Velar consonant

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. 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.

A velar trill or tap is not possible: 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:

IPA Description Example
Language Orthography IPA Meaning
Xsampa-N2.png velar nasal English ring [ɹʷɪŋ] ring
Xsampa-k.png voiceless velar stop English skip [skɪp] skip
Xsampa-g.png voiced velar stop English get [ɡɛt] get
Xsampa-x.png voiceless velar fricative German Bauch [baʊx] abdomen
Xsampa-G2.png voiced velar fricative Greek γάτα ɣata] cat
Xsampa-X.png voiceless labialized velar approximant English which[a] [ʍɪtʃ] which
Xsampa-Mslash.png voiced velar approximant Spanish pagar[b] [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, Wutung, Vanimo, Nori, and Waimiri-Atroari.

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,[c] 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.[d]

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.
  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.


  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

Chakali language

Chakali is a Gur language of Ghana, spoken in several villages in the Wa East District of the Upper West Region. The majority of Chakali are bilingual in Wali.

Coronal–velar consonant

Coronal–velar consonants are doubly articulated at the velum and upper teeth and/or the alveolar ridge.

An example of a coronal–velar consonant is one of the coda allophones of /n/ in the Jebero language, which is realized as dentoalveolo-velar [n̪͡ŋ].

Estonian phonology

This article is about the phonology and phonetics of the Estonian language.

Iwaidja language

Iwaidja, in phonemic spelling Iwaja, is an Australian aboriginal language of the Iwaidja people with about 150 speakers in northernmost Australia. Historically from the base of the Cobourg Peninsula, it is now spoken on Croker Island. It is still being learnt by children.

Labial approximant

Labial approximant is the name of a class of consonants.

Labialized velar consonant

A labialized velar or labiovelar is a velar consonant that is labialized, with a /w/-like secondary articulation. Common examples are [kʷ, ɡʷ, xʷ, ŋʷ], which are pronounced like a [k, ɡ, x, ŋ], with rounded lips, such as the labialized voiceless velar plosive [kʷ]. Such sounds occur across Africa and the Americas, in the Caucasus, etc.

Labial–velar consonant

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

Labiovelar consonant

Labiovelar consonant may refer to:

Labial–velar consonant, such as [k͡p] (a consonant made at two places of articulation, one at the lips and the other at the soft palate)

Labialized velar consonant, such as [kʷ] or [w] (a consonant with an approximant-like secondary articulation)

Velarization, bilabial consonant such as [pʷ] or [mʷ], also a consonant with an approximant-like secondary articulation

Labiovelar approximant

Proto-Norse language

Proto-Norse (also called Proto-Scandinavian, Proto-Nordic, Ancient Scandinavian, Proto-North Germanic and a variety of other names) was an Indo-European language spoken in Scandinavia that is thought to have evolved as a northern dialect of Proto-Germanic in the first centuries CE. It is the earliest stage of a characteristically North Germanic language, and the language attested in the oldest Scandinavian Elder Futhark inscriptions, spoken from around the 2nd to the 8th centuries CE (corresponding to the late Roman Iron Age and the Germanic Iron Age). It evolved into the dialects of Old Norse at the beginning of the Viking Age around 800 CE, which later themselves evolved into the modern North Germanic languages (Faroese, Icelandic, the three Continental Scandinavian languages, and their dialects).

Relative articulation

In phonetics and phonology, relative articulation is description of the manner and place of articulation of a speech sound relative to some reference point. Typically, the comparison is made with a default, unmarked articulation of the same phoneme in a neutral sound environment. For example, the English velar consonant /k/ is fronted before the vowel /iː/ (as in keep) compared to articulation of /k/ before other vowels (as in cool). This fronting is called palatalization.

The relative position of a sound may be described as advanced (fronted), retracted (backed), raised, lowered, centralized, or mid-centralized. The latter two terms are only used with vowels, and are marked in the International Phonetic Alphabet with diacritics over the vowel letter. The others are used with both consonants and vowels, and are marked with iconic diacritics under the letter. Another dimension of relative articulation that has IPA diacritics is the degree of roundedness, more rounded and less rounded.

