Retroflex consonant

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 Latin-derived word retroflex means "bent back"; some retroflex consonants are pronounced with the tongue fully curled back so that articulation involves the underside of the tongue tip (subapical). These sounds are sometimes described as "true" retroflex consonants. However, retroflexes are commonly taken to include other consonants having a similar place of articulation without such extreme curling of the tongue; these may be articulated with the tongue tip (apical) or the tongue blade (laminal).

Subapical retroflex plosive


Retroflex consonants, like other coronal consonants, come in several varieties, depending on the shape of the tongue. The tongue may be either flat or concave, or even with the tip curled back. The point of contact on the tongue may be with the tip (apical), with the blade (laminal), or with the underside of the tongue (subapical). The point of contact on the roof of the mouth may be with the alveolar ridge (alveolar), the area behind the alveolar ridge (postalveolar), or the hard palate (palatal). Finally, both sibilant (fricative or affricate) and nonsibilant (stop, nasal, lateral, rhotic) consonants can have a retroflex articulation.

The greatest variety of combinations occurs with sibilants, because for these, small changes in tongue shape and position cause significant changes in the resulting sound. Retroflex sounds in general have a duller, lower-pitched sound than other alveolar or postalveolar consonants, and especially the grooved alveolar sibilants. The farther back the point of contact with the roof of the mouth, the more concave is the shape of the tongue, and the duller (lower pitched) is the sound, with subapical consonants being the most extreme.

The main combinations normally observed are:

  • Laminal post-alveolar, with a flat tongue. These occur, for example, in Polish cz, sz, ż (rz), dż and Mandarin zh, ch, sh, r.
  • Apical post-alveolar, with a somewhat concave tongue. These occur, for example, in Hindi and other Indo-Aryan languages. (Hindi has no retroflex sibilants, although some of the other Indo-Aryan languages do.)
  • Subapical palatal, with a highly concave tongue. These occur particularly in the Dravidian languages. These are the dullest and lowest-pitched type, and when following a vowel often add strong r-coloring to the vowel, sounding as if an American English r occurs between the vowel and consonant. These are not a place of articulation, as the IPA chart implies, but a shape of the tongue analogous to laminal and apical.[1]

The subapical sounds are sometimes called "true retroflex" because of the curled-back shape of the tongue, while the other sounds sometimes go by other names. For example, Ladefoged and Maddieson[2] prefer to call the laminal post-alveolar sounds "flat post-alveolar".

Other sounds

Retroflex sounds must be distinguished from other consonants made in the same parts of the mouth:

The first three types of sounds above have a convex tongue shape, which gives them an additional secondary articulation of palatalization. The last type has a groove running down the center line of the tongue, which gives it a strongly hissing quality. The retroflex sounds, however, have a flat or concave shape, with no associated palatalization, and no groove running down the tongue. The term "retroflex", in fact, literally means "bent back" (concave), although consonants with a flat tongue shape are commonly considered retroflex as well.


In the International Phonetic Alphabet, the symbols for retroflex consonants are typically the same as for the alveolar consonants, but with the addition of a right-facing hook to the bottom of the symbol.

Retroflex consonants are transcribed in the International Phonetic Alphabet as follows:

IPA Description Example
Language Orthography IPA Meaning
ɳ retroflex nasal Swedish Vänern [ˈvɛː.neɳ] Vänern
ʈ voiceless retroflex stop Hindi टापू (āpū) [ʈaːpuˑ] island
ɖ voiced retroflex stop Swedish nord [nuːɖ] north
ʂ voiceless retroflex sibilant Mandarin 上海 (Shànghǎi) [ʂɑ̂ŋ.xàɪ] Shanghai
ʐ voiced retroflex sibilant Russian жаба ʐabə] toad
Polish żaba ʐaba] frog
ɻ retroflex approximant Tamil தமிழ் (Tamil) [t̪ɐmɨɻ] Tamil
ɭ retroflex lateral approximant Swedish Karlstad [ˈkʰɑːɭ.sta] Karlstad
ɽ retroflex flap Hausa shaara [ʃáːɽa] sweeping
ɭ̆ retroflex lateral flap Pashto ړوند [ɭ̆und] blind
ɭ̊˔ voiceless retroflex lateral fricative Toda N/A [pʏːɭ̊˔] summer
retroflex click release (many distinct consonants) Ekoka !Kung N/A [ɡ‼ú] water

