Palatal lateral approximant

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Palatal lateral approximant
IPA number 157
Entity (decimal) ʎ
Unicode (hex) U+028E
Kirshenbaum l^
Braille ⠦ (braille pattern dots-236) ⠽ (braille pattern dots-13456)
Alveolo-palatal lateral approximant

The palatal lateral approximant is a type of consonantal sound used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ʎ, a rotated lowercase letter y (not to be confused with lowercase lambda, λ), and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is L.

Many languages that were previously thought to have a palatal lateral approximant actually have a lateral approximant that is, broadly, alveolo-palatal; that is to say, it is articulated at a place in-between the alveolar ridge and the hard palate (excluded), and it may be variously described as alveolo-palatal, lamino-postalveolar,[1] or postalveolo-prepalatal.[2] Of 13 languages investigated by Recasens (2013), many of them Romance, none possess a 'true' palatal.[3] This is likely the case for several other languages listed here. Some languages, like Portuguese and Catalan, have a lateral approximant that varies between alveolar and alveolo-palatal.[4]

There is no dedicated symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents the alveolo-palatal lateral approximant. If precision is desired, it may be transcribed l̠ʲ or ʎ̟; these are essentially equivalent, because the contact includes both the blade and body (but not the tip) of the tongue. There is also a non-IPA letter ȴ, used especially in Sinological circles.


Features of the palatal lateral approximant:

  • Its manner of articulation is approximant, which means it is produced by narrowing the vocal tract at the place of articulation, but not enough to produce a turbulent airstream.
  • Its place of articulation is palatal, which means it is articulated with the middle or back part of the tongue raised to the hard palate.
  • Its phonation is voiced, which means the vocal cords vibrate during the articulation. However, in some languages, such as Swiss German, it can just mean that this consonant is pronounced shorter and weaker than its voiceless counterpart, while its voicedness or lack thereof is not relevant. In such cases it's more accurate to call such sounds lenis or lax.
  • It is an oral consonant, which means air is allowed to escape through the mouth only.
  • It is a lateral consonant, which means it is produced by directing the airstream over the sides of the tongue, rather than down the middle.
  • The airstream mechanism is pulmonic, which means it is articulated by pushing air solely with the lungs and diaphragm, as in most sounds.


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Aragonese agulla [aˈɣuʎa] 'needle'
Asturian Northern dialects llana [ˈʎãna] 'wool' Where /ʎ/ is absent due to a yeísmo-like merger, it is replaced by different sounds (depending on dialect) and spelled ḷḷ
Aymara llaki [ʎaki] 'sad'
Basque bonbilla [bo̞mbiʎa] 'bulb'
Breton familh [famiʎ] 'family'
Bulgarian любов [l̠ʲubof] 'love' Alveolo-palatal.[citation needed]
Catalan ull [ˈul̠ʲ] 'eye' Alveolo-palatal.[2] See Catalan phonology
Enindhilyagwa angalya [aŋal̠ʲa] 'place' Laminal post-alveolar
Faroese fylgja [fɪʎd͡ʒa] 'to follow'
Franco-Provençal balyi [baʎi] 'give'
Galician illado [iˈʎaðo] 'insulated' (m.) Many Galician speakers are nowadays yeístas because of influence from Spanish
Greek ήλιος About this sound [ˈiʎos]  'sun' Postalveolar.[5] See Modern Greek phonology
Hungarian Northern dialects[6] lyuk [ʎuk] 'hole' Alveolo-palatal.[7] Modern standard Hungarian has undergone a phenomenon akin to Spanish yeísmo, merging /ʎ/ into /j/. See Hungarian ly and Hungarian phonology
Italian figlio [ˈfiʎːo] 'son' Alveolo-palatal.[2] See Italian phonology
Korean 실례 sillye [ɕil̠ʲl̠ʲe] 'discourtesy' Alveolo-palatal.[citation needed] See Korean phonology
Leonese llibru [ˈʎiβɾu] 'book'
Norwegian Northern and central dialects[8] alle [ɑʎːe] 'all' See Norwegian phonology
Occitan Northern miralhar [miɾaˈʎa] 'to reflect' See Occitan phonology
Gascon hilh [hiʎ] 'son'
Portuguese Many dialects[9] sandália [sɐ̃ˈdal̠ʲɐ] 'sandal' There is no contrast of [lj ~ lʲ ~ l̠ʲ ~ ʎ] for either /li̯/ or /ʎ/ in Brazilian Portuguese.[10][11] Historically diminished in caipira and hinterland nordestino areas due to more advanced yeísmo-like phenomenon, also affecting in various degrees all of Brazil.[12]
Most speakers ralho [ˈʁal̠ʲu] 'I scold' Alveolo-palatal in European Portuguese.[13] Contrasts with both /l/ and [j], sounds to which phantom Brazilian /ʎ/ tends to evolve to (especially when not before rounded vowels).[11][14] See Portuguese phonology
Quechua[15] qallu [qaʎu] 'tongue'
Scottish Gaelic[16] till [tʲʰiːʎ] 'return' Alveolo-palatal.[citation needed] See Scottish Gaelic phonology
Serbo-Croatian љуљaшка / ljuljaška [ʎǔʎaːʃka] 'swing (seat)' Alveolo-palatal.[citation needed] See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Sissano piyl [piʎ] 'fish'
Slovak ľúbiť About this sound [ˈʎuːbɪc]  'to love'
Spanish Castilian[17] millón [miˈʎõ̞n] 'million' For most speakers, this sound has merged with /ʝ/, a phenomenon called yeísmo. See Spanish phonology
Ukrainian ліс [l̠ʲis] 'forest' Alveolo-palatal.[citation needed] See Ukrainian phonology

See also[edit]