On Fri, 26 Mar 2004 08:06:04 -0500, John Cowan <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> Are there any languages in which [x] and [X] actually contrast
> phonemically? The IPA's use of distinct letters (as opposed to
> diacritics) suggests that it is so, but I've never encountered one.
> Languages with an /x/ seem to render it as either [x] or [X], one
> form usually being preferred.

In addition to Yupik, Inupiaq, Nivkh, and Kabyle (Berber) that Danny
mentioned, the Siberian language Itelmen and many, if not all, of the
Caucasian languages make a distinction between velar and uvular
fricatives, and a few also have pharyngeals as well. Burkiqan Agul (sp?)
has, if I recall correctly, velar, uvular, epiglottal, and pharyngeal
fricatives, which is probably the most distinguished by any one language.

Some NW Pacific languages also have /x/ vs /X/, including Tlingit,
which also has ejective fricatives, so /x/, /x_>/, /X/, /X_>/
(and I think they call all be labialized as well, so a total of
eight dorsal fricatives). Haida contrasts either /x/ and /X/ or /x/
and /H/, depending on dialect.

I dimly recall a couple of Tibeto-Burman and Central American languages
having this contrast, but I'd have to go do some digging to be certain.

Can't think of any sub-Saharan African languages with this contrast,
but I'd bet there's at least one or two.