Ejective consonant

Ejective consonant

In phonetics, ejective consonants are voiceless consonants that are pronounced with simultaneous closure of the glottis. In the phonology of a particular language, ejectives may contrast with aspirated or tenuis consonants. Additionally, some languages have sonorants with creaky voice that pattern with ejectives while other languages have ejectives that pattern with implosives — this has led to phonologists positing a phonological class of "glottalized" consonants (see glottalic consonant and below for further discussion).


In producing an ejective, the glottis is raised while the forward articulation (a IPA| [k] in the case of IPA| [k’] ) is held, raising air pressure in the mouth, so when the IPA| [k] is released, there is a noticeable burst of air. The Adam's apple may be seen moving when the sound is pronounced. In the languages where they are more obvious, ejectives are often described as sounding like "spat" consonants; but ejectives are often quite weak and, in some contexts, and in some languages, are easy to mistake for unaspirated plosives. These weakly ejective articulations are sometimes called "intermediates" in older American linguistic literature and are notated with different phonetic symbols: [C!] = strongly ejective, [C’] = weakly ejective. Strong and weak ejectives have not been found to be contrastive in any known language.

In strict, technical terms, ejectives are glottalic egressive consonants. The most common ejective is IPA| [k’] , as it is easy to raise the necessary pressure within the small oral cavity used to pronounce a IPA| [k] . In proportion to the frequency of uvular consonants, IPA| [q’] is even more common, as would be expected from the very small oral cavity used to pronounce a [voiceless uvular plosive|IPA| [q] ] . IPA| [p’] , on the other hand, is quite rare. This is the opposite pattern to what is found in the implosive consonants, in which the bilabial is common and the velar is rare (Joseph Greenberg 1970). Ejective fricatives are rare for presumably the same reason: with the air escaping from the mouth while the pressure is being raised, like inflating a leaky bicycle tire, it's harder to make the resulting sound as salient as a IPA| [k’] .

Occurrence in languages

Ejectives that phonemically contrast with pulmonic consonants occur in about 15% of languages around the world. They are extremely common in northwest North America, and frequently occur throughout the western parts of both North and South America. They are also common in eastern and southern Africa. In Eurasia, the Caucasus form an island of ejective languages. Elsewhere they are rare.

Language families which distinguish ejective consonants include all three Caucasian families (Abkhaz-Adyghe, Nakho-Dagestanian and Kartvelian (Georgian)); the Athabaskan, Siouan and Salishan families of North America, along with the many diverse families of the Pacific Northwest from central California to British Columbia; the Mayan family and Aymara; the Afro-Asiatic family (notably most of the Cushitic and Omotic languages, Hausa and South Semitic languages like Amharic and Tigrinya) and a few Nilo-Saharan languages; and the Khoisan family of southern Africa. Among the scattered languages with ejectives elsewhere are Itelmen of the Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages and Yapese of the Austronesian family. According to the glottalic theory, the Proto-Indo-European language had a series of ejectives, although no attested Indo-European language retains these sounds; nevertheless, ejectives are found in the Indo-European Ossetic and some dialects of Armenian; both have acquired ejectives under the influence of the nearby Caucasian language families.

It had once been predicted that both ejectives and implosives would not be found in the same language, but this is now shown to be incorrect, both being found phonemically at plural points of articulation in at least the Nilo-Saharan languages Gumuz, Me'en, and Twampa. In addition, a number of East Cushitic languages have a series of ejective consonants and a single implosive, a voiced retroflex stop.

Types of Ejectives

The vast majority of ejective consonants noted in the world's languages consists of stops or affricates, and all ejective consonants are obstruents. IPA| [k’] is the most common ejective, and IPA| [q’] is common among languages which have uvulars, IPA| [t’] less so, and IPA| [p’] is uncommon. Among affricates, IPA| [ts’] , [tʃ’] , [tɬ’] are all quite common, and IPA| [kx’] is not unusual (and is particularly common among the Khoisan languages), which is surprising since non-ejective IPA| [kx] is not a common sound.

