In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are [p], pronounced with the lips; [t], pronounced with the front of the tongue; [k], pronounced with the back of the tongue; [h], pronounced in the throat; [f] and [s], pronounced by forcing air through a narrow channel (fricatives); and [m] and [n], which have air flowing through the nose (nasals). Contrasting with consonants are vowels.
Since the number of speech sounds in the world's languages is much greater than the number of letters in any one alphabet, linguists have devised systems such as the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to assign a unique and unambiguous symbol to each attested consonant. In fact, the English alphabet has fewer consonant letters than the English language has consonant sounds, so digraphs like ⟨ch⟩, ⟨sh⟩, ⟨th⟩, and ⟨ng⟩ are used to extend the alphabet, though some letters and digraphs represent more than one consonant. For example, the sound spelled ⟨th⟩ in "this" is a different consonant from the ⟨th⟩ sound in "thin". (In the IPA, these are [ð] and [θ], respectively.)
The word consonant comes from Latin oblique stem cōnsonant-, from cōnsonāns 'sounding-together', a calque of Greek σύμφωνονsýmphōnon (plural sýmphōna, σύμφωνα).
Dionysius Thrax calls consonants sýmphōna (σύμφωνα 'sounded with') because in Greek they can only be pronounced with a vowel. He divides them into two subcategories: hēmíphōna (ἡμίφωνα 'half-sounded'), which are the continuants, and áphōna (ἄφωνος 'unsounded'), which correspond to plosives.
This description does not apply to some languages, such as the Salishan languages, in which plosives may occur without vowels (see Nuxalk), and the modern concept of 'consonant' does not require co-occurrence with a vowel.
The word consonant may be used ambiguously for both speech sounds and the letters of the alphabet used to write them. In English, these letters are B, C, D, F, G, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, S, T, V, X, Z and often H, R, W, Y.
The letters H, R, W, Y and the digraph GH are used for both consonants and vowels. For instance, the letter Y stands for the consonant /j/ in yoke, the vowel /ɪ/ in myth, the vowel /i/ in funny, the diphthong /aɪ/ in sky, and forms several digraphs for other diphthongs, such as say, boy, key. Similarly, R commonly indicates a vowel in non-rhotic accents.
This article is concerned with consonant sounds.
Consonants and vowels correspond to distinct parts of a syllable: The most sonorous part of the syllable (that is, the part that's easiest to sing), called the syllabic peak or nucleus, is typically a vowel, while the less sonorous margins (called the onset and coda ) are typically consonants. Such syllables may be abbreviated CV, V, and CVC, where C stands for consonant and V stands for vowel. This can be argued to be the only pattern found in most of the world's languages, and perhaps the primary pattern in all of them. However, the distinction between consonant and vowel is not always clear cut: there are syllabic consonants and non-syllabic vowels in many of the world's languages.
One blurry area is in segments variously called semivowels , semiconsonants, or glides. On one side, there are vowel-like segments that are not in themselves syllabic, but form diphthongs as part of the syllable nucleus, as the i in English boil[ˈbɔɪ̯l]. On the other, there are approximants that behave like consonants in forming onsets, but are articulated very much like vowels, as the y in English yes[ˈjɛs]. Some phonologists model these as both being the underlying vowel /i/, so that the English word bit would phonemically be /bit/, beet would be /bii̯t/, and yield would be phonemically /i̯ii̯ld/. Likewise, foot would be /fut/, food would be /fuu̯d/, wood would be /u̯ud/, and wooed would be /u̯uu̯d/. However, there is a (perhaps allophonic) difference in articulation between these segments, with the [j] in [ˈjɛs]yes and [ˈjiʲld]yield and the [w] of [ˈwuʷd]wooed having more constriction and a more definite place of articulation than the [ɪ] in [ˈbɔɪ̯l]boil or [ˈbɪt]bit or the [ʊ] of [ˈfʊt]foot.
The other problematic area is that of syllabic consonants, segments articulated as consonants but occupying the nucleus of a syllable. This may be the case for words such as church in rhotic dialects of English, although phoneticians differ in whether they consider this to be a syllabic consonant, /ˈtʃɹ̩tʃ/, or a rhotic vowel, /ˈtʃɝtʃ/: Some distinguish an approximant /ɹ/ that corresponds to a vowel /ɝ/, for rural as /ˈɹɝl/ or [ˈɹʷɝːl̩]; others see these as a single phoneme, /ˈɹɹ̩l/.
