Velar consonant

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Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue (the dorsum) against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth (known also as the velum).


Since the velar region of the roof of the mouth is relatively extensive and the movements of the dorsum are not very precise, velars easily undergo assimilation, shifting their articulation back or to the front depending on the quality of adjacent vowels. [1] They often become automatically fronted, that is partly or completely palatal before a following front vowel, and retracted, that is partly or completely uvular before back vowels.

Palatalised velars (like English /k/ in keen or cube) are sometimes referred to as palatovelars.[ citation needed ][ by whom? ] Many languages also have labialized velars, such as [kʷ], in which the articulation is accompanied by rounding of the lips. There are also labial–velar consonants, which are doubly articulated at the velum and at the lips, such as [k͡p]. This distinction disappears with the approximant consonant [w] since labialization involves adding of a labial approximant articulation to a sound, and this ambiguous situation is often called labiovelar.[ citation needed ]

A velar trill or tap is not possible according to the International Phonetics Association: see the shaded boxes on the table of pulmonic consonants. In the velar position, the tongue has an extremely restricted ability to carry out the type of motion associated with trills or taps, and the body of the tongue has no freedom to move quickly enough to produce a velar trill or flap. [2]


The velar consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:

Xsampa-N2.png velar nasal English ring[ɹʷɪŋ]ring
Xsampa-k.png voiceless velar plosive English skip[skɪp]skip
Xsampa-g.png voiced velar plosive English get[ɡɛt]get
Xsampa-x.png voiceless velar fricative German Bauch[baʊx]abdomen
Xsampa-G2.png voiced velar fricative Greek γάταɣata]cat
Xsampa-X.png voiceless labialized velar approximant English which [lower-alpha 1] [ʍɪtʃ]which
Xsampa-Mslash.png voiced velar approximant Spanish pagar [lower-alpha 2] [paˈɰaɾ]to pay
Xsampa-Lslash.png voiced velar lateral approximant Wahgi aʟaʟe[aʟaʟe]dizzy
Xsampa-w2.png voiced labio-velar approximant English witch[wɪtʃ]witch
velar ejective stop Archi кӀан[an]bottom
ɠ voiced velar implosive Sindhi əro/ڳرو[ɠəro]heavy
ʞ back-released velar click (paralinguistic)

Lack of velars

The velar consonant [k] is the most common consonant in human languages. [3] The only languages recorded to lack velars (and any dorsal consonant at all) may be Xavante, Tahitian, and (phonologically but not phonetically) several Skou languages (Wutung, a dialect of Vanimo, and Bobe). In Pirahã, men may lack the only velar consonant.

Other languages lack simple velars. An areal feature of the indigenous languages of the Americas of the coastal regions of the Pacific Northwest is that historical *k was palatalized. When such sounds remained stops, they were transcribed in Americanist phonetic notation, presumably corresponding to IPA c, but in others, such as the Saanich dialect of Coastal Salish, Salish-Spokane-Kalispel, and Chemakum, *k went further and affricated to [tʃ]. Likewise, historical *k’ has become [tʃʼ] and historical *x has become [ʃ]; there was no *g or *ŋ. In the Northwest Caucasian languages, historical *[k] has also become palatalized, becoming /kʲ/ in Ubykh and /tʃ/ in most Circassian varieties. In both regions the languages retain a labialized velar series (e.g. [kʷ], [kʼʷ], [xʷ], [w] in the Pacific Northwest) as well as uvular consonants. [4] In the languages of those families that retain plain velars, both the plain and labialized velars are pre-velar, perhaps to make them more distinct from the uvulars which may be post-velar. Prevelar consonants are susceptible to palatalization. A similar system, contrasting *kʲ with *kʷ and leaving *k marginal at best, is reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European.

Apart from the voiced stop [ɡ], no other velar consonant is particularly common, even the [w] and [ŋ] that occur in English. Of course, there can be no phoneme /ɡ/ in a language that lacks voiced stops, like Mandarin Chinese, [lower-alpha 3] but it is sporadically missing elsewhere. Of the languages surveyed in the World Atlas of Language Structures, about 10% of languages that otherwise have /p b t d k/ are missing /ɡ/. [5]

Pirahã has both a [k] and a [ɡ] phonetically. However, the [k] does not behave as other consonants, and the argument has been made that it is phonemically /hi/, leaving Pirahã with only /ɡ/ as an underlyingly velar consonant.

Hawaiian does not distinguish [k] from [t]; k tends toward [k] at the beginning of utterances, [t] before [i], and is variable elsewhere, especially in the dialect of Niʻihau and Kauaʻi. Since Hawaiian has no [ŋ], and w varies between [w] and [v], it is not clearly meaningful to say that Hawaiian has phonemic velar consonants.

Several Khoisan languages have limited numbers or distributions of pulmonic velar consonants. (Their click consonants are articulated in the uvular or possibly velar region, but that occlusion is part of the airstream mechanism rather than the place of articulation of the consonant.) Khoekhoe, for example, does not allow velars in medial or final position, but in Juǀ'hoan velars are rare even in initial position.

