What do Northern Europeans and ventriloquists have in common?

If you are familiar with Scandinavian and Northern European languages you might have noticed a peculiar way of speaking while inhaling. In linguistics, this is called ingressive speech

According to a research paper titled Languages with pulmonic ingressive speech: updating and adding to the list by Robert Eklund – professor in Language, Culture and Phonetics at Linköping University in Sweden:

speaking on inhalation, pulmonic ingressive speech, is well-known in Scandinavia and often believed to be unique to this part of the world.

Eklund has dedicated almost a decade to researching over 500 works that mention pulmonic ingressive speech (AKA ingressive sound). His research has shown that this type of speaking is not unique to Northern Europe but appears universally. These sounds are not even unique to humans. Other mammals – such as monkeys, horses and dogs – make them too. In human language, it is, however, unusually frequent in Northern Europe and hence often thought to be a Scandinavian phenomenon. 

Where does this type of speaking come from? 

Ingressive speech has been mentioned as a linguistic phenomenon in written texts since 1765, according to Eklund. It has also been used for thousands of years by ventriloquists to achieve the desired effect that looks like you are speaking without moving your lips. 

Why is it used in language? 

According to Eklund, ingressive speech has a specific function in language: it is often used as a feedback marker in a dialogue. In Sweden and Norway, it is mostly used when uttering a single word such as “Ja” (Eng. Yes). However, in Icelandic, Faroese and Finnish a whole sentence can be spoken while inhaling.  

Want to learn? Don’t forget to breathe out!

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