Guttural speech sounds are those with a primary place of articulation near the back of the oral cavity. In some definitions, this is restricted to pharyngeal consonants, but in others includes some velar and uvular consonants. Guttural sounds are typically consonants, but some vowels articulations may also be considered guttural in nature. Although the term has historically been used by phoneticians, and is occasionally used by phonologists today, it is now much more common in popular use (as an imprecise term for sounds produced relatively far back in the vocal tract), and is almost never used as a technical term in linguistics.
Usage of the term
The word guttural literally means 'of the throat', and is derived from the Latin word for throat. In colloquial usage, the term is used for any sound pronounced in the throat or near the back of the mouth that is considered "harsh." Contrary to popular opinion, the word has no connection to the word gutter. The OED says,
"By non-phoneticians any mode of pronunciation which is harsh or grating in effect is often supposed to be 'guttural'; with this notion the designation is popularly applied by Englishmen to the German ch, but not to k or g, though technically it belongs equally to them. [That is, they are all pronounced at the same location in the mouth.] As a technical term of phonetics, the word was first used to denote the Hebrew spirant consonants ע ,ח ,ה ,א [that is, glottal /ʔ/ and /h/, uvular /χ/, and pharyngeal /ʕ/]; it is now commonly applied (inaccurately, if its etymological sense be regarded) to the sounds formed by the back of the tongue and the palate, as (k, ɡ, x, ɣ, ŋ) [the velars]."
The term continues to be used by some phonologists to denote a category of sounds articulated in the throat, including pharyngeal, epiglottal, and glottal consonants (see radical consonant), and murmured, pharyngealized, and glottalized vowels (see strident vowel). The Tuu and Juu (Khoisan) languages of southern Africa have large numbers of guttural vowels. These sounds share certain phonological behaviors that warrant the use of a term specifically for them.
Popular conceptions of guttural consonants
English speakers are not commonly exposed to guttural vowels, so popular impressions focus on guttural consonants. Gutturals are seen as those sounds pronounced in the back of the vocal tract that do not occur in English, and which are perceived as harsh. Therefore velar stops such as [ɡ], [k], and [ŋ] are not considered guttural, but velar fricatives and affricates such as [x], [ɣ], and [kx] are; the glottal consonants [h] and [ʔ] are not considered guttural, but epiglottal [ʜ] and [ʡ] are.
So-called guttural languages
In the popular consciousness, some languages are considered to be guttural languages, as opposed to just possessing some sounds which are pronounced at the back of the oral cavity. Often, this is just a result of the beliefs of Anglophones or of non-speakers of those languages. Some languages which have fallen under the popular meaning of "guttural", as opposed to the technical meaning, are Ubykh and Arabic.
French, Arabic, Welsh, Armenian, Danish, Hebrew, Scots, and also partly Afrikaans, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Somali, Spanish, and Yiddish all contain sounds that come from the back of the throat, as do some Northern English dialects. Sometimes whether a language is considered guttural or not could depend on differences within regions and countries. In French, the only truly guttural sound is (usually) a uvular fricative; Arabic and Hebrew both contain rather more gutturals, including velar, uvular and pharyngeal fricatives.
- Ball, Martin J. (19 September 2011). "What on earth does 'Guttural' mean, anyway?". clinicallinguistics. Retrieved 17 February 2014.
- Miller, Amanda (2007). "Guttural vowels and guttural co-articulation in Juǀʼhoansi". Journal of Phonetics 35 (1): 56–84.
- Pullum, Geoffrey K.; Ladusaw, William (1996). Phonetic Symbol Guide (Second ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226685357.