In linguistics, voicelessness is the property of sounds being pronounced without the larynx vibrating. Phonologically, it is a type of phonation, which contrasts with other states of the larynx, but some object that the word phonation implies voicing and that voicelessness is the lack of phonation.

The International Phonetic Alphabet has distinct letters for many voiceless and modally voiced pairs of consonants (the obstruents), such as [p b], [t d], [k ɡ], [q ɢ], [f v], and [s z]. Also, there are diacritics for voicelessness, U+0325  ̥ COMBINING RING BELOW and U+030A  ̊ COMBINING RING ABOVE, which is used for letters with a descender. Diacritics are typically used with letters for prototypically voiced sounds, such as vowels and sonorant consonants: [ḁ], [l̥], [ŋ̊].

Entity (decimal)̥
Unicode (hex)U+0325

Voiceless vowels and other sonorants

Sonorants are sounds such as vowels and nasals that are voiced in most of the world's languages. However, in some languages sonorants may be voiceless, usually allophonically. For example, the Japanese word sukiyaki is pronounced [su̥kijaki] and may sound like [skijaki] to an English speaker, but the lips can be seen to compress for the [u̥]. Something similar happens in English words like peculiar [pʰə̥ˈkj̊uːliɚ] and potato [pʰə̥ˈtʰeɪtoʊ].

Voiceless vowels are also an areal feature in languages of the American Southwest (like Hopi and Keres), the Great Basin (including all Numic languages), and the Great Plains, where they are present in Numic Comanche but also in Algonquian Cheyenne, and the Caddoan language Arikara.

Sonorants may also be contrastively, not just environmentally, voiceless. Standard Tibetan, for example, has a voiceless /l̥/ in Lhasa, which sounds similar to but is less noisy than the voiceless lateral fricative /ɬ/ in Welsh; it contrasts with a modally voiced /l/. Welsh contrasts several voiceless sonorants: /m, m̥/, /n, n̥/, /ŋ, ŋ̊/, and /r, r̥/, the last represented by "rh".

In Moksha, there is even a voiceless palatal approximant /j̊/ (written in Cyrillic as <йх> jh) along with /l̥/ and /r̥/ (written as ⟨лх⟩ lh and ⟨рх⟩ rh). The last two have palatalized counterparts /l̥ʲ/ and /r̥ʲ/ (⟨льх⟩ and ⟨рьх⟩). Kildin Sami has also /j̊/ҋ⟩.

Contrastively voiceless vowels have been reported several times without ever being verified (L&M 1996:315).

Lack of voicing contrast in obstruents

Many languages lack a distinction between voiced and voiceless obstruents (stops, affricates, and fricatives). This the case in nearly all Dravidian languages and Australian languages, and is widespread elsewhere, for example in Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Finnish, and the Polynesian languages

In many such languages, obstruents are realized as voiced in voiced environments, such as between vowels or between a vowel and a nasal, and voiceless elsewhere, such as at the beginning or end of the word or next to another obstruent. That is the case in Dravidian and Australian languages and in Korean but not in Mandarin or Polynesian. Usually, the variable sounds are transcribed with the voiceless IPA letters, but for Australian languages, the letters for voiced consonants are often used.

It appears that voicelessness is not a single phenomenon in such languages. In some, such as the Polynesian languages, the vocal folds are required to actively open to allow an unimpeded (silent) airstream, which is sometimes called a breathed (/ˈbrɛθt/) phonation (not to be confused with breathy voice). In others, such as many Australian languages, voicing ceases during the hold of a stop (few Australian languages have any other kind of obstruent) because airflow is insufficient to sustain it, and if the vocal folds open, that is only from passive relaxation.

Thus, Polynesian stops are reported to be held for longer than Australian stops and are seldom voiced, but Australian stops are prone to having voiced variants (L&M 1996:53), and the languages are often represented as having no phonemically voiceless consonants at all.

