Fricative consonant

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Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. [1] These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of [f]; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German [x] (the final consonant of Bach ); or the side of the tongue against the molars, in the case of Welsh [ɬ] (appearing twice in the name Llanelli ). This turbulent airflow is called frication.


A particular subset of fricatives are the sibilants . When forming a sibilant, one still is forcing air through a narrow channel, but in addition, the tongue is curled lengthwise to direct the air over the edge of the teeth. [1] English [s], [z], [ʃ], and [ʒ] are examples of sibilants.

The usage of two other terms is less standardized: "Spirant" is an older term for fricatives used by some American and European phoneticians and phonologists. [2] "Strident" could mean just "sibilant", but some authors[ who? ] include also labiodental and uvular fricatives in the class.



All sibilants are coronal, but may be dental, alveolar, postalveolar, or palatal (retroflex) within that range. However, at the postalveolar place of articulation, the tongue may take several shapes: domed, laminal, or apical, and each of these is given a separate symbol and a separate name. Prototypical retroflexes are subapical and palatal, but they are usually written with the same symbol as the apical postalveolars. The alveolars and dentals may also be either apical or laminal, but this difference is indicated with diacritics rather than with separate symbols.

Central non-sibilant fricatives

The IPA also has letters for epiglottal fricatives,

with allophonic trilling, but these might be better analyzed as pharyngeal trills. [3]

Lateral fricatives

The lateral fricative occurs as the ll of Welsh, as in Lloyd , Llewelyn , and Machynlleth ([maˈxənɬɛθ], a town), as the unvoiced 'hl' and voiced 'dl' or 'dhl' in the several languages of Southern Africa (such as Xhosa and Zulu), and in Mongolian.

IPA letters used for both fricatives and approximants

No language distinguishes voiced fricatives from approximants at these places, so the same symbol is used for both. For the pharyngeal, approximants are more numerous than fricatives. A fricative realization may be specified by adding the uptack to the letters, [ʁ̝, ʕ̝]. Likewise, the downtack may be added to specify an approximant realization, [ʁ̞, ʕ̞].

(The bilabial approximant and dental approximant do not have dedicated symbols either and are transcribed in a similar fashion: [β̞, ð̞]. However, the base letters are understood to specifically refer to the fricatives.)


In many languages, such as English, the glottal "fricatives" are unaccompanied phonation states of the glottis, without any accompanying manner, fricative or otherwise. However, in languages such as Arabic, they are true fricatives. [1] [ page needed ]

In addition, [ʍ] is usually called a "voiceless labial-velar fricative", but it is actually an approximant. True doubly articulated fricatives may not occur in any language; but see voiceless palatal-velar fricative for a putative (and rather controversial) example.

Aspirated fricatives

Fricatives are very commonly voiced, though cross-linguistically voiced fricatives are not nearly as common as tenuis ("plain") fricatives. Other phonations are common in languages that have those phonations in their stop consonants. However, phonemically aspirated fricatives are rare. [sʰ] contrasts with [s] in Korean; aspirated fricatives are also found in a few Sino-Tibetan languages, in some Oto-Manguean languages, in the Siouan language Ofo (/sʰ/ and /fʰ/), and in the (central?) Chumash languages (/sʰ/ and /ʃʰ/). The record may be Cone Tibetan, which has four contrastive aspirated fricatives: /sʰ//ɕʰ/, /ʂʰ/, and /xʰ/. [4]

Nasalized fricatives

Phonemically nasalized fricatives are rare. Some South Arabian languages have /z̃/, Umbundu has /ṽ/, and Kwangali and Souletin Basque have /h̃/. In Coatzospan Mixtec, [β̃, ð̃, s̃, ʃ̃] appear allophonically before a nasal vowel, and in Igbo nasality is a feature of the syllable; when /f v s z ʃ ʒ/ occur in nasal syllables they are themselves nasalized. [5]