Other languages use fricative and often trilled segments as syllabic nuclei, as in Czech and several languages in Democratic Republic of the Congo, and China, including Mandarin Chinese. In Mandarin, they are historically allophones of /i/, and spelled that way in Pinyin. Ladefoged and Maddieson [ page needed ] call these "fricative vowels" and say that "they can usually be thought of as syllabic fricatives that are allophones of vowels". That is, phonetically they are consonants, but phonemically they behave as vowels.
Many Slavic languages allow the trill [r̩] and the lateral [l̩] as syllabic nuclei (see Words without vowels). In languages like Nuxalk, it is difficult to know what the nucleus of a syllable is, or if all syllables even have nuclei. If the concept of 'syllable' applies in Nuxalk, there are syllabic consonants in words like /sx̩s/ (/s̩xs̩/?) 'seal fat'. Miyako in Japan is similar, with /f̩ks̩/ 'to build' and /ps̩ks̩/ 'to pull'.
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Each spoken consonant can be distinguished by several phonetic features :
All English consonants can be classified by a combination of these features, such as "voiceless alveolar stop" [t]. In this case, the airstream mechanism is omitted.
Some pairs of consonants like p::b, t::d are sometimes called fortis and lenis, but this is a phonological rather than phonetic distinction.
Consonants are scheduled by their features in a number of IPA charts:
|IPA: Pulmonic consonants|
|IPA: Non-pulmonic consonants|
|IPA: Co-articulated consonants|
The recently extinct Ubykh language had only 2 or 3 vowels but 84 consonants; /b/, /d/, /ɡ/ as phonemes, though they may appear phonetically. Most languages, however, do include one or more fricatives, with /s/ being the most common, and a liquid consonant or two, with /l/ the most common. The approximant /w/ is also widespread, and virtually all languages have one or more nasals, though a very few, such as the Central dialect of Rotokas, lack even these. This last language has the smallest number of consonants in the world, with just six.the Taa language has 87 consonants under one analysis, 164 under another, plus some 30 vowels and tone. The types of consonants used in various languages are by no means universal. For instance, nearly all Australian languages lack fricatives; a large percentage of the world's languages lack voiced stops such as
The most frequent consonants in rhotic American English (that is, the ones appearing most frequently during speech) are /n, ɹ, t/. (/ɹ/ is less common in non-rhotic accents.) The most frequent consonant in many other languages is /p/.
The most universal consonants around the world (that is, the ones appearing in nearly all languages) are the three voiceless stops /p/, /t/, /k/, and the two nasals /m/, /n/. However, even these common five are not completely universal. Several languages in the vicinity of the Sahara Desert, including Arabic, lack /p/. Several languages of North America, such as Mohawk, lack both of the labials /p/ and /m/. The Wichita language of Oklahoma and some West African languages, such as Ijo, lack the consonant /n/ on a phonemic level, but do use it phonetically, as an allophone of another consonant (of /l/ in the case of Ijo, and of /ɾ/ in Wichita). A few languages on Bougainville Island and around Puget Sound, such as Makah, lack both of the nasals [m] and [n] altogether, except in special speech registers such as baby-talk. The 'click language' Nǁng lacks /t/, and colloquial Samoan lacks both alveolars, /t/ and /n/. Despite the 80-odd consonants of Ubykh, it lacks the plain velar /k/ in native words, as do the related Adyghe and Kabardian languages. But with a few striking exceptions, such as Xavante and Tahitian—which have no dorsal consonants whatsoever—nearly all other languages have at least one velar consonant: most of the few languages that do not have a simple /k/ (that is, a sound that is generally pronounced [k]) have a consonant that is very similar. For instance, an areal feature of the Pacific Northwest coast is that historical *k has become palatalized in many languages, so that Saanich for example has /tʃ/ and /kʷ/ but no plain /k/; similarly, historical *k in the Northwest Caucasian languages became palatalized to /kʲ/ in extinct Ubykh and to /tʃ/ in most Circassian dialects.
The following pages include consonant charts with links to audio samples.
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough nor with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no turbulence. This class is composed of sounds like and semivowels like and, as well as lateral approximants like.
