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, or as allophonic realizations of the ejective uvular fricative in Georgian.) Uvular consonants are typically incompatible with advanced tongue root,[1] and they often cause retraction of neighboring vowels.

Uvular consonants in IPA

The uvular consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:

IPA Description Example
Language Orthography IPA Meaning
voiced uvular nasal Japanese 日本 Nihon [ɲ̟i.hoɴ] Japan
voiceless uvular plosive Arabic قصةٌ qiṣṣatun [qisˤˈsˤɑtun] a story
voiced uvular plosive Inuktitut utirama [ʔutiɢama] because I return
voiceless uvular fricative Castilian Spanish enjuto [ẽ̞ɴˈχut̪o̞] skinny
voiced uvular fricative French rester [ʁɛste] to stay
voiced uvular trill French
(20th century Paris accent)
Paris [paˈʀi] Paris
ʀ̥ voiceless uvular trill Baïnounk Gubëeher[2]
uvular ejective stop Quechua q'allu aʎu] tomato sauce
q͡χʼ uvular ejective affricate Wintu
χʼ uvular ejective fricative Tlingit[3] x̱'aan [χʼàːn] 'fire'
voiced uvular implosive Mam q'a [ʛa] fire
ʠ voiceless uvular implosive Q'anjob'al Q'anjob'al [ʛ̥anχoɓal] 'Q'anjob'al language'
ɢ̆ voiced uvular flap Hiw[4] [βɔ̞ʀ̆] 'hibiscus'
ʁ̞ voiced uvular approximant Danish[5] rød [ʁ̞œ̠ð̠] red
ʟ̠ voiced uvular lateral approximant English
(some American speakers[6])
wool [wʊʟ̠] 'wool'

Descriptions in different languages

Uvular consonants are produced near marker 9.

English has no uvular consonants (at least in most major dialects), and they are unknown in the indigenous languages of Australia and the Pacific, though uvular consonants separate from velar consonants are believed to have existed in the Proto-Oceanic language and are attested in the modern Formosan languages of Taiwan. Uvular consonants are however found in many African and Middle-Eastern languages, most notably Arabic, and in Native American languages. In parts of the Caucasus mountains and northwestern North America, nearly every language has uvular stops and fricatives. Two uvular R phonemes are found in various languages in north-western Europe including French, some Occitan dialects, a majority of German dialects, some Dutch dialects, and Danish.

The voiceless uvular stop is transcribed as [q] in both the IPA and SAMPA. It is pronounced somewhat like the voiceless velar stop [k], but with the middle of the tongue further back on the velum, against or near the uvula. The most familiar use will doubtless be in the transliteration of Arabic place names such as Qatar and Iraq into English, though, since English lacks this sound, this is generally pronounced as [k], the most similar sound that occurs in English.

[qʼ], the uvular ejective, is found in Ubykh, Tlingit, Cusco Quechua, and some others. In Georgian, the existence of this phoneme is debatable, since the general realization of the letter "ყ" is /χʼ/. This is due to /qʰ/ merging with /χ/ and therefore /qʼ/ being influenced by this merger and becoming /χʼ/.

[ɢ], the voiced equivalent of [q], is much rarer. It is like the voiced velar stop [ɡ], but articulated in the same uvular position as [q]. Few languages use this sound, but it is found in Persian and in several Northeast Caucasian languages, notably Tabasaran. It may also occur as an allophone of another uvular consonant - in Kazakh, the voiced uvular stop is an allophone of the voiced uvular fricative after the velar nasal.

The voiceless uvular fricative [χ] is similar to the voiceless velar fricative [x], except that it is articulated near the uvula. It is found in Georgian, and instead of [x] in some dialects of German, Spanish and Arabic, as well as in some dialects of Dutch and in standard Afrikaans.

Uvular flaps have been reported for Kube (Trans–New Guinea) and for the variety of Khmer spoken in Battambang.

The Enqi dialect of the Bai language has an unusually complete series of uvular consonants consisting of the stops /q/, /qʰ/ and /ɢ/, the fricatives /χ/ and /ʁ/, and the nasal /ɴ/.[7] All of these contrast with a corresponding velar consonant of the same manner of articulation.[7] The existence of the uvular nasal is especially unusual, even more so than the existence of the voiced stop.

The Tlingit language of the Alaskan Panhandle has ten uvular consonants, all of which are voiceless obstruents:

Uvulars in Tlingit
tenuis stopqákʷtree spine
aspirated stopákʷbasket
ejective stopakʷscreech owl
labialized tenuis stopnáaoctopus
labialized aspirated stopqʷʰáanpeople, tribe
labialized ejective stopqʷʼátɬcooking pot
voiceless fricativeχaakʷfingernail
ejective fricativeχʼáakʷfreshwater sockeye salmon
labialized voiceless fricativeχʷastáacanvas, denim
labialized ejective fricativeχʷʼáaɬʼdown (feathers)

and the Ubykh language of Turkey has 20.

Phonological representation

In featural phonology, uvular consonants are most often considered to contrast with velar consonants in terms of being [–high] and [+back]. Prototypical uvulars also appear to be [-ATR].[1]

Two variants can the established. Since palatalized consonants are [-back], the appearance of palatalized uvulars in a few languages such as Ubykh is difficult to account for. According to Vaux (1999), they possibly hold the features [+high], [-back], [-ATR], the last being the distinguishing feature from a palatalized velar consonant.

Uvular rhotics

The uvular trill [ʀ] is used in certain dialects (especially those associated with European capitals) of French, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, as well as sometimes in Modern Hebrew, for the rhotic phoneme. In many of these it has a uvular fricative (either voiced [ʁ] or voiceless [χ]) as an allophone when it follows one of the voiceless stops /p/, /t/, or /k/ at the end of a word, as in the French example maître [mɛtχ], or even a uvular approximant.

As with most trills, uvular trills are often reduced to a single contact, especially between vowels.

Unlike other uvular consonants, the uvular trill is articulated without a retraction of the tongue, and therefore doesn't lower neighboring high vowels the way uvular stops commonly do.

Several other languages, including Inuktitut, Abkhaz, Uyghur and some varieties of Arabic, have a voiced uvular fricative but do not treat it as a rhotic consonant. However, Modern Hebrew and some modern varieties of Arabic also both have at least one uvular fricative that is considered non-rhotic, and one that is considered rhotic.

In Lakhota the uvular trill is an allophone of the voiced uvular fricative before /i/.

See also


  1. Vaux, Bert (1999). "A Note on Pharyngeal Features". Harvard Working Papers in Linguistics.
  2. Cobbinah (2013:3)
  3. https://phoible.org/inventories/view/579
  4. François (2005), p. 44.
  5. Basbøll (2005:66)
  6. Gimson (2014), p. 221.
  7. Feng, Wang (2006). "Comparison of Languages in Contact: The Distillation Method and the Case of Bai" (PDF). Language and Linguistics Monograph Series B. Frontiers in Linguistics III.


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