Types of fricative [lower-alpha 1]
central non-sibilantɸ βf v
fʰ vʱ
θ̼ ð̼θ̟ ð̟ (θ̪͆ ð̪͆)θ ðθ̠ ð̠θ͇ ð͇ (laminal)
ɹ̝̊ ɹ̝ (apical)
ɹ̠̊˔ ɹ̠˔ç ʝ (laminal)
ɻ̝̊ ɻ̝ (apical)
x ɣ
xʰ ɣʱ
χ ʁ̝ħ ʕ̝
lateral fricative ɬ̪ ɮ̪ɬ ɮ
ɬ̠ ɮ̠ ʎ̝ (laminal)
ꞎ ɭ˔ (apical)
laminal sibilant s̻̪ z̻̪s̄ z̄ (s̟ z̟)s͇ z͇
s͇ʰ z͇ʱ
s̠ z̠ (s̻̠ z̻̠)
ʃ̻ ʒ̻ (domed)
ŝ ẑ (ʆ ʓ) (closed)
ɕ ʑ
apical sibilants̺̪ z̺̪s̺ z̺ṣ ẓ (s̺̠ z̺̠)
ʃ̺ ʒ̺
ʂ ʐ
fricative trill r̝̊ r̝ʀ̝̊ ʀ̝ʜ ʢ
fricative flap ɾ̞̊ ɾ̞
nasalized fricativeβ̃f̃ ṽð̃s̃ z̃ʃ̃ ʒ̃


Until its extinction, Ubykh may have been the language with the most fricatives (29 not including /h/), some of which did not have dedicated symbols or diacritics in the IPA. This number actually outstrips the number of all consonants in English (which has 24 consonants). By contrast, approximately 8.7% of the world's languages have no phonemic fricatives at all. [6] This is a typical feature of Australian Aboriginal languages, where the few fricatives that exist result from changes to plosives or approximants, but also occurs in some indigenous languages of New Guinea and South America that have especially small numbers of consonants. However, whereas [h] is entirely unknown in indigenous Australian languages, most of the other languages without true fricatives do have [h] in their consonant inventory.

Voicing contrasts in fricatives are largely confined to Europe, Africa, and Western Asia. Languages of South and East Asia, such as Mandarin Chinese, Korean, the Dravidian and Austronesian languages, typically do not have such voiced fricatives as [z] and [v], which are familiar to many European speakers. These voiced fricatives are also relatively rare in indigenous languages of the Americas. Overall, voicing contrasts in fricatives are much rarer than in plosives, being found only in about a third of the world's languages as compared to 60 percent for plosive voicing contrasts. [7]

About 15 percent of the world's languages, however, have unpaired voiced fricatives, i.e. a voiced fricative without a voiceless counterpart. Two-thirds of these, or 10 percent of all languages, have unpaired voiced fricatives but no voicing contrast between any fricative pair. [8]

This phenomenon occurs because voiced fricatives have developed from lenition of plosives or fortition of approximants. This phenomenon of unpaired voiced fricatives is scattered throughout the world, but is confined to nonsibilant fricatives with the exception of a couple of languages that have [ʒ] but lack [ʃ]. (Relatedly, several languages have the voiced affricate [dʒ] but lack [tʃ], and vice versa.) The fricatives that occur most often without a voiceless counterpart are – in order of ratio of unpaired occurrences to total occurrences – [ʝ], [β], [ð], [ʁ] and [ɣ].


Fricatives appear in waveforms as random noise caused by the turbulent airflow, upon which a periodic pattern is overlaid if voiced. [9] Fricatives produced in the front of the mouth tend to have energy concentration at higher frequencies than ones produced in the back. [10] The centre of gravity, the average frequency in a spectrum weighted by the amplitude, may be used to determine the place of articulation of a fricative relative to that of another. [11]

See also


  1. There are likely to be more aspirated, murmured and nasal fricatives than shown here. s̄ ṣ ŝ are not IPA transcription

Related Research Articles

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.

A lateral is a consonant in which the airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but it is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth. An example of a lateral consonant is the English L, as in Larry.

Place of articulation Place in the mouth consonants are articulated

In articulatory phonetics, the place of articulation of a consonant is the point of contact where an obstruction occurs in the vocal tract between an articulatory gesture, an active articulator, and a passive location. Along with the manner of articulation and the phonation, it gives the consonant its distinctive sound.

