This public article was written by [Deactivated User], and last updated on 25 Jun 2021, 12:59.

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Overview and Otherness
or
The Phonemic Also-rans


The idea of a  Goblin language is by no means a novel concept- I would venture to guess that every D&D player on the planet has thought about it, at the very least. For the most part they think nasal noises, with long cries and harsh sounds, spittle and lots of /z/ and /gz/ and growly /r/ and sharp, pointy teeth.

I am no different in this regard. I just kept going with the idea- how does the shape of their skull affect their pronunciation? Placement/size/disposition of their teeth? Length/width/girth of their tongue? What nuances can they make out that perhaps we (as humans) have a more difficult time with? What novel phonemes could they possess? Here are my thoughts:

Goblin vocal tracts are smaller and shorter than most humanoids.
  • This gives them a higher-pitched 'normal' speaking voice.
  • They tend to speak with a creaky and/or 'gruff' voice.
  • Their whispered voice is often hard to understand.


Goblin mouths are wide but shallow with typically thin lips and many small, sharp, teeth.
  • To avoid a sawing motion of teeth on their lips, they use unrounded vowels only /i, ɪ, e, ɛ, æ, ɑ, ə, ɯ, ɤ/.
  • The bilabial trill (both voiced /ʙ/ and unvoiced /ʙ̥/) becomes a useful phoneme.
  • Those prominent little teeth can clack and gnash audibly as a distinct percussive phoneme, typically co-articulating with other phonemes /r̪͆/, /t̪͆/, /s̪͆/, etc.


Goblin tongues are wide, often twice the width of a human tongue. When extended, a goblin can clean their own nostrils; many can lick their own eyebrows.
  • Lots of space for back action:
    • velar/uvular/glottal phonemes /k/, /g/, /x/, /q/, /h/, /ʔ/, and a trilled /ʀ/.
    • Retroflex consonants /ʈ/, /ɖ/, /ɭ/, /ɻ/, /ʂ/, and /ʐ/
  • Not to mention normal phonemes:
    • Stops /t/, /p/, /d/, /b/ (though in coda position, they tend to merge p→b and t→d)
    • Fricative and affricate /f/, /v/, /þ/, /ð/, /s/, /z/, /ʃ/, and /ʒ/
  • A new point of articulation emerges with the tongue progressing past the lips (I've borrowed the combining vertical tilde to denote this):
    • /s/ and /z/ have new counterparts /ʪ/ and /ʫ/ (think Sylvester the Cat).
    • The stops /t/, /d/, /p/, and /b/ can be articulated with upper-lip/teeth on the tongue rather than lower lip as /t̾ /, /d̾ /, /p̾ /, and /b̾ /
    • All unvoiced sibilants merge into /þ˞̾/; voiced sibilants merge into /ð̾ /
    • An emerging /l/, that is, moving from inside to outside of the mouth, /¡/, that often coarticulates with a stop
  • Another point of articulation, the lateral-alveolar; the sides of the tongue press against the back teeth and air is squelched through, producing a /ʞ/.


Goblin nasal passages are short and stunted, even when a large probiscus is present (some have a schnozz, some don't).
  • Most goblin phonemes are nazalized or have a nasal quality.
  • /m/, /n/, plus /ŋ/ (even word-initial!) and /ɲ/ (think Greek gnocchi).
  • Some nasal-released consonants occur; syllable-final /b/ will be realized /ᵐb/ (or more likely, ᵐb̚)
  • The /m/ and /n/ can join in the post-labial fun with /m̾/


Goblin visual cues from ears, hands, posture, etc. simply can't be ignored.
  • Goblins have limited control of the lateral muscles of their ears; these often betray a goblin's emotions or intentions.
  • As an emotional people, they often speak emphatically with their hands and body gestures. Aggrandizement and obsequious natures are common. Augmentatives are often extreme exaggeration of those cues.
  • A grinning goblin is trying to be devious, vicious, or menacing. A true goblin smile is open-mouthed, often with elevated tongue.


It is quite fun and diverting to stick out that tongue and say all the things. They won't look at you funny. No, really. And there ya go- all the noises you're probably used to, plus a few you might not be (/ʙ, ʭ, ʪ, ʫ, ¡, ʞ, ʀ/ plus the whole /◌̾/ series.)

I really look forward to some input/insight/inspection/interrogation on this.
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