Some linguists restrict these symbols for consonants with subapical palatal articulation, in which the tongue is curled back and contacts the hard palate, and use the alveolar symbols with the obsolete IPA underdot symbol for an apical post-alveolar articulation: ⟨ṭ, ḍ, ṇ, ṣ, ẓ, ḷ, ɾ̣, ɹ̣⟩.

Laminal retroflexes, as in Polish and Russian, are often transcribed with a retraction diacritic, as ⟨⟩. Otherwise they are typically but inaccurately transcribed as if they were palato-alveolar, as ⟨⟩.

Consonants with more forward articulation, in which the tongue touches the Alveolar or postalveolar region rather than the hard palate, can be indicated with the retracted diacritic (minus sign below). This occurs especially for [s̱ ẕ]; other sounds indicated this way, such as ⟨ṉ ḻ ḏ⟩, tend to refer to alveolo-palatal rather than retroflex consonants.


Although data are not precise, about 20 percent of the world's languages contain retroflex consonants of one sort or another.[3] About half of these possess only retroflex continuants, with most of the rest having both stops and continuants.

Retroflex consonants are concentrated in the Indian subcontinent, particularly in the Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages, but are found in other languages of the region as well, such as the Munda languages and Burushaski. The Nuristani languages of eastern Afghanistan also have retroflex consonants. Among Eastern Iranian languages, they are common in Pashto, Wakhi, Sanglechi-Ishkashimi, and Munji-Yidgha. They also occur in some other Asian languages such as Mandarin Chinese, Javanese and Vietnamese.

The other major concentration is in the indigenous languages of Australia and the Western Pacific (notably New Caledonia). Here, most languages have retroflex plosives, nasal and approximants.

Retroflex consonants are relatively rare among European languages but are used in such languages as Swedish and Norwegian in Northern Europe, some Romance languages of Southern Europe (Sardinian, Sicilian, including Calabrian and Salentino, some Italian dialects such as Lunigianese in Italy, and some Asturian dialects in Spain), and (sibilants only) Faroese and several Slavic languages (Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Slovak and Sorbian). In Swedish and Norwegian, a sequence of r plus a coronal consonant may be replaced by the coronal's retroflex equivalent, e.g. the name Martin is pronounced [ˈmaʈːɪn] (Swedish) or [ˈmɑʈːɪn] (Norwegian), and nord ("north") is pronounced [ˈnuːɖ]. This is sometimes done for several consonants in a row after an rHornstull is pronounced [huːɳʂˈʈɵlː]).

The retroflex approximant /ɻ/ is an allophone of the alveolar approximant /ɹ/ in many dialects of American English, particularly in the Midwestern United States. Polish and Russian possess retroflex sibilants, but no stops or liquids at this place of articulation.

Retroflex consonants are largely absent from indigenous languages of the Americas with the exception of the extreme south of South America, an area in Southwestern US as in Hopi and O'odham, and in Alaska and the Yukon Territory as in the Athabaskan languages Gwich’in and Hän. In African languages retroflex consonants are also rare, reportedly occurring in a few Nilo-Saharan languages, as well as in the Bantu language Makhuwa and some other varieties. In southwest Ethiopia, phonemically distinctive retroflex consonants are found in Bench and Sheko, two contiguous, but not closely related, Omotic languages.[4]

There are several retroflex consonants not yet recognized by the IPA. For example, the Iwaidja language of northern Australia has a retroflex lateral flap [ɺ̢] as well as a retroflex tap [ɽ] and retroflex lateral approximant [ɭ]; and the Dravidian language Toda has a subapical retroflex lateral fricative [ɭ̊˔] and a retroflexed trill [ɽ͡r]. Because of the regularity of deriving retroflex symbols from their alveolar counterparts, people will occasionally use a font editor to create the appropriate symbols for such sounds. (Here they were written with diacritics.) The Ngad'a language of Flores has been reported to have a retroflex implosive [ᶑ], but in this case the expected symbol is coincidentally supported by Unicode. Subapical retroflex clicks occur in Central Juu and in Damin.

