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In phonetics, ejective consonants are usually voiceless consonants that are pronounced with a glottalic egressive airstream. In the phonology of a particular language, ejectives may contrast with aspirated, voiced, and tenuis consonants. Some languages have glottalized sonorants with creaky voice that pattern with ejectives phonologically, and other languages have ejectives that pattern with implosives, which has led to phonologists positing a phonological class of glottalic consonants, which includes ejectives.
In producing an ejective, the stylohyoid muscle and digastric muscle contract, causing the hyoid bone and the connected glottis to raise, and the forward articulation (at the velum in the case of [kʼ]) is held, raising air pressure greatly in the mouth so when the oral articulators separate, there is a dramatic burst of air. The Adam's apple may be seen moving when the sound is pronounced. In the languages in which they are more obvious, ejectives are often described as sounding like “spat” consonants, but ejectives are often quite weak. In some contexts and in some languages, they are easy to mistake for tenuis or even voiced stops. These weakly ejective articulations are sometimes called intermediates in older American linguistic literature and are notated with different phonetic symbols: ⟨C!⟩ = strongly ejective, ⟨Cʼ⟩ = weakly ejective. Strong and weak ejectives have not been found to be contrastive in any natural language.
In strict, technical terms, ejectives are glottalic egressive consonants. The most common ejective is [kʼ] even if it is more difficult to produce than other ejectives like [tʼ] or [pʼ] because the auditory distinction between [kʼ] and [k] is greater than with other ejectives and voiceless consonants of the same place of articulation. In proportion to the frequency of uvular consonants, [qʼ] is even more common, as would be expected from the very small oral cavity used to pronounce a voiceless uvular stop. [pʼ], on the other hand, is quite rare. That is the opposite pattern to what is found in the implosive consonants, in which the bilabial is common and the velar is rare.
Ejective fricatives are rare for presumably the same reason: with the air escaping from the mouth while the pressure is being raised, like inflating a leaky bicycle tire, it is harder to distinguish the resulting sound as salient as a [kʼ].
Ejectives occur in about 20% of the world's languages. Ejectives that phonemically contrast with pulmonic consonants occur in about 15% of languages around the world. They are extremely common in northwestern North America and frequently occur throughout the western parts of both North and South America. They are also common in East Africa and Southern Africa. In Eurasia, the Caucasus forms an island of ejective languages. Elsewhere, they are rare.
Language families that distinguish ejective consonants include:
- all three families of the Caucasus (the Northwest Caucasian languages such as Abkhaz, the Northeast Caucasian languages such as Chechen, and the Kartvelian languages such as Georgian)
- the Athabaskan, Siouan and Salishan families of North America along with the many diverse families of the Pacific Northwest from central California to British Columbia
- the Mayan family
- the southern varieties of Quechua (Qusqu-Qullaw)
- Puelche and Tehuelche of the Chonan languages
- Kawésqar isolate
- many members of the Afro-Asiatic family (notably most of the Cushitic and Omotic languages, Hausa, and South Semitic languages like Amharic and Tigrinya)
- a few Nilo-Saharan languages
- Sandawe, Hadza, and the Khoisan families of southern Africa
- Itelmen of the Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages
- Yapese of the Austronesian family
According to the glottalic theory, the Proto-Indo-European language had a series of ejectives (or, in some versions, implosives), but no extant Indo-European language has retained them[a]. Ejectives are found today in Ossetic and Eastern Armenian only because of influence of the nearby Northeast Caucasian and/or Kartvelian language families.
It had once been predicted that ejectives and implosives would not be found in the same language but both have found phonemically at several points of articulation in Nilo-Saharan languages (Gumuz, Me'en, and T'wampa), Mayan language (Yucatec), Salishan (Lushootseed), and the Oto-Manguean Mazahua. Nguni languages, such as Zulu have an implosive b alongside a series of allophonically ejective stops. Dahalo of Kenya, has both ejectives and implosives and click consonants.
Almost all ejective consonants in the world's languages are stops or affricates, and all ejective consonants are obstruents. [kʼ] is the most common ejective, and [qʼ] is common among languages with uvulars, [tʼ] less so, and [pʼ] is uncommon. Among affricates, [tsʼ], [tʃʼ], [tɬʼ] are all quite common, and [kxʼ] and [ʈʂʼ] are not unusual ([kxʼ] is particularly common among the Khoisan languages, where it is the ejective equivalent of /k/).
A few languages have ejective fricatives. In some dialects of Hausa, the standard affricate [tsʼ] is a fricative [sʼ]; Ubykh (Northwest Caucasian, now extinct) had an ejective lateral fricative [ɬʼ]; and the related Kabardian also has ejective labiodental and alveolopalatal fricatives, [fʼ], [ʃʼ], and [ɬʼ]. Tlingit is an extreme case, with ejective alveolar, lateral, velar, and uvular fricatives, [sʼ], [ɬʼ], [xʼ], [xʷʼ], [χʼ], [χʷʼ]; it may be the only language with the last type. Upper Necaxa Totonac is unusual and perhaps unique in that it has ejective fricatives (alveolar, lateral, and postalveolar [sʼ], [ʃʼ], [ɬʼ]) but lacks any ejective stop or affricate (Beck 2006). Other languages with ejective fricatives are Yuchi, which some sources nalyze as having [ɸʼ], [sʼ], [ʃʼ], and [ɬʼ] (but not the analysis of the Wikipedia article), Keres dialects, with [sʼ], [ʂʼ] and [ɕʼ], and Lakota, with [sʼ], [ʃʼ], and [xʼ] . Amharic is interpreted by many as having an ejective fricative [sʼ], at least historically, but it has been also analyzed as now being a sociolinguistic variant (Takkele Taddese 1992).