In Southeast Asia, when stops occur at the end of a word they are voiceless because the glottis is closed, not open, so they are said to be unphonated (have no phonation) by some phoneticians, who considered "breathed" voicelessness to be a phonation.[1]

Yidiny consonants
Bilabial Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar
Stop b d ɟ ɡ
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Lateral l
Rhotic r ɽ
Semivowel j w

Yidiny consonants, with no underlyingly voiceless consonants, are posited.[2]


  1. ^ Jerold Edmondson, John Esling, Jimmy Harris, and James Wei, "A phonetic study of the Sui consonants and tones" Archived 2009-02-05 at the Wayback Machine Mon–Khmer Studies 34:47–66
  2. ^ R. M. W. Dixon. (1977). A Grammar of Yidiny. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Further reading

  • Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-19814-8.
Liquid consonant

In phonetics, liquids or liquid consonants are a class of consonants consisting of lateral approximants like 'l' together with rhotics like 'r'.

Modal voice

Modal voice is the vocal register used most frequently in speech and singing in most languages. It is also the term used in linguistics for the most common phonation of vowels. The term "modal" refers to the resonant mode of vocal folds; that is, the optimal combination of airflow and glottal tension that yields maximum vibration.In linguistics, modal voice is the only phonation found in the vowels and other sonorants (consonants such as m, n, l, and r) of most of the languages of the world, but a significant minority contrasts modal voice with other phonations. Among obstruents (consonants such as k, g, t͡ʃ/ch, d͡ʒ/j, s, and z), it is very common for languages to contrast modal voice with voicelessness, but in English, many supposedly-voiced obstruents do not usually have modal voice.In speech pathology, the modal register is one of the four identifiable registers within the human voice. It is above the vocal fry register and overlapping the lower part of the falsetto register. That view is also adopted by many vocal pedagogists, but some vocal pedagogists may view vocal registration differently. In singing, the modal register may also overlap part of the whistle register. A well trained singer or speaker can phonate two octaves or more within the modal register with consistent production, beauty of tone, dynamic variation, and vocal freedom. The modal register begins and ends in different places within the human voice. The placement of the modal register within the individual human voice is one of the key determining factors in identifying vocal type.

Murmured voice

Murmur (also called breathy voice, whispery voice, soughing and susurration) is a phonation in which the vocal folds vibrate, as they do in normal (modal) voicing, but are adjusted to let more air escape which produces a sighing-like sound. A simple murmured phonation, [ɦ] (not actually a fricative consonant, as a literal reading of the IPA chart would suggest), can sometimes be heard as an allophone of English /h/ between vowels, such as in the word behind, for some speakers.

In the context of the Indo-Aryan languages like Sanskrit and Hindi and comparative Indo-European studies, murmured consonants are often called voiced aspirated, as in the Hindi and Sanskrit stops normally denoted bh, dh, ḍh, jh, and gh and the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European phoneme gʷʰ. From an articulatory perspective, that terminology is incorrect, as murmur is a different type of phonation from aspiration. However, murmured and aspirated stops are acoustically similar in that in both cases there is a delay in the onset of full voicing. In the history of several languages, like Greek and some varieties of Chinese, murmured stops have developed into aspirated stops.

There is some confusion as to the nature of murmured phonation. The IPA and authors such as Peter Ladefoged equate phonemically contrastive murmur with breathy voice in which the vocal folds are held with lower tension (and further apart) than in modal voice, with a concomitant increase in airflow and slower vibration of the glottis. In that model, murmur is a point in a continuum of glottal aperture between modal voice and breath phonation (voicelessness).

Others, such as Laver, Catford, Trask and the authors of the Voice Quality Symbols (VoQS), equate murmur with whispery voice in which the vocal folds or, at least, the anterior part of the vocal folds vibrates, as in modal voice, but the arytenoid cartilages are held apart to allow a large turbulent airflow between them. In that model, murmur is a compound phonation of approximately modal voice plus whisper.

It is possible that the realization of murmur varies among individuals or languages. The IPA uses the term "breathy voice", but VoQS uses the term "whispery voice". Both accept the term "murmur", popularised by Ladefoged.

