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Tongue shape

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.[1]

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).[2][3]


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]."

Guttural languages[edit]

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. The sounds these languages have are produced from the pharynx at the back of the throat, or by the back of the tongue, and as well as the palate and uvula. A guttural language tends to make a sound rather "heavy" and/or "throaty".

To English speakers, the guttural languages would sound strange and may be even hard on the ear of those who are used to the English pronunciation. English speakers are not commonly exposed to guttural vowels, so popular impressions focus on guttural consonants.[4] To the speakers of guttural languages this may be seen as an attempt of anglophones to consider themselves superior to those who don't speak their language.

A language that is perceived to be guttural may be subjective; To an English speaker, [ɡ], [k], and [ŋ] are not considered guttural but velar fricatives, and affricates such as [x], [ɣ], and [q] are considered gutturals. The glottal consonants [h] and [ʔ] are not considered guttural, but epiglottal [ʜ] and [ʡ] are. Quite to the contrary, the sounds of "k", "q", "g", "ng" and "nk", as commonly heard in English, are actually also "gutturals".[5][6]

Significant usage[edit]

Languages that extensively use [x], [X], [ɣ] and/or [q]:

In addition to their usage of [q], [x], [X] and [ɣ], these languages also acquire the pharyngeal consonants of [ʕ] and [ħ]:

Partial usage[edit]

In French, the only truly guttural sound is (usually) a uvular fricative (or the guttural R). According to some authors,[40][incomplete short citation] /x/ is post-velar or uvular in the Spanish of northern and central Spain.[41][incomplete short citation][42][incomplete short citation][43][incomplete short citation][44][incomplete short citation] In Portuguese, [ʁ] is becoming dominant in urban areas. There is also a realization as a [χ], and the original pronunciation as an [r] also remains very common in various dialects. In Brazil, /ʁ/ can be velar, uvular, or glottal and may be voiceless unless between voiced sounds.[45][incomplete short citation][46][incomplete short citation]

In Russian, /x/ is assimilated to the palatalization of the following velar consonant: лёгких About this sound [ˈlʲɵxʲkʲɪx] . It may also have a voiced allophone of [ɣ].[47] In standard Croatian variant of Serbo-Croatian, /x/ is voiced as ɣ before voiced consonants.[48][incomplete short citation] In Romanian, /h/ becomes the velar [x] in word-final positions (duh 'spirit') and before consonants (hrean 'horseradish').[49] In Czech, the phoneme /x/ followed by a voiced obstruent can by realized as either /ɦ/ or /ɣ/, e.g. abych byl About this sound [abɪɣ.bɪl].[50] In Swedish, /r/ has a guttural or "French-R" pronunciation in the dialects of ex-Danish (and bordering) provinces.[51][incomplete short citation]

In Kyrgyz, the consonant phoneme /k/ has a uvular realisation ([q]) in back vowel contexts. In front-vowel environments, /g/ is fricativised between continuants to [ɣ], and in back vowel environments both /k/ and /g/ fricativise to [χ] and [ʁ] respectively.[52] In Uyghur, the phoneme /ʁ/ occurs with a back vowel. In Kazakh, /x/ is a Russian borrowing.[53][incomplete short citation] In the Mongolian language, /x/ is usually followed by /ŋ/.[54]

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. There are scattered reports of pharyngeals elsewhere, such as in the Nilo-Saharan, Tama language. Despite being a Semitic language, /ħ/ is the only pharyngeal in Maltese, though for some speakers it may be a velar [x] or glottal [h].[55][incomplete short citation]