Velodorsal consonants

Normal velar consonants are dorso-velar: The dorsum (body) of the tongue rises to contact the velum (soft palate) of the roof of the mouth. In disordered speech there are also velo-dorsal stops, with the opposite articulation: The velum lowers to contact the tongue, which remains static. In the extensions to the IPA for disordered speech, these are transcribed by reversing the IPA letter for a velar consonant, e.g. ⟨k⟩ for a voiceless velodorsal stop. [lower-alpha 4] [ scheduled for Unicode support in 2021 ]

See also


  1. In dialects that distinguish between which and witch.
  2. Intervocalic g in Spanish often described instead as a very lightly articulated voiced velar fricative.[ citation needed ]
  3. What is written g in pinyin is /k/, though that sound does have an allophone [ɡ] in atonic syllables.
  4. The old letter for a back-released velar click, turned-k ʞ, was used from 2008 to 2015.

Related Research Articles

In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are, pronounced with the lips;, pronounced with the front of the tongue;, pronounced with the back of the tongue;, pronounced in the throat; and, pronounced by forcing air through a narrow channel (fricatives); and and, which have air flowing through the nose (nasals). Contrasting with consonants are vowels.

International Phonetic Alphabet Alphabetic system of phonetic notation

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

In phonetics, ejective consonants are usually voiceless consonants that are pronounced with a glottalic egressive airstream. In the phonology of a particular language, ejectives may contrast with aspirated, voiced and tenuis consonants. Some languages have glottalized sonorants with creaky voice that pattern with ejectives phonologically, and other languages have ejectives that pattern with implosives, which has led to phonologists positing a phonological class of glottalic consonants, which includes ejectives.

Voiced velar plosive Consonantal sound

The voiced velar plosive or stop is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages.

The voiced labialized palatalapproximant is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. It has two constrictions in the vocal tract: with the tongue on the palate, and rounded at the lips. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ɥ⟩, a rotated lowercase letter ⟨h⟩, or occasionally ⟨⟩, since it is a labialized.

In phonetics, a trill is a consonantal sound produced by vibrations between the active articulator and passive articulator. Standard Spanish ⟨rr⟩ as in perro, for example, is an alveolar trill.

Labial–velar consonants are doubly articulated at the velum and the lips, such as. They are sometimes called "labiovelar consonants", a term that can also refer to labialized velars, such as the stop consonant and the approximant.

Pharyngeal consonant Consonant articulated through the pharynx

A pharyngeal consonant is a consonant that is articulated primarily in the pharynx. Some phoneticians distinguish upper pharyngeal consonants, or "high" pharyngeals, pronounced by retracting the root of the tongue in the mid to upper pharynx, from (ary)epiglottal consonants, or "low" pharyngeals, which are articulated with the aryepiglottic folds against the epiglottis in the lower larynx, as well as from epiglotto-pharyngeal consonants, with both movements being combined.

Implosive consonants are a group of stop consonants with a mixed glottalic ingressive and pulmonic egressive airstream mechanism. That is, the airstream is controlled by moving the glottis downward in addition to expelling air from the lungs. Therefore, unlike the purely glottalic ejective consonants, implosives can be modified by phonation. Contrastive implosives are found in approximately 13% of the world's languages.

<i>Sj</i>-sound Voiceless fricative phoneme of Swedish

The sj-sound is a voiceless fricative phoneme found in most dialects of the sound system of Swedish. It has a variety of realisations, whose precise phonetic characterisation is a matter of debate, but which usually feature distinct labialization. The sound is represented in Swedish orthography by a number of spellings, including the digraph ⟨sj⟩ from which the common Swedish name for the sound is derived, as well as ⟨stj⟩, ⟨skj⟩, and ⟨sk⟩. The sound should not be confused with the Swedish tj-sound, often spelled ⟨tj⟩, ⟨kj⟩, or ⟨k⟩.

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.

In phonetics, secondary articulation occurs when the articulation of a consonant is equivalent to the combined articulations of two or three simpler consonants, at least one of which is an approximant. The secondary articulation of such co-articulated consonants is the approximant-like articulation. It "colors" the primary articulation rather than obscuring it. Maledo (2011) defines secondary articulation as the superimposition of lesser stricture upon a primary articulation.

The nasal labialized velar approximant is a type of consonantal sound used in some languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨⟩, that is, a w with a tilde. The equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is w~.


  1. Stroud, Kevin (August 2013). "Episode 5: Centum, Satem and the Letter C | The History of English Podcast". The History of English Podcast. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
  2. The International phonetic Alphabet
  3. Ian Maddieson and Sandra Ferrari Disner, 1984, Patterns of Sounds. Cambridge University Press
  4. Viacheslav A. Chirikba, 1996, Common West Caucasian: the reconstruction of its phonological system and parts of its lexicon and morphology, p. 192. Research School CNWS: Leiden.
  5. The World Atlas of Language Structures Online:Voicing and Gaps in Plosive Systems

Further reading