Nasal click

Nasal clicks are click consonants pronounced with nasal airflow. All click types (alveolar ǃ, dental ǀ, lateral ǁ, palatal ǂ, retroflex ‼, and labial ʘ) have nasal variants, and these are attested in four or five phonations: voiced, voiceless, aspirated, murmured (breathy voiced), and—in the analysis of Miller (2011)—glottalized.Modally voiced nasal clicks are ubiquitous: They are found in every language which has clicks as part of its regular sound inventory. This includes Damin, which has only nasal clicks, and Dahalo, which has only plain and glottalized nasal clicks. They are fully nasalized throughout, like the pulmonic nasal [m] and [n]. That is, you pronounce a uvular [ɴ] sound (like English ng) with the back of your tongue, and make the click sound in the middle of it using the front of your tongue. They are typically transcribed something like ⟨ᵑǃ⟩; in Khoekhoe, they are written ⟨ǃn ǁn ǀn ǂn⟩, in Juǀʼhõa as ⟨nǃ nǁ nǀ nǂ⟩, and in Zulu, Xhosa, Sandawe, and Naro as ⟨nc nx nq ntc (nç)⟩.

Aspirated nasal clicks, often described as voiceless nasal with delayed aspiration, are widespread in southern Africa, being found in all languages of the Khoe, Tuu, and Kx'a language families, though they are unattested elsewhere. They are typically transcribed something like ⟨ᵑ̊ǃʰ⟩; in Khoekhoe, they are written ⟨ǃh ǁh ǀh ǂh⟩, and in Juǀʼhõa as ⟨ǃʼh ǁʼh ǀʼh ǂʼh⟩. Initially and in citation form, words with these consonants are pronounced with voiceless nasal airflow throughout the production of the click and in some languages for an extended time afterward; this period of up to 150 ms (the voice onset time) may include weak breathy-voiced aspiration at the end. However, when embedded in a phrase after a vowel they tend to be partially voiced; the preceding vowel will also be nasalized or the click prenasalized, for a realization of [!˭ʰ] vs [ŋ͡nǃ̬ʱʱ]. They have a tone-depressor effect, so that a level tone on the following vowel will be realized as rising.

The description above is typical, characteristic of languages such as Khoekhoe and Gǀui. However, aspirated nasal clicks have a more extreme pronunciation in Taa, where they need to maintain a distinction from both the plain voiceless and breathy-voiced nasal clicks. In this language they are not voiced after vowel sounds except in rapid speech, and in addition do not have nasal airflow; Trail reports that they instead have active ingressive pulmonic airflow (that is, air is breathed in the nose rather than being vented out).Breathy-voiced (murmured) nasal clicks are less common. They are known from !Kung languages such as Juǀʼhoansi, from Taa, and from the Bantu languages Xhosa and Zulu. They are pronounced like modally voiced nasal clicks, but in addition are followed by a period of murmured phonation, and like other breathy-voiced consonants, may have a depressor effect on tone (in Zulu and Xhosa, for example). They are typically transcribed something like ⟨ᵑǃʰ⟩ or ⟨ᵑǃʱ⟩; in Juǀʼhõa, they are written ⟨nǃh nǁh nǀh nǂh⟩, and in Zulu and Xhosa, as ⟨ngc ngx ngq⟩. In IPA, they could be either ⟨ᵑǁʱ⟩ or ⟨ᵑ̈ǁ⟩

Voiceless nasal clicks distinct from voiceless aspirated clicks are only attested from one language, Taa, which changes the voicing of the initial consonant to distinguish singular and plural nouns. In this language, both voiced and voiceless nasal clicks (but not the aspirated and breathy-voiced nasal clicks) nasalize the following vowel; they are largely distinguished by voiceless vs. murmured nasalization leading up to the click release, and the voicelessness occurs even after vowels.Glottalized nasal clicks are extremely common, but are covered in another article: Glottalized clicks.

