Fricative consonant

Fricative consonant

Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of IPA| [f] ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German IPA| [x] , the final consonant of "Bach"; or the side of the tongue against the molars, in the case of Welsh IPA| [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. English IPA| [s] , IPA| [z] , IPA| [ʃ] , and IPA| [ʒ] are examples of this.

Two other terms are spirant and strident, but their usage is less standardized. The former can be used synonymously with "fricative", or (as in eg. Uralic linguistics) to refer to non-sibilant fricatives only. The latter can be used synonymously with "sibilant", but some authors include also labiodental and/or uvular fricatives in the class.

ibilant fricatives

* voiceless coronal sibilant, as in English "set"
* voiced coronal sibilant, as in English "zip"
* ejective coronal sibilant
* voiceless dental sibilant
* voiced dental sibilant
* voiceless apical sibilant
* voiced apical sibilant
* voiceless postalveolar sibilant (laminal)
* voiced postalveolar sibilant (laminal)
* voiceless palato-alveolar sibilant (domed, partially palatalized), as in English "sharp"
* voiced palato-alveolar sibilant (domed, partially palatalized), as the "s" in English "vision"
* voiceless alveolo-palatal sibilant (laminal, palatalized)
* voiced alveolo-palatal sibilant (laminal, palatalized)
* voiceless retroflex sibilant (apical or sub-apical)
* voiced retroflex sibilant (apical or sub-apical)

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 sub-apical 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

* voiceless bilabial fricative
* voiced bilabial fricative
* voiceless labiodental fricative, as in English "fit" or "fine"
* voiced labiodental fricative, as in English "vine"
* voiceless linguolabial fricative
* voiced linguolabial fricative
* voiceless dental fricative, as in English "thing"
* voiced dental fricative, as in English "that"
* voiceless alveolar nonsibilant fricative
* voiced alveolar nonsibilant fricative
* voiceless palatal fricative
* voiced palatal fricative
* voiceless velar fricative
* voiced velar fricative
* voiceless palatal-velar fricative (articulation disputed)
* voiceless uvular fricative
* voiceless pharyngeal fricative
* voiceless epiglottal fricative

Lateral fricatives

* voiceless coronal lateral fricative
* voiced coronal lateral fricative
* or IPA| [ɬ̢] voiceless retroflex lateral fricative (also written [] )
* or IPA| [ʎ̝̊] voiceless palatal lateral fricative (also [] )
* voiceless velar lateral fricative (also [] )

The most familiar lateral fricative is the "ll" of Welsh, as in Lloyd, Llewelyn, and the town of Machynlleth (IPA| [maˈxənɬɛθ] ).

ymbols used for both fricatives and approximants

* voiced uvular fricative
* voiced pharyngeal fricative
* voiced epiglottal fricative

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

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


* voiceless glottal transition, as in English "hat"
* breathy-voiced glottal transition

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. [SOWL]

In addition, IPA| [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.


See table of consonants for a table of fricatives in English.

Ubykh may be the language with the most fricatives (twenty-seven in all), some of which do not have 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 display no phonemic fricatives at all [Maddieson, Ian. 2008. Absence of Common Consonants. In: Haspelmath, Martin & Dryer, Matthew S. & Gil, David & Comrie, Bernard (eds.) The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library, chapter 18. Available online at Accessed on 2008-09-15.] . 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 IPA| [h] is "entirely" unknown in indigenous Australian languages, most of the other languages without true fricatives do have IPA| [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 the Dravidian and Austronesian languages, typically do not have such voiced fricatives as IPA| [z] and IPA| [v] which are very familiar to 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. [Maddieson, Ian. "Voicing in Plosives and Fricatives", in Martin Haspelmath et al. (eds.) "The World Atlas of Language Structures", pp. 26–29. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-925591-1.]

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. [Maddieson, Ian. "Patterns of Sounds". Cambridge University Press, 1984. ISBN 0-521-26536-3.]

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 which have IPA| [ʒ] but lack IPA| [ʃ] . (Relatedly, several languages have the [voiced postalveolar affricate|voiced affricate IPA| [dʒ] ] but lack IPA| [tʃ] .) The fricatives which occur most often without a voiceless counterpart are, in order of ratio of unpaired occurrences to total occurrences, IPA| [ʝ] , IPA| [β] , IPA| [ð] , IPA| [ʁ] and IPA| [ɣ] .


ee also

* Apical consonant
* Laminal consonant
* List of phonetics topics

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