A few languages utilise ejective fricatives: in some dialects of Hausa, the standard affricate IPA| [ts’] is a fricative IPA| [s’] ; Ubykh (Northwest Caucasian) has an ejective lateral fricative IPA| [ɬ’] ; and the related Kabardian also has ejective labiodental and alveolopalatal fricatives, IPA| [f’] , [ʃ’] , and [ɬ’] . Tlingit is an extreme case, with ejective alveolar, lateral, velar, and uvular fricatives, IPA| [s’] , [ɬ’] , [x’] , [xʷ’] , [χ’] , [χʷ’] ; it may be the only language with the latter. Upper Necaxa Totonac is unusual and perhaps unique in that it has ejective fricatives (alveolar, lateral, and postalveolar IPA| [s’] , [ʃ’] , [ɬ’] ) but completely lacks ejective stops or affricates (Beck 2006). Other languages with ejective fricatives are Yuchi, which in some sources is analyzed as having IPA| [ɸ’] , [s’] , [ʃ’] , and [ɬ’] (note this is not the analysis of the Wikipedia article), Keres dialects, with IPA| [s’] , [ʂ’] and [ɕ’] , and Lakota, with IPA| [s’] , [ʃ’] , and [x’] . Amharic is interpreted by many as having an ejective fricative IPA| [s’] , at least historically, but it has been also analyzed as now being a sociolinguistic variant (Takkele Taddese 1992).

Strangely, although an ejective retroflex stop is easy to make and quite distinctive in sound, it is very rare. Retroflex ejective stops and affricates, IPA| [ʈ’, ʈʂ’] , are reported from Yawelmani and other Yokuts languages, as well as Tolowa and Keresan (with only retroflex affricates); however, and the retroflex ejective affricate is also found allophonically in most Northwest Caucasian languages.

Ejective sonorants do not occur. When sonorants are written with an apostrophe, as if they were ejective, they actually involve a different airstream mechanism: they are glottalized consonants and vowels, where glottalization interrupts an otherwise normal pulmonic airstream, somewhat like English "uh-uh" (either vocalic or nasal) pronounced as a single sound.

IPA transcription

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, ejectives are indicated by writing a stop consonant with a "modifier letter apostrophe" (unicode|ʼ). Note that a reversed apostrophe is sometimes used to represent aspiration, as in Armenian IPA| [p‘ t‘ k‘] ; this usage is obsolete in the IPA.


*Beck, David. 2006. The emergence of ejective fricatives in Upper Necaxa Totonac. "University of Alberta Working Papers in Linguistics" 1, 1-18.
*Campbell, Lyle. 1973. On Glottalic Consonants. "International Journal of American Linguistics" 39, 44-46.
*Fallon, Paul. 2002. "The Synchronic and Diachronic Phonology of Ejectives". Routledge. ISBN 0415938007, 9780415938006.
*Greenberg, Joseph H. 1970. Some generalizations concerning glottalic consonants, especially implosives. "International Journal of American Linguistics" 36, 123-145.
*Lindsey, Geoffrey, Katrina Hayward, Andrew Haruna. 1992. "Hausa Glottalic Consonants: A Laryngographic Study." "Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies" 55, 511-527.
*Takkele Taddese. 1992. Are s’ and t’ variants of an Amharic variable? A sociolinguistic analysis. "Journal of Ethiopian Languages and Literature" 2:104-21.
*Wright, Richard, Sharon Hargus, and Katharine Davis. 2002. On the categorization of ejectives: data from Witsuwit'en. "Journal of the International Phonetic Association" 32: 43-77.

ample list of ejective consonants

*Audio-IPA-nohelp|Bilabial ejective plosive.ogg| [p’]
*Audio-IPA-nohelp|Alveolar ejective plosive.ogg| [t’]
*Audio-IPA-nohelp|Velar ejective plosive.ogg| [k’]
*Audio-IPA-nohelp|Uvular ejective plosive.ogg| [q’]
*Audio-IPA-nohelp|Alveolar ejective fricative.ogg| [s’]

ee also

*Glottalic consonant
*List of phonetics topics
*Tlingit language
*Bilabial ejective
*Alveolar ejective
*Velar ejective
*Uvular ejective
*Alveolar ejective fricative
*Alveolar lateral ejective affricate
*Postalveolar ejective affricate

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