Approximant consonant

Approximant consonant

Approximants are speech sounds (phonemes) that could be regarded as intermediate between vowels and typical consonants. In the articulation of approximants, articulatory organs produce a narrowing of the vocal tract, but leave enough space for air to flow without much audible turbulence. Approximants are therefore more open than fricatives. This class of sounds includes lateral approximants like IPA| [l] , as in "lip", and approximants like IPA| [j] and IPA| [w] in "yes" and "well" which correspond closely to vowels and semivowels.

Corresponding vowels

Some approximants resemble vowels. The term "semivowel" is often used for such segments. (Semivowels are non-syllabic vowel-like segments. While some phoneticians restrict the term to true non-syllabic vowels, which form diphthongs, others include the subset of approximants that resemble vowels. The difference phonetically is that these approximants are closer than the corresponding non-syllabic vowels.)

In articulation and often diachronically, palatal approximants correspond to front vowels, velar approximants to back vowels, and labialized approximants to rounded vowels. In American English, the rhotic approximant corresponds to the rhotic vowel.


Approximants versus fricatives

When emphasized, approximants may be slightly fricated (that is, the airstream may become slightly turbulent), which is reminiscent of fricatives. Examples are the "y" of English "yes!" (especially when lengthened) and the "weak" allophones of Spanish "b, d, g", which are often transcribed as fricatives (often due perhaps to a lack of dedicated approximant symbols). However, such frication is generally slight and intermittent, unlike the strong turbulence of fricative consonants.

This confusion is also common with voiceless approximants, which necessarily have a certain amount of fricative-like noise. For example, the voiceless labialized velar approximant IPA| [ʍ] has traditionally been called a fricative, and no language is known to contrast it with a voiceless labialized velar fricative IPA| [xʷ] . Tibetan has a voiceless lateral approximant, IPA| [l̥] , and Welsh has a voiceless lateral fricative IPA| [ɬ] , but the distinction is not always clear from descriptions of these languages. Again, no language is known to contrast the two. [SOWL]

For places of articulation further back in the mouth, languages do not contrast voiced fricatives and approximants. Therefore the IPA allows the symbols for the voiced fricatives to double for the central approximants, with or without a lowering diacritic.

Occasionally the glottal "fricatives" are called approximants, since [h] typically has no more frication than voiceless approximants, but they are often phonations of the glottis without any accompanying manner or place of articulation.

Central approximants

*bilabial approximant IPA| [β̞] (a consonantal IPA| [ʉ] ; usually written IPA|<β>)
*labiodental approximant IPA| [ʋ]
*dental approximant IPA| [ð̞] (usually written IPA|<ð>)
*alveolar approximant IPA| [ɹ]
*retroflex approximant IPA| [ɻ] (a consonantal IPA| [ɚ] )
*palatal approximant IPA| [j] (a consonantal IPA| [i] )
*velar approximant IPA| [ɰ] (a consonantal IPA| [ɯ] )
*uvular approximant IPA| [ʁ̞] (usually written IPA|<ʁ>)
*pharyngeal approximant IPA| [ʕ̞] (a consonantal IPA| [ɑ] ; usually written IPA|<ʕ>)
*epiglottal approximant IPA| [ʢ̞] (usually written IPA|<ʢ>)

Lateral approximants

In lateral approximants, the center of tongue makes solid contact with the roof of the mouth. However, the defining location is the side of the tongue, which only approaches the teeth.

*voiced alveolar lateral approximant IPA| [l]
*voiceless alveolar lateral approximant IPA| [l̥]
*retroflex lateral approximant IPA| [ɭ]
*palatal lateral approximant IPA| [ʎ]
*velar lateral approximant IPA| [ʟ]

Coarticulated approximants with dedicated IPA symbols

*voiced labialized velar approximant IPA| [w] (a consonantal IPA| [u] )
*voiceless labialized velar approximant IPA| [ʍ]
*labialized palatal approximant IPA| [ɥ] (a consonantal IPA| [y] )
*velarized alveolar lateral approximant IPA| [ɫ]

A "central" approximant?

Although many languages have central vowels IPA| [ɨ, ʉ] which lie between back/velar IPA| [ɯ, u] and front/palatal IPA| [i, y] , there are no confirmed reports of corresponding approximants. However, Mapudungun may be a possibility: It has three high vowel sounds, IPA|/i/, IPA|/u/, IPA|/ɨ/, written "i", "u", "ü", and three corresponding consonants, written "y", "w", "q". The first two are clearly IPA|/j/ and IPA|/w/. The "q" is often described as a voiced unrounded velar fricative, but some texts note a correspondence between "q" and IPA|/ɨ/ that is parallel to IPA|/j/-IPA|/i/ and IPA|/w/-IPA|/u/. An example is "liq" IPA|/'liɣ/ "white". [Listen to a [ recording] ]


ee also

* List of phonetics topics
* Semivowel

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