Most languages with retroflex sounds typically have only one retroflex sound with a given manner of articulation. An exception, however, is the Toda language, with a two-way distinction among retroflex sibilants between apical (post)alveolar and subapical palatal.

See also


  1. ^ John Esling, 2010, "Phonetic Notation". In Hardcastle, Laver, & Gibbon, eds, The Handbook of Phonetic Sciences, p 693
  2. ^ Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-631-19815-4.
  3. ^ Ian Maddieson (with a chapter contributed by Sandra Ferrari Disner); Patterns of sounds; Cambridge University Press, 1984. ISBN 0-521-26536-3
  4. ^ Breeze, Mary. 1988. "Phonological features of Gimira and Dizi." In Marianne Bechhaus-Gerst and Fritz Serzisko (eds.), Cushitic - Omotic: papers from the International Symposium on Cushitic and Omotic languages, Cologne, January 6–9, 1986, 473-487. Hamburg: Helmut Buske Verlag.

External links


Aṉangu is the name used by members of several central Australian Aboriginal groups, roughly approximate to the Western Desert cultural bloc, to describe themselves. The term, which embraces several distinct "tribes", is accurately spelled "Aṉangu" and pronounced with the stress on the first syllable: [ˈaɳaŋʊ].

Bench language

Bench (Bencnon, Shenon or Mernon, formerly called Gimira ) is a Northern Omotic language of the "Gimojan" subgroup, spoken by about 174,000 people (in 1998) in the Bench Maji Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region, in southern Ethiopia, around the towns of Mizan Teferi and Shewa Gimira. It has three varieties: Benchnon, Shenon, and Mernon, which Blench (2006) considers to be distinct languages but which Rapold (2006) states are "...mutually intelligible...varieties of one and the same language".In unusual variance from most of the other languages in Africa, Bench has retroflex consonant phonemes. The language is also noteworthy in that it has six phonemic tones, one of only a handful of languages in the world that have this many. Bench has a whistled form used primarily by male speakers, which permits communication over greater distances than spoken Bench. The whistle can be created using the lips or made from a hollow created with both hands. Additionally, this form of the language may be communicated via the 5-stringed krar.


Cerebral may refer to:

The brain as a whole

Cerebrum, part of the vertebrate central nervous system

Retroflex consonant, also referred to as a cerebral consonant, a type of consonant sound used in some languages

Intellectual, rather than emotional.

Inuit phonology

This article discusses the phonology of the Inuit languages. Unless otherwise noted, statements refer to Inuktitut dialects of Canada.

Most Inuit varieties have fifteen consonants and three vowel qualities (with phonemic length distinctions for each). Although Inupiatun and Qawiaraq have retroflex consonants, retroflexes have otherwise disappeared in all the Canadian and Greenlandic dialects.

