Different languages use different numbers of discrete sounds, called phonemes. Two phonemes are considered to be different when a native speaker pronounces them differently. Lithuanian language is the richest in sounds, and this is scientifically proven.
Given below is a list of contemporary languages from around the world with the number of sounds used. The list does not include diphthongs because they are only combinations of individual sounds in the language.
The 5 languages which have the most sounds are:
Vowels: 12; consonants: 45; sounds in total: 57.
Vowels: 32; consonants: 20; sounds in total: 52.
Vowels: 11; consonants: 37; sounds in total: 48.
Vowels: 14; consonants: 31; sounds in total: 45.
Vowels: 6; consonants: 39; sounds in total: 52.
Vowels: 20; consonants: 25; sounds in total: 45.
Vowels: 19; consonants: 25; sounds in total: 44.
For comparison, Russian has 6 vowels and 34 consonants for 40 phonemes, Estonian has 9 vowels and 30 consonants for 39 phonemes, Latvian has 12 vowels and 27 consonants for 38 phonemes, and Polish has 6 vowels and 31 consonants, for 37 phonemes.
It may seem odd that there are more phonemes in Lithuanian language than there are in the Lithuanian alphabet. Linguists who analyze phonetics count more phonemes because a single letter can have different sounds, for example, the soft M and hard M.
Consonant phonemes of Lithuanian
All Lithuanian consonants except /j/ have two variants: a non-palatalized one and a palatalized one, represented by the IPA symbols in the chart (i.e., /b/ – /bʲ/, /d/ – /dʲ/, /ɡ/ – /ɡʲ/, and so on). The consonants /f/, /x/, /ɣ/ and their palatalized variants are only found in loanwords.
Consonants preceding the front vowels /ɪ/, /iː/, /ɛ/, /æː/ and /eː/, as well as any palatalized consonant or /j/ are always moderately palatalized (a feature Lithuanian has in common with the Belarusian and Russian languages but which is not present in the more closely related Latvian).
Followed by back vowels /aː/, /ɐ/, /oː/, /ɔ/, /uː/, and /ʊ/, consonants can also be palatalized (causing some vowels to shift; see the Vowels section below); in such cases, the standard orthography inserts the letter i between the vowel and the preceding consonant (which is not pronounced separately), e.g. noriu [ˈnôːrʲʊ], (‘I want’).
Non-palatalized and palatalized consonants
- All consonants are labialized before the back vowels /ʊ, uː, oː/. The hard alveolar fricatives /ʃ, ʒ/ are also somewhat labialized in other[which?] positions.[are the hard alveolar affricates /t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ/ also labialized in other positions? What about the soft alveolar sibilants?]
- All of the hard consonants (especially /ɫ, ʃ, ʒ/) are velarized.
- /n, t, d/ are laminal denti-alveolar [n̪, t̪, d̪].
- /nʲ/ has been variously described as palatalized laminal denti-alveolar [n̪ʲ] and palatalized laminal alveolar [n̻ʲ].
- /tʲ, dʲ/ have been
variously described as:
- Palatalized laminal denti-alveolar [t̪ʲ, d̪ʲ] with alveolar allophones [tʲ, dʲ] before /rʲ/.
- Word-final /t, k/ and sometimes also /p/ are aspirated [t̪ʰ, kʰ, pʰ].
- /t͡s, t͡sʲ, d͡z, d͡zʲ, s, sʲ, z, zʲ/ are dentalized laminal alveolar [t̪͡s̪, t̪͡s̪ʲ, d̪͡z̪, d̪͡z̪ʲ, s̪, s̪ʲ, z̪, z̪ʲ], pronounced with the blade of the tongue very close to the upper front teeth, with the tip of the tongue resting behind lower front teeth.
- /t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ, ʃ, ʒ/ are laminal flat postalveolar [t͡ʃ˖, d͡ʒ˖, ʃ˖, ʒ˖], i.e. they are pronounced without any palatalization at all.
- /t͡ɕ, d͡ʑ, ɕ, ʑ/ are alveolo-palatal [t͡ɕ, d͡ʑ, ɕ, ʑ]. Traditionally, they are transcribed with ⟨t͡ʃʲ, d͡ʒʲ, ʃʲ, ʒʲ⟩, but these symbols can be seen as equivalent to ⟨t͡ɕ, d͡ʑ, ɕ, ʑ⟩, which is a less complex transcription.
- /v, vʲ/ have been variously described as fricatives [v, vʲ] and approximants [ʋ, ʋʲ].
- /ɫ/ is laminal denti-alveolar [ɫ̪].
- /lʲ/ has been variously described as palatalized alveolar
- /j/ has been variously described as an approximant [j] and a fricative [ʝ].
- /r, rʲ/ are apical alveolar [r̺, r̺ʲ].
- Before /k, ɡ/, /n/ is realized as velar [ŋ]. Likewise, before /kʲ, ɡʲ/, /nʲ/ is realized as [ŋʲ].
- /ɣ/ is sometimes realized as [ɦ]. Since the palatalized variant is always velar [ɣʲ], [ɣ] is preferred over [ɦ].
- In the case of the soft velar consonants /kʲ, ɡʲ, xʲ, ɣʲ/ (as well as the [ŋʲ] allophone of /n/), the softness (palatalization) is realized as slight fronting of the place of articulation to post-palatal [k̟, ɡ˖, x̟, ɣ˖, ŋ˖]. However, according to Augustaitis (1964), the stops /kʲ, ɡʲ/ are more strongly advanced, i.e. to palatal [c, ɟ], rather than post-palatal [k̟, ɡ˖].
- Plosives have no audible release before other plosives.
Lithuanian has six long vowels and five short ones (not including the disputed /e/[by whom?]). The length has traditionally been considered the distinctive feature, though short vowels are also more centralized and long vowels more peripheral:
- /e, ɔ/ are restricted to loanwords. Many speakers merge the former with /ɛ/.
- /ɐ, aː/ are phonetically central [ɐ, äː]. Phonologically, they behave like back vowels.
In standard Lithuanian vowels [aː] and [ɐ] generally are not pronounced after any palatalized consonant (including [j]). In this position, they systematically shift to [æː] or [ɛː] and [ɛ] respectively: galia (‘power’) = gale (‘in the end’) [ɡɐˈlʲɛ], gilią (‘profound’ singular accusative) = gilę (‘acorn’ singular accusative) [ˈɡʲɪlʲæː].
On the other hand, in everyday language [ɛː] usually shifts to [æː] (or sometimes even [aː]) if the vowel precedes a non-palatalized consonant: jachtą, (‘yacht’ singular accusative), or retas, (‘rare’), are often realized as [ˈjæːxtaː] and [ˈrʲæːtɐs] (or sometimes even [ˈjaːxtaː] and [ˈrʲaːtɐs]) instead of [ˈjɛːxtaː] and [ˈrʲɛːtɐs] as the following consonants /x/ and /t/ are not palatalized. This phenomenon does not affect short vowels.