The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabetic system of phonetic notation based primarily on the Latin script. It was devised by the International Phonetic Association in the late 19th century as a standardized representation of speech sounds in written form. The IPA is used by lexicographers, foreign language students and teachers, linguists, speech-language pathologists, singers, actors, constructed language creators and translators.
In articulatory phonetics, the manner of articulation is the configuration and interaction of the articulators when making a speech sound. One parameter of manner is stricture, that is, how closely the speech organs approach one another. Others include those involved in the r-like sounds, and the sibilancy of fricatives.
In phonetics, a nasal, also called a nasal occlusive or nasal stop in contrast with an oral stop or nasalized consonant, is an occlusive consonant produced with a lowered velum, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. The vast majority of consonants are oral consonants. Examples of nasals in English are, and, in words such as nose, bring and mouth. Nasal occlusives are nearly universal in human languages. There are also other kinds of nasal consonants in some languages.
In phonetics, rhotic consonants, or "R-like" sounds, are liquid consonants that are traditionally represented orthographically by symbols derived from the Greek letter rho, including ⟨R⟩, ⟨r⟩ in the Latin script and ⟨Р⟩, ⟨p⟩ in the Cyrillic script. They are transcribed in the International Phonetic Alphabet by upper- or lower-case variants of Roman ⟨R⟩, ⟨r⟩:, ,, ,, ,, and.
A vowel is a syllabic speech sound pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Vowels are one of the two principal classes of speech sounds, the other being the consonant. Vowels vary in quality, in loudness and also in quantity (length). They are usually voiced and are closely involved in prosodic variation such as tone, intonation and stress.
In phonetics and phonology, a semivowel or glide is a sound that is phonetically similar to a vowel sound but functions as the syllable boundary, rather than as the nucleus of a syllable. Examples of semivowels in English are the consonants y and w, in yes and west, respectively. Written in IPA, y and w are near to the vowels ee and oo in seen and moon, written in IPA. The term glide may alternatively refer to any type of transitional sound, not necessarily a semivowel.
Uvulars are consonants articulated with the back of the tongue against or near the uvula, that is, further back in the mouth than velar consonants. Uvulars may be stops, fricatives, nasals, trills, or approximants, though the IPA does not provide a separate symbol for the approximant, and the symbol for the voiced fricative is used instead. Uvular affricates can certainly be made but are rare: they occur in some southern High-German dialects, as well as in a few African and Native American languages. Uvular consonants are typically incompatible with advanced tongue root, and they often cause retraction of neighboring vowels.
Pharyngealization is a secondary articulation of consonants or vowels by which the pharynx or epiglottis is constricted during the articulation of the sound.
In linguistics, a consonant cluster, consonant sequence or consonant compound, is a group of consonants which have no intervening vowel. In English, for example, the groups and are consonant clusters in the word splits.
A digraph or digram is a pair of characters used in the orthography of a language to write either a single phoneme, or a sequence of phonemes that does not correspond to the normal values of the two characters combined.
The phonology of Standard German is the standard pronunciation or accent of the German language. It deals with current phonology and phonetics as well as with historical developments thereof as well as the geographical variants and the influence of German dialects.
In phonetics, nasalization is the production of a sound while the velum is lowered, so that some air escapes through the nose during the production of the sound by the mouth. An archetypal nasal sound is.
In phonetics and phonology, a sonorant or resonant is a speech sound that is produced with continuous, non-turbulent airflow in the vocal tract; these are the manners of articulation that are most often voiced in the world's languages. Vowels are sonorants, as are nasals like and, liquids like and, and semivowels like and. This set of sounds contrasts with the obstruents.
The phonology of Italian describes the sound system—the phonology and phonetics—of Standard Italian and its geographical variants.
Dahalo is an endangered Cushitic language spoken by at most 400 Dahalo people on the coast of Kenya, near the mouth of the Tana River. Dahalo is unusual among the world's languages in using all four airstream mechanisms found in human language.
Edo, also called Bini (Benin), is a language spoken in Edo State, Nigeria. It is the native language of the Edo people and was the primary language of the Benin Empire and its predecessor, Igodomigodo.
Unlike many languages, Icelandic has only very minor dialectal differences in sounds. The language has both monophthongs and diphthongs, and many consonants can be voiced or unvoiced.
This article discusses the phonology of the Inuit languages. Unless otherwise noted, statements refer to Inuktitut dialects of Canada.