There are also preglottalized nasal clicks. These are pronounced like modally voiced nasal clicks, but the click release is preceded by a short period of nasalization that has a glottal-stop onset. They are considered unitary consonants, and not sequences of glottal stop plus nasal click. They are only reported from a few languages: Taa, Ekoka !Kung, and ǂHoan. (Taa also has preglottalized non-click nasals, though Ekoka apparently does not.)


An obstruent is a speech sound such as [k], [d͡ʒ], or [f] that is formed by obstructing airflow. Obstruents contrast with sonorants, which have no such obstruction and so resonate. All obstruents are consonants, but sonorants include both vowels and consonants.

Pee Wee Russell

Charles Ellsworth "Pee Wee" Russell (March 27, 1906 – February 15, 1969), was a jazz musician. Early in his career he played clarinet and saxophones, but he eventually focused solely on clarinet.

With a highly individualistic and spontaneous clarinet style that "defied classification", Russell began his career playing Dixieland jazz, but throughout his career incorporated elements of newer developments such as swing, bebop and free jazz. In the words of the poet Philip Larkin, "No one familiar with the characteristic excitement of his solos, their lurid, snuffling, asthmatic voicelessness, notes leant on till they split, and sudden passionate intensities, could deny the uniqueness of his contribution to jazz."


In phonetics, preaspiration (sometimes spelled pre-aspiration) is a period of voicelessness or aspiration preceding the closure of a voiceless obstruent, basically equivalent to an [h]-like sound preceding the obstruent. In other words, when an obstruent is preaspirated, the glottis is opened for some time before the obstruent closure. To mark preaspiration using the International Phonetic Alphabet, the diacritic for regular aspiration, ⟨ʰ⟩, can be placed before the preaspirated consonant. However, Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996) prefer to use a simple cluster notation, e.g. ⟨hk⟩ instead of ⟨ʰk⟩.

Rebecca Belmore

Rebecca Belmore (born 1960) is an interdisciplinary Anishinaabekwe artist who is particularly notable for politically conscious and socially aware performance and installation work. She is Ojibwe and member of the Lac Seul First Nation. Belmore currently lives in Montreal, Quebec.Belmore has performed and exhibited nationally and internationally since 1986. Her work focuses on issues of place and identity, and confronts challenges for First Nations People. Her work addresses history, voice and voicelessness, place, and identity. To address the politics of representation, Belmore's art strives to invert or subvert official narratives, while demonstrating a preference for the use of repetitive gesture and natural materials. Belmore's art reveals a long-standing commitment to politics and how they relate to the construction of identity and ideas of representation. She has exhibited across Canada, the US, Mexico, Cuba and Australia. In 2005, OCAD University conferred an honorary doctorate on Belmore in recognition of her career.She was the first aboriginal woman representing Canada at the Venice Biennale in 2005. She also received Canadian Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2013.

Stitches (book)

Stitches: A Memoir is a graphic memoir written and illustrated by David Small. It tells the story of Small's journey from sickly child to cancer patient, to the troubled teen who made a risky decision to run away from home at sixteen—with nothing more than the dream of becoming an artist. It is a story about voicelessness—both physical and psychological—told artfully in pictures that made Jules Feiffer say, "It left me speechless."


In theoretical linguistics, underspecification is a phenomenon in which certain features are omitted in underlying representations. Restricted underspecification theory holds that features should only be underspecified if their values are predictable. For example, in most dialects of English, all front vowels (/i, ɪ, e, ɛ, æ/) are unrounded. It is not necessary for these phonemes to include the distinctive feature [−round], because all [−back] vowels are [−round] vowels, so the roundness feature is not distinctive for front vowels. Radical underspecification theory, on the other hand, also allows for traditionally binary features to be specified for only one value, where it is assumed that every segment not specified for that value has the other value. For example, instead of the features [+voice] and [−voice], only [+voice] is specified and voicelessness is taken as the default.

The concept of underspecification is also used in morphological theory, particularly to refer to cases in which a morpheme does not bear an entire set of feature-values, and is thus compatible with a wide range of potential morphological environments. In this approach to morphology, for example, while the English pronouns he vs. she are specified for gender, the plural pronoun they would be underspecified for gender.

