I speak Thai belonging to Sino-Tibetan language (Chinese, Japanese, Korean..).

In Sino-Tibetan language, we mostly use tongue to construct the sound, we use very little air from lung to make sound. But when we learn English, we have to change & use a lot of air from lung, try to make it nasally & sometimes blow out the air to make sound. If we don't do that then noone can understand our English.

That is very curious to me. There must be a reason behind that, is that because the European living in cold climate that they often blow off a lot of air from the lung out to limit the cold weather & gradually they construct the sound via that way?

Speaking English by using air from lung costs me a lot of energy, I often feel very tired when speaking English continuously for 1 hr!

  • I might ask why your languages don't do that. I think it's just different languages with different sounds. How do you make yourself louder when you speak in a noisy environment or over long distances outside? The only thing we have for volume control is how much air we move past our vocal chords.
    – Jim
    Nov 22, 2013 at 4:24
  • 5
    All languages use egressive lung air. Including Thai, English, and German. The air to talk comes from the lungs. Always. So whatever you are hearing that distinguishes European languages from Sino-Tibetan to your ear, it is not lung air. Nov 22, 2013 at 4:46
  • You are misinformed. Thai is not a Sino-Tibetan language. Only a few scholars in China still cling to that theory; everyone else has long since realised that if the Tai-Kadai languages are related to any other language family, it must be the Austronesian one (though even that is quite putative). Nov 22, 2013 at 8:31
  • Also, Thai has always to me sounded like it uses a lot more air than English, since aspirated consonants are (acoustically, at least) more aspirated in Thai than in English, and Thai often seems to pair voiced consonants with what to me sounds like breathy phonation—something that English lacks entirely. Nov 22, 2013 at 8:39
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Its the unreleased stops and the end of syllables that makes for the major difference, afaik most mainland SEA languages has this feature. Nov 22, 2013 at 8:47

1 Answer 1


I speak a little Thai so I think I know what you are referring to. It's not a matter of lung air but a matter of how you let the air out when you are speaking, and when.

The phonotax, which sound structure syllables and words have, is very different for English and Thai.

1. the number of possible consonants phonemes in the beginning of a Thai syllable is considerably larger than at the end of the syllable

2. the number of consonant clusters in the beginning of the syllable is limited in Thai,and there are no syllable final clusters.

1- Consonant phonemes in syllable initial and syllable final position

The Thai syllable and word can in principle only end in a vowel, a nasal stop, a glide or an unreleased stop.

Where English initially in has a distinction between voiced vs voiceless stop, eg /d/ vs /t/, Thai has a threeway distinction voiced vs voiceless vs aspirated stop - /d/ vs /t/ vs /th/ :

At the end of syllable English has in general then same voiced vs voiceless distinction for stops, but in Thai there no voiced vs voiceless vs aspirated stop, only the inaudible/unreleased //. You could say that the phonemes /d, t, th, / have the same allophone [t̚] in final position, or that the distinction is neutralised to [t̚]

Furthermore this 'neutralisation' also includes all the obstruents in Thai

  • /d, t, th, / and /s,tɕ, tɕh/ are all neutralized to [t̚] in a syllable final


  • /b, p, ph, f/ are all neutralized to final [p']

  • /g, k, kh/ are all neutralized to final [k']

Also for sonorants

  • /n, r, l/ are neutralized to final [n]

This difference has a major impact on the release of stops inside the phrase To give a brief example

  • In English 'rat king' the /t/ would be released before the onset of /k/
  • In Thai 'rat̚king' the /t̚ k/ sequence involves no release whatsoever.

2 Consonant clusters

Initial cluster in Thai are limited to to stop+/r, l, w/ initially:

  • pr-, phr-, pl, phl-
  • tr-
  • kr-, khr-, kl-, khl-, kw-, khw-

, and there are no final clusters at all.

This means that eg the initial clusters like English

  • sp- st- sk- spr-, skr- spl-

do not occur, and final clusters as in words like

  • 'lift', 'lips', and 'lisp' 'list'

are simply not possible in Thai.

  • In AmE, the 't' is barely something to release at all, I'd say close to the Thai.
    – Mitch
    Nov 22, 2013 at 16:39
  • @Mitch Yes, very true. Thai is not that alien if you have this allophone in your English, as many Americans do. Nov 22, 2013 at 17:07

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