Javanese script

The Javanese script, natively known as Aksara Jawa (ꦲ (a)ꦏ꧀ꦱ (ksa)ꦫ (ra)ꦗ (ja)ꦮ (wa)) and Hanacaraka (ꦲ (ha)ꦤ (na)ꦕ (ca)ꦫ (ra)ꦏ (ka)), formally known as Déntawyanjana (ꦢꦺ (dé)ꦤ꧀ꦠ (nta)ꦮꦾ (wya)ꦚ꧀ꦗ (nyja)ꦤ (na)) and Carakan (ꦕ (ca)ꦫ (ra)ꦏ (ka)ꦤ꧀ (n)), is an abugida developed by the Javanese people to write several Austronesian languages spoken in Indonesia, primarily the Javanese language and an early form of Javanese called Kawi, as well as Sanskrit, an Indo-Aryan language used as a sacred language throughout Asia. The Javanese script is a descendant of the Brahmi script and therefore has many similarities with the modern scripts of South India and Southeast Asia. The Javanese script, along with the Balinese script, is considered the most elaborate and ornate among Brahmic scripts of Southeast Asia.The script was widely used by the court scribes of Java and the Lesser Sunda Islands. Numerous efforts to standardize the script were made in the late 19th to early 20th-century, with the invention of the script's first metal type and the development of concise orthographic guidelines. However, further development was halted abruptly following World War II and especially during the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies, in which its use was prohibited, and the script's use has since declined. Today, everyday use of the Javanese script has been largely supplanted by the Latin alphabet.

Kullu language

Kullu (Kullū, also known as Kuluī and Kulvi) is a Western Pahari language spoken in Himachal Pradesh.

Kusunda language

Kusunda (Kusanda) is a language isolate spoken by a handful of people in western and central Nepal. It has only recently been described in any detail.

Kuurn Kopan Noot language

Kuurn Kopan Noot, or Gurnditjmara (Kirurndit, Gu:nditj-mara), is an extinct language of Victoria (Australia). It had a number of dialects (see box at right), including Kuurn Kopan Noot proper.

Palato-alveolar consonant

In phonetics, palato-alveolar (or palatoalveolar) 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.

The fricatives are transcribed ⟨ʃ⟩ (voiceless) and ⟨ʒ⟩ (voiced) in the International Phonetic Alphabet, while the corresponding affricates are ⟨tʃ⟩ (voiceless) and ⟨dʒ⟩ (voiced). (For the affricates, tied symbols ⟨t͡ʃ⟩ ⟨d͡ʒ⟩ or unitary Unicode symbols ⟨ʧ⟩ ⟨ʤ⟩ are sometimes used instead, especially in languages that make a distinction between an affricate and a sequence of stop + fricative.) Examples of words with these sounds in English are shin [ʃ], chin [tʃ], gin [dʒ] and vision [ʒ] (in the middle of the word).

Like most other coronal consonants, palato-alveolar consonants can be articulated either with the tip or blade of the tongue, and are correspondingly called apical or laminal. Speakers of English use both variants, and it does not appear to significantly affect the sound of the consonants.

Postalveolar consonant

Postalveolar consonants (sometimes spelled post-alveolar) 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 [ʃ] [tʃ] [ʒ] [dʒ], as in the words "ship", "'chill", "vision", and "jump", respectively.

There are a large number of types of postalveolar sounds, especially among the sibilants. The three primary types are palato-alveolar (such as [ʃ ʒ], weakly palatalized), alveolo-palatal (such as [ɕ ʑ], strongly palatalized), and retroflex (such as [ʂ ʐ], unpalatalized). The palato-alveolar and alveolo-palatal subtypes are commonly counted as "palatals" in phonology since they rarely contrast with true palatal consonants.

Retroflex approximant

The retroflex approximant is a type of consonant used in some languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ɻ⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is r\`. The IPA symbol is a turned lowercase letter r with a rightward hook protruding from the lower right of the letter.

SAMPA chart

The following show the typical symbols for consonants and vowels used in SAMPA, an ASCII-based system based on the International Phonetic Alphabet. Note that SAMPA is not a universal system as it varies from language to language.


The "Sanskrit Library Phonetic Basic encoding scheme" (SLP1) is an ASCII transliteration scheme for the Sanskrit language from and to the Devanagari script.

Differently from other transliteration schemes for Sanskrit, it can represent not only the basic Devanagari letters, but also phonetic segments, phonetic features and punctuation. SLP1 also describes how to encode classical and Vedic Sanskrit.