Vibrant consonant

In phonetics, a vibrant is a class of consonant including taps and trills (a trill is, "sometimes referred to as a vibrant consonant."). Spanish has two vibrants, /r/ and /ɾ/.

The term is sometimes used when it is not clear whether the rhotic (r-sound) in a language is a tap or a trill.

Voiceless (disambiguation)

Voiceless may refer to:

Voicelessness, linguistic sounds produced without vibrating the larynx

Muteness, the property of being unable to produce a voice

Aphasia, the condition of being unable to speak

A lack of power (social and political)

Voiceless (animal welfare group), the animal protection institute based in Sydney, Australia

Voiceless (film), a 2016 American film

Voiceless alveolar flap

The voiceless alveolar tap or flap is rare as a phoneme. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ɾ̥⟩, a combination of the letter for the voiced alveolar tap/flap and a diacritic indicating voicelessness. The equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is 4_0.

The voiceless alveolar tapped fricative reported from some languages is actually a very brief voiceless alveolar non-sibilant fricative.

Voiceless alveolar nasal

The voiceless alveolar nasal is a type of consonant in some languages. The symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represent the sound are ⟨n̥⟩ and ⟨n̊⟩, combinations of the letter for the voiced alveolar nasal and a diacritic indicating voicelessness above or below the letter. The equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is n_0.

Voiceless bilabial nasal

The voiceless bilabial nasal is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨m̥⟩, a combination of the letter for the voiced bilabial nasal and a diacritic indicating voicelessness. The equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is m_0.

Voiceless palatal nasal

The voiceless palatal nasal is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represent this sound are ⟨ɲ̊⟩ and ⟨ɲ̥⟩, which are combinations of the letter for the voiced palatal nasal and a diacritic indicating voicelessness. The equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is J_0.

If distinction is necessary, the voiceless alveolo-palatal nasal may be transcribed as ⟨n̠̊ʲ⟩ (devoiced, retracted and palatalized ⟨n⟩), or ⟨ɲ̟̊⟩ (devoiced and advanced ⟨ɲ⟩); these are essentially equivalent, since the contact includes both the blade and body (but not the tip) of the tongue. The equivalent X-SAMPA symbols are n_-' or n_-_j and J_0_+, respectively. A non-IPA letter ⟨ȵ̊⟩ (devoiced ⟨ȵ⟩, which is an ordinary "n", plus the curl found in the symbols for alveolo-palatal sibilant fricatives ⟨ɕ, ʑ⟩) can also be used.

Voiceless retroflex nasal

The voiceless retroflex nasal is an extremely rare type of consonantal sound, used in very few spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ɳ̊ ⟩, a combination of the letter for the voiced retroflex nasal and a diacritic indicating voicelessness.

Voiceless velar nasal

The voiceless velar nasal is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ŋ̊⟩, a combination of the letter for the voiced velar nasal and a diacritic indicating voicelessness. (For reasons of legibility, the ring is usually placed above the letter, rather than regular ⟨ŋ̥⟩). The equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is N_0.


Whispering is an unvoiced mode of phonation in which the vocal folds (vocal cords) are abducted so that they do not vibrate; air passes between the arytenoid cartilages to create audible turbulence during speech. Supralaryngeal articulation remains the same as in normal speech.

In normal speech, the vocal folds alternate between states of voice and voicelessness. In whispering, only the voicing segments change, so that the vocal folds alternate between whisper and voicelessness (though the acoustic difference between the two states is minimal). Because of this, implementing speech recognition for whispered speech is more difficult, as the characteristic spectral range needed to detect syllables and words is not given through the total absence of tone. More advanced techniques such as neural networks may be used, however, as is done by Amazon Alexa.

There is no symbol in the IPA for whispered phonation, since it is not used phonemically in any language. However, a sub-dot under phonemically voiced segments is sometimes seen in the literature, as [ʃʊ̣ḍ] for whispered should.

Supra-glottal phonation
Non-phonemic phonation

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