In Swabian German, an approximant [ʢ] is an allophone of /ʁ/ in nucleus and coda positions.[56] In onsets, it is pronounced as a uvular approximant.[56] In Danish, /ʁ/ may have slight frication, and, according to Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), it may be a pharyngeal approximant [ʕ].[57] In Finnish, a weak pharyngeal fricative is the realization of /h/ after the vowels /ɑ/ or /æ/ in syllable-coda position, e.g. [tæħti] 'star'. In Limburg Standard Dutch /r/ may be realized as a pharyngeal approximant [ʕ].[58][incomplete short citation]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ball, Martin J. (19 September 2011). "What on earth does 'Guttural' mean, anyway?". clinicallinguistics. Retrieved 28 March 2015. 
  2. ^ Miller, Amanda (2007). "Guttural vowels and guttural co-articulation in Juǀʼhoansi". Journal of Phonetics 35 (1): 56–84. doi:10.1016/j.wocn.2005.11.001. 
  3. ^ Pullum, Geoffrey K.; Ladusaw, William (1996). Phonetic Symbol Guide (Second ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226685357. 
  4. ^ Hayward, K. M. and Hayward, R. J. 1989. '"Guttural": Arguments for a New Distinctive Feature', Transactions of the Philological Society 87: 179-193.
  5. ^ McCarthy, John J. 1989. 'Guttural Phonology', ms., University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
  6. ^ McCarthy, John J. Forthcoming. 'Guttural Transparency', ms., University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
  7. ^ "John Wells's phonetic blog: velar or uvular?". 5 December 2011. Retrieved 12 February 2015. 
  8. ^ Dum-Tragut (2009:17–20)
  9. ^ Beyer, Klaus (1986). The Aramaic language: its distribution and subdivisions. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht. ISBN 3-525-53573-2.
  10. ^ Brock, Sebastian (2006). An Introduction to Syriac Studies. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press. ISBN 1-59333-349-8.
  11. ^ Shiraliyev, Mammadagha. The Baku Dialect. Azerbaijan SSR Academy of Sciences Publ.: Baku, 1957; p. 41
  12. ^ Kavitskaya 2010, p. 10
  13. ^ Friedrich Maurer uses the term Istvaeonic instead of Franconian; see Friedrich Maurer (1942), Nordgermanen und Alemannen: Studien zur germanischen und frühdeutschen Sprachgeschichte, Stammes- und Volkskunde, Bern: Verlag Francke.
  14. ^ Lazard, Gilbert, "Pahlavi, Pârsi, dari: Les langues d'Iran d'apès Ibn al-Muqaffa" in R.N. Frye, Iran and Islam. In Memory of the late Vladimir Minorsky, Edinburgh University Press, 1971.
  15. ^ For a history of the German consonants see Fausto Cercignani, The Consonants of German: Synchrony and Diachrony, Milano, Cisalpino, 1979.
  16. ^ Boeder (2002), p. 3
  17. ^ Boeder (2005), p. 6
  18. ^ Gamkrelidze (1966), p. 69
  19. ^ Fähnrich & Sardzhveladze (2000)
  20. ^ Habib, Abdul (1967). The Two Thousand Years Old Language of Afghanistan or The Mother of Dari Language (An Analysis of the Baghlan Inscription). Historical Society of Afghanistan. p. 6. 
  21. ^ Bauer, Michael Blas na Gàidhlig - The Practical Guide to Gaelic Pronunciation (2011) Akerbeltz ISBN 978-1-907165-00-9
  22. ^ A Beginners' Guide to Tajiki by Azim Baizoyev and John Hayward, Routledge, London and New York, 2003, p. 3
  23. ^ John C. Wells (1982), Accents of English, Cambridge University Press, p. 390 
  24. ^ Brenzinger (2007:128)
  25. ^ Chaker (1996:4–5)
  26. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971b:11)
  27. ^ Creissels (2006:3–4)
  28. ^ Richard Hayward, "Afroasiatic", in Heine & Nurse, 2000, African Languages
  29. ^ Savà, Graziano; Tosco, Mauro (2003). "The classification of Ongota". In Bender, M. Lionel et al. Selected comparative-historical Afrasian linguistic studies. LINCOM Europa. 
  30. ^ Sands, Bonny (2009). "Africa’s Linguistic Diversity". Language and Linguistics Compass 3 (2): 559–580. doi:10.1111/j.1749-818x.2008.00124.x. 
  31. ^ Haig, Geoffrey; Yaron Matras (2002). "Kurdish linguistics: a brief overview". Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung (Berlin) 55 (1): 3–14. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  32. ^ Hewitt, George (2004). Introduction to the Study of the Languages of the Caucasus. Munich: Lincom Europaq. p. 49. 
  33. ^ Plaster, Keith et al. "Noun classes grow on trees: noun classification in the North-East Caucasus". Language and Representations (Tentative). Retrieved 20 April 2013. 
  34. ^ Nichols, J. 1997 Nikolaev and Starostin's North Caucasian Etymological Dictionary and the Methodology of Long-Range Comparison: an assessment Paper presented at the 10th Biennial Non-Slavic Languages (NSL) Conference, Chicago, 8–10 May 1997.
  35. ^ Row 7 in Приложение 6: Население Российской Федерации по владению языками [Appendix 6: Population of the Russian Federation by languages used] (XLS) (in Russian). 
  36. ^ "First Nations Culture Areas Index". the Canadian Museum of Civilization. 
  37. ^ Jorgensen, Joseph G. (1969). Salishan language and culture. Language science monographs. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University. p. 105. Retrieved 2013-12-22. 
  38. ^ Kaufman, Stephen (1997), "Aramaic", in Hetzron, Robert, The Semitic Languages, Routledge, pp. 117–119 .
  39. ^ Garnier, Romain; Jacques, Guillaume (2012). "A neglected phonetic law: The assimilation of pretonic yod to a following coronal in North-West Semitic". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 75.1: 135–145. doi:10.1017/s0041977x11001261. 
  40. ^ For example Chen (2007), Hamond (2001) and Lyons (1981)
  41. ^ Chen (2007:13)
  42. ^ Hamond (2001:?), cited in Scipione & Sayahi (2005:128)
  43. ^ Harris & Vincent (1988:83)
  44. ^ Lyons (1981:76)
  45. ^ Barbosa & Albano (2004:228)
  46. ^ Mateus & d'Andrade (2000:5–6, 11)
  47. ^ Аванесов, Р. И. (1984). Русское литературное произношение. М.: Просвещение. pp. 145–167. 
  48. ^ Landau et al. (1999:67)
  49. ^ Ovidiu Drăghici. "Limba Română contemporană. Fonetică. Fonologie. Ortografie. Lexicologie". Retrieved April 19, 2013. 
  50. ^ Kučera, H. (1961). The Phonology of Czech. s’ Gravenhage: Mouton & Co.
  51. ^ Garlén 1988, pp. 73–74
  52. ^ Кызласов И. Л., Рунические письменности евразийских степей (Kyzlasov I.L. Runic scripts of Eurasian steppes), Восточная литература (Eastern Literature), Moscow, 1994, pp. 80 on, ISBN 5-02-017741-5, with further bibliography.
  53. ^ Hahn 1991, pp. 80–84
  54. ^ Anastasia Mukhanova Karlsson, Lund University, Department of Linguistics. "Vowels in Mongolian speech: deletions and epenthesis". Retrieved 2014-07-26. 
  55. ^ Borg (1997), p. 260.
  56. ^ a b Markus Hiller. "Pharyngeals and "lax" vowel quality". Mannheim: Institut für Deutsche Sprache. 
  57. ^ Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:323)
  58. ^ Collins & Mees (2003:201)