One of the main advantages of SLP1 is that each Devanagari letter used in Sanskrit maps to exactly one ASCII character, making it possible to create simple conversions between ASCII and Sanskrit. For example, the Harvard-Kyoto transliteration uses the single character "D" to represent "ड" and the combination "Dh" to represent "ढ". SLP1, in contrast, always uses a single character: "q" for "ड" and "Q" for "ढ".

The tables in the following sections are taken from Peter Scharf's May 2008 talk.

Shivneri Caves

The Shivneri Caves (शिवनेरी लेणी) are artificial caves dug for Buddhist monks circa the 1st century CE. These are now famous tourist attractions located on Shivneri Hill, about 2km Southwest of Junnar, India. Other caves around the city of Junnar are: Manmodi caves, Lenyadri, and the Tulja Caves.


Sibilants are fricatives 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, [s] [z] [ʃ] [ʒ]. Sibilants have a characteristically intense sound, which accounts for their paralinguistic use in getting one's attention (e.g. calling someone using "psst!" or quieting someone using "shhhh!").

In the alveolar hissing sibilants [s] and [z], the back of the tongue forms a narrow channel (is grooved) to focus the stream of air more intensely, resulting in a high pitch. With the hushing sibilants (occasionally termed shibilants), such as English [ʃ], [tʃ], [ʒ], and [dʒ], the tongue is flatter, and the resulting pitch lower.A broader category is stridents, which include more fricatives such as uvulars than sibilants. Because all sibilants are also stridents, the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. However, the terms do not mean the same thing. The English stridents are /f, v, s, z, ʃ, ʒ, tʃ, dʒ/. Sibilants are a higher pitched subset of the stridents. The English sibilants are /s, z, ʃ, ʒ, tʃ, dʒ/. On the other hand, /f/ and /v/ are stridents, but not sibilants, because they are lower in pitch.

"Stridency" refers to the perceptual intensity of the sound of a sibilant consonant, or obstacle fricatives or affricates, which refers to the critical role of the teeth in producing the sound as an obstacle to the airstream. Non-sibilant fricatives and affricates produce their characteristic sound directly with the tongue or lips etc. and the place of contact in the mouth, without secondary involvement of the teeth.

The characteristic intensity of sibilants means that small variations in tongue shape and position are perceivable, with the result that there are a large number of sibilant types that contrast in various languages.

Vedic Sanskrit

Vedic Sanskrit is an Indo-European language, more specifically one branch of the Indo-Iranian group. It is the ancient language of the Vedas of Hinduism, texts compiled over the period of the mid-2nd to mid-1st millennium BCE. It was orally preserved, predating the advent of Brahmi script by several centuries. Vedic Sanskrit is an archaic language, whose consensus translation has been challenging.Extensive ancient literature in the Vedic Sanskrit language has survived into the modern era, and this has been a major source of information for reconstructing Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Indo-Iranian history. Quite early in the pre-historic era, Sanskrit separated from the Avestan language, an Eastern Iranian language. The exact century of separation is unknown, but this separation of Sanskrit and Avestan occurred certainly before 1800 BCE. The Avestan language developed in ancient Persia, was the language of Zoroastrianism, but was a dead language in the Sasanian period. Vedic Sanskrit developed independently in ancient India, evolved into classical Sanskrit after the grammar and linguistic treatise of Pāṇini, and later into many related Indian subcontinent languages in which are found the voluminous ancient and medieval literature of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.


Ṭē is an additional letter of the Perso-Arabic alphabet, derived from te (ت) by replacing the dots with a small t̤oʾe (ط). It is not used in the Arabic alphabet itself, but is used to represent [ʈ] in Urdu. The small t̤oʾe diactric is used to indicate a retroflex consonant in Urdu. It is the fifth letter of the Urdu alphabet. Its Abjad value is considered to be 400. In Urdu, this letter may also be called ‘heavy t’ or ‘Indian t’. In Devanagari, this consonant is rendered using ‘ट’.

Some layout engines do not properly generate medial and final forms (which should look like ـٹـ and ﭨ) and will render the isolate form ٹ, without joining.

IPA topics

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