Because the complete closing of the glottis required to form an ejective makes voicing impossible, the allophonic voicing of ejective phonemes causes them to lose their glottalization; this occurs in Blin (modal voice) and Kabardian (creaky voice). A similar historical sound change also occurred in Veinakh and Lezgic in the Caucasus, it and has been postulated by the glottalic theory for Indo-European. Some Khoisan languages have voiced ejective stops and voiced ejective clicks; however, they actually contain mixed voicing, and the ejective release is voiceless.
Ejective trills are rare, if they exist as distinct sounds at all. An ejective [rʼ] would necessarily be voiceless, but the vibration of the trill, combined with a lack of the intense voiceless airflow of [r̥], gives an impression like that of voicing. Similarly, ejective nasals such as [mʼ, nʼ, ŋʼ] (also necessarily voiceless) are not known to occur but are not particularly difficult to pronounce. (An apostrophe is commonly seen with r, l and nasals, but that is Americanist phonetic notation for a glottalized consonant and does not indicate an ejective.)
Other ejective sonorants are not known to occur. When sonorants are transcribed with an apostrophe in the literature as if they were ejective, they actually involve a different airstream mechanism: they are glottalized consonants and vowels whose glottalization interrupts an otherwise normal voiced pulmonic airstream, somewhat like English uh-uh (either vocalic or nasal) pronounced as a single sound.
In the International Phonetic Alphabet, ejectives are indicated with a "modifier letter apostrophe" ⟨ʼ⟩, as in this article. A reversed apostrophe is sometimes used to represent light aspiration, as in Armenian linguistics ⟨p‘ t‘ k‘⟩; this usage is obsolete in the IPA. In other transcription traditions, the apostrophe represents palatalization: ⟨pʼ⟩ = IPA ⟨pʲ⟩. In some Americanist traditions, an apostrophe indicates weak ejection and an exclamation mark strong ejection: ⟨k̓ , k!⟩. In the IPA, the distinction might be written ⟨kʼ, kʼʼ⟩, but it seems that no language distinguishes degrees of ejection.
In alphabets using the Latin script, an IPA-like apostrophe for ejective consonants is common. However, there are other conventions. In Zulu and Xhosa, whose ejection is variable between speakers, plain consonant letters are used: p t k ts tsh kr for /pʼ tʼ kʼ tsʼ tʃʼ kxʼ/. In some conventions for Haida and Hadza, double letters are used: tt kk qq ttl tts for /tʼ kʼ qʼ tɬʼ tsʼ/ (Haida) and zz jj dl gg for /tsʼ tʃʼ cʼ kxʼ/ (Hadza).
- bilabial ejective [pʼ] (in Abkhaz, Adyghe, Amharic, Archi, Hadza, Kabardian, Lezgian, Lakota, Nez Perce, Quechua, Tigrinya, Zulu)
- labialized bilabial ejective [pʷʼ] (in Adyghe)
- pharyngealized bilabial ejective [pˤʼ] (in Ubykh)
- dental ejective [t̪ʼ] (in Dahalo, Lakota, Tigrinya)
- alveolar ejective [tʼ] (in Abkhaz, Adyghe, Amharic, Archi, Avar, Bats, Kabardian, Gwich’in, Nez Perce, Quechua, Tlingit, Zulu)
- retroflex ejective [ʈʼ] (in Gwich’in)
- palatal ejective [cʼ] (in Bats, Hausa, Giwi, Nez Perce)
- velar ejective [kʼ] (in Abaza, Abkhaz, Adyghe, Amharic, Archi, Avar, Giwi, Gwich’in, Hausa, Kabardian, Lakota, Nez Perce, Quechua, Sandawe, Tigrinya, Tlingit, Zulu)
- uvular ejective [qʼ] (in Abaza, Abkhaz, Archi, Bats, Hakuchi, Nez Perce, Quechua, Tlingit)
- epiglottal ejective [ʡʼ] (in Dargwa)
- alveolar ejective affricate [tsʼ] (in Abaza, Abkhaz, Adyghe, Amharic, Archi, Avar, Giwi, Gwich’in, Hadza, Hausa, Kabardian, Sandawe, Tlingit, Ubykh)
- labialized alveolar ejective affricate [t͡sʷʼ] (in Archi)
- palato-alveolar ejective affricate [tʃʼ] (in Abaza, Abkhaz, Adyghe, Amharic, Archi, Avar, Chipewyan, Gwich’in, Hadza, Hausa, Kabardian, Lakota, Quechua, Tigrinya, Tlingit, Ubykh, Zulu)
- labialized palato-alveolar ejective affricate [t͡ʃʷʼ] (in Abaza, Archi)
- retroflex ejective affricate [ʈ͡ʂʼ] (in Abkhaz, Adyghe, Ubykh)
- alveolo-palatal ejective affricate [t͡ɕʼ] (in Abaza, Abkhaz, Ubykh)
- labialized alveolo-palatal ejective affricate [t͡ɕʷʼ