Ruki sound law

The ruki sound law, also known as the ruki rule or iurk rule, is a historical sound change that took place in the satem branches of the Indo-European language family, namely in Balto-Slavic, Albanian, Armenian, and Indo-Iranian. According to this sound law, an original *s changed to *š (a sound similar to English "sh") after the consonants *r, *k, *g, *gʰ and the semi-vowels *w (*u̯) and *y (*i̯):

*s > *š / {*r, *w, *K, *y} _Specifically, the initial stage involves the retraction of the coronal sibilant *s after semi-vowels, *r, or a velar consonant *k, *g or *gʰ. In the second stage, leveling of the sibilant system resulted in retroflexion (cf. Sanskrit ष [ʂ] and Proto-Slavic), and later retraction to velar *x in Slavic and some Middle Indian languages. This rule was first formulated by Holger Pedersen, and it is sometimes known as Pedersen's law, although this term is also applied to another sound law concerning stress in the Balto-Slavic languages.

The name "ruki" comes from the sounds (r, u̯, K, i̯) which triggered the sound change. The law is stated as a mnemonic rule because the word ruki means hands in many Slavic languages.

Secondary articulation

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.

For example, the voiceless labialized velar plosive [kʷ] has a stop articulation, velar [k], with a simultaneous [w]-like rounding of the lips. This is in contrast to the doubly articulated labial-velar consonant [k͡p], which is articulated with two overlapping stop articulations.

There are a number of secondary articulations. The most frequently encountered are labialization (as with [kʷ]), palatalization (as with the Russian "soft" consonant [tʲ]), labio-palatalization (as in the name Twi), velarization (as with the English "dark" L [lˠ]), and pharyngealization (as with the Arabic "emphatic" consonant [tˤ]). It can be difficult to distinguish primary and secondary articulation. For example, the alveolo-palatal consonants [ɕ ʑ] are sometimes characterized as a primary articulation of their own and sometimes as palatalization of postalveolar fricatives, [ʃʲ ʒʲ] or [s̠ʲ z̠ʲ].

Slavic first palatalization

The Slavic first palatalization is a Proto-Slavic sound change that manifested as regressive palatalization of inherited Balto-Slavic velar consonants.

Uvular consonant

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. (Ejective uvular affricates occur as realizations of uvular stops in Lillooet, Kazakh and Georgian.) Uvular consonants are typically incompatible with advanced tongue root, and they often cause retraction of neighboring vowels.


Velarization is a secondary articulation of consonants by which the back of the tongue is raised toward the velum during the articulation of the consonant.

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, velarization is transcribed by one of four diacritics:

A tilde or swung dash through the letter U+0334 ̴ COMBINING TILDE OVERLAY (HTML ̴) covers velarization, uvularization and pharyngealization, as in [ɫ] (the velarized equivalent of [l])

A superscript Latin gamma U+02E0 ˠ MODIFIER LETTER SMALL GAMMA (HTML ˠ) after the letter standing for the velarized consonant, as in ⟨tˠ⟩ (a velarized [t])

To distinguish velarization from a velar fricative release, ⟨ᵚ⟩ may be used instead of ⟨ˠ⟩

A superscript ⟨w⟩ U+02B7 ʷ MODIFIER LETTER SMALL W indicates either simultaneous velarization and labialization, as in ⟨sʷ⟩ or ⟨pʷ⟩, or labialization of a velar consonant, as in ⟨kʷ⟩.Although electropalatographic studies have shown that there is a continuum of possible degrees of velarization, the IPA does not specify any way to indicate degrees of velarization, as the difference has not been found to be contrastive in any language. However, the IPA convention of doubling diacritics to indicate a greater degree can be used: ⟨ˠˠ⟩.

Vowel breaking

In historical linguistics, vowel breaking, vowel fracture, or diphthongization is the change of a monophthong into a diphthong or triphthong.

Zero consonant

In orthography, a zero consonant, silent initial, or null-onset letter is a consonant letter that does not correspond to a consonant sound, but is required when a word or syllable starts with a vowel (i.e. has a null onset). Some abjads, abugidas, and alphabets have zero consonants, generally because they have an orthographic rule that all syllables must begin with a consonant letter, whereas the language they transcribe allows syllables to start with a vowel. In a few cases, such as Pahawh Hmong below, the lack of a consonant letter represents a specific consonant sound, so the lack of a consonant sound requires a distinct letter to disambiguate.

IPA topics

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