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In Semitic linguistics, an emphatic consonant is an obstruent consonant which originally contrasted with series of both voiced and voiceless obstruents. In specific Semitic languages, the members of this series may be realized as pharyngealized, velarized, ejective, or plain voiced or voiceless consonants. It is also used, to a lesser extent, to describe cognate series in other Afro-Asiatic languages, where they are typically realized as either ejective or implosive consonants.
In Semitic studies, they are commonly transcribed using the convention of placing a dot under the closest plain obstruent consonant in the Latin alphabet. With respect to particular Semitic and Afro-Asiatic languages, this term describes the particular phonetic feature which distinguishes these consonants from other consonants. Thus, in Arabic emphasis is synonymous with a secondary articulation involving retraction of the dorsum or root of the tongue, which has variously been described as velarization or pharyngealization depending on where the locus of the retraction is assumed to be.
Within Arabic, the emphatic consonants vary in phonetic realization from dialect to dialect, but are typically realized as pharyngealized consonants. In Ethiopian and Modern South Arabian languages, they are realized as ejective consonants. While these sounds do not necessarily share any particular phonetic properties in common, most historically derive from a common source.
Five such "emphatic" phonemes are reconstructed for Proto-Semitic:
|Proto-Semitic Phoneme Description||IPA||Trans.||Hebrew||Aramaic||Arabic|
|Alveolar fricative or affricate||[(t)sʼ]||ṣ||Tsadi||Ṣade||Ṣad|
|Lateral fricative or affricate||[(t)ɬʼ]||ṣ́||Sin||Ayin||Ḍād|
General Modern Hebrew and Maltese are notorious exceptions among Semitic languages to the presence of emphatic consonants, with all emphatics merging into plain consonants under the influence of Indo-European languages.
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