An affricate is a consonant that begins as a stop and releases as a fricative, generally with the same place of articulation. It is often difficult to decide if a stop and fricative form a single phoneme or a consonant pair. English has two affricate phonemes, and, often spelled ch and j, respectively.

Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the upper teeth. Alveolar consonants may be articulated with the tip of the tongue, as in English, or with the flat of the tongue just above the tip, as in French and Spanish. The laminal alveolar articulation is often mistakenly called dental, because the tip of the tongue can be seen near to or touching the teeth. However, it is the rearmost point of contact that defines the place of articulation, is where the oral cavity ends, and it is the resonant space of the oral cavity that gives consonants and vowels their characteristics.

The field of articulatory phonetics is a subfield of phonetics that studies articulation and ways that humans produce speech. Articulatory phoneticians explain how humans produce speech sounds via the interaction of different physiological structures. Generally, articulatory phonetics is concerned with the transformation of aerodynamic energy into acoustic energy. Aerodynamic energy refers to the airflow through the vocal tract. Its potential form is air pressure; its kinetic form is the actual dynamic airflow. Acoustic energy is variation in the air pressure that can be represented as sound waves, which are then perceived by the human auditory system as sound.

In phonetics, sibilants are fricative consonants of higher amplitude and pitch, made by directing a stream of air with the tongue towards the teeth. Examples of sibilants are the consonants at the beginning of the English words sip, zip, ship, and genre. The symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet used to denote the sibilant sounds in these words are, respectively,. Sibilants have a characteristically intense sound, which accounts for their paralinguistic use in getting one's attention.

Labialization is a secondary articulatory feature of sounds in some languages. Labialized sounds involve the lips while the remainder of the oral cavity produces another sound. The term is normally restricted to consonants. When vowels involve the lips, they are called rounded.

Digraph (orthography) pair of characters used to write one phoneme

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.

Postalveolar consonants are consonants articulated with the tongue near or touching the back of the alveolar ridge, farther back in the mouth than the alveolar consonants, which are at the ridge itself but not as far back as the hard palate, the place of articulation for palatal consonants. Examples of postalveolar consonants are the English palato-alveolar consonants, as in the words "ship", "'chill", "vision", and "jump", respectively.

In phonetics, palato-alveolar consonants are postalveolar consonants, nearly always sibilants, that are weakly palatalized with a domed (bunched-up) tongue. They are common sounds cross-linguistically and occur in English words such as ship and chip.

Retroflex consonant Type of consonant articulation

A retroflex consonant is a coronal consonant where the tongue has a flat, concave, or even curled shape, and is articulated between the alveolar ridge and the hard palate. They are sometimes referred to as cerebral consonants, especially in Indology. Other terms occasionally encountered are apico-domal and cacuminal.

The palatal or palato-alveolar clicks are a family of click consonants found, as components of words, only in Africa. The tongue is nearly flat, and is pulled back rather than down as in the postalveolar clicks, making a sharper sound than those consonants. The tongue makes an extremely broad contact across the roof of the mouth, making a determination of their place of articulation difficult, but Ladefoged & Traill (1984:18) find that the primary place of articulation is the palate, and say that "there is no doubt that should be described as a palatal sound".

An apical consonant is a phone produced by obstructing the air passage with the tip of the tongue. It contrasts with laminal consonants, which are produced by creating an obstruction with the blade of the tongue, just behind the tip.

Doubly articulated consonants are consonants with two simultaneous primary places of articulation of the same manner. They are a subset of co-articulated consonants. They are to be distinguished from co-articulated consonants with secondary articulation; that is, a second articulation not of the same manner. An example of a doubly articulated consonant is the voiceless labial-velar plosive, which is a and a pronounced simultaneously. On the other hand, the voiceless labialized velar plosive has only a single stop articulation, velar, with a simultaneous approximant-like rounding of the lips. In some dialects of Arabic, the voiceless velar fricative has a simultaneous uvular trill, but this is not considered double articulation either.

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.

The voiceless retroflex lateral approximant is a type of consonantal sound used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ɭ̊⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is l`_0.

This article is about the phonology and phonetics of the Upper Sorbian language.


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