Retroflex approximant

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Retroflex approximant
IPA number 152
Entity (decimal) ɻ
Unicode (hex) U+027B
Kirshenbaum r.
Braille ⠲ (braille pattern dots-256) ⠼ (braille pattern dots-3456)

The retroflex approximant is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ɻ, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is r\`. The IPA symbol is a turned lowercase letter r with a rightward hook protruding from the lower right of the letter.


Features of the retroflex 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 retroflex, which prototypically means it is articulated subapical (with the tip of the tongue curled up), but more generally, it means that it is postalveolar without being palatalized. That is, besides the prototypical sub-apical articulation, the tongue contact can be apical (pointed) or laminal (flat).
  • 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 central consonant, which means it is produced by directing the airstream along the center of the tongue, rather than to the sides.
  • The airstream mechanism is pulmonic, which means it is articulated by pushing air solely with the lungs and diaphragm, as in most sounds.


The retroflex approximant occurs in American English, Irish English, West Country dialects, Mandarin Chinese, Pashto, a few Brazilian Portuguese dialects and some languages of India such as Tamil and Malayalam, as well as several Australian Aboriginal and Indigenous South American languages.

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Arrernte [example needed]
Chinese Mandarin ròu About this sound [ɻoʊ̯˥˩]  'meat' Some speakers. Corresponds to a voiced retroflex fricative /ʐ/. See Mandarin phonology
English some American, Irish and West Country dialects red [ɻʷɛd] 'red' See English phonology
Enindhilyagwa angwura [aŋwuɻa] 'fire'
Greek Cretan dialect (Sfakia, Milopotamos variations) region[1] γάλα la [ˈɣaɻa] 'milk' Allophone of /l/ before /a o u/ intervocalically. Recessive. See Modern Greek phonology
Kannada ಕೊೞೆ [kɒɻe] 'to rot' This consonant, widely used in Old Kannada, has fallen out of use in writing and speaking in Modern Kannada; however, the Kannada script maintains a character for this consonant and it is present as a phoneme in certain dialects. See Old Kannada
Malayalam വഴി [ʋɐɻi] 'way'
Mapuche rúka [ˈɻuka] 'house'
Pashto سوړ [soɻ] 'cold' Allophone of retroflex lateral flap /ɭ̆/. See Pashto phonology
Pitjantjatjara Uluu [ʊlʊɻʊ] 'Uluru'
Portuguese Inland Centro-Sul dialects cartas [ˈkaɻtɐs] 'letters' [5]
Brazilian Caipira speakers temporal [tẽɪ̯̃po̞ˈɾaɻ] 'rainstorm'
Tamil[6] வழி [ʋɐɻi] 'way' See Tamil phonology
Yaghan rho [ˈwaɻo] 'cave'

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Trudgill (1989:18–19)
  2. ^ (Portuguese) Acoustic-phonetic characteristics of the Brazilian Portuguese's retroflex /r/: data from respondents in Pato Branco, Paraná. Irineu da Silva Ferraz. Pages 19–21
  3. ^ (Portuguese) Syllable coda /r/ in the "capital" of the paulista hinterland: sociolinguistic analisis. Cândida Mara Britto LEITE. Page 111 (page 2 in the attached PDF)
  4. ^ (Portuguese) Callou, Dinah. Leite, Yonne. "Iniciação à Fonética e à Fonologia". Jorge Zahar Editora 2001, p. 24
  5. ^ Allophone of rhotic consonant, and seldom /l/, in the syllable coda. The retroflex approximant is stigmatized, being referred to as erre caipira (hillbilly ar, in free translation), mostly found in non-metropolitan hinterlands of São Paulo, Paraná, south of Minas Gerais and surrounding areas, but may also be post-alveolar, alveolar and/or rhotic vowel, the more common realization in metropolitan areas and the coast. As with [ɽ], it appeared as mutation of Iberian /ɾ/ in the development of Brazilian Portuguese from several Amerindian languages (most importantly the línguas gerais) and Old Portuguese (português arcaico) spoken by non-natives of the latter, in the countryside of its more southern states, while more northern dialects started to use the guttural sounds equivalent to Portuguese /ʁ/ in the syllable coda. Originally, both of these major variants elided ars in final of words with more than one syllable, a feature that as with many common Romance characteristics, colloquial Brazilian Portuguese still shares with languages such as Catalan, but now this trait is not more ubiquitous, neither with dialects that use guttural nor with those that use coronal approximant /r/.[2][3][4] See Portuguese phonology
  6. ^ Keane (2004:111)


  • Keane, Elinor (2004), Tamil, Journal of the International Phonetic Association 34 (1): 111–116, doi:10.1017/S0025100304001549 
  • Trudgill, Peter (1989), The Sociophonetics of /l/ in the Greek of Sphakiá, Journal of the International Phonetic Association 15 (2): 18–22, doi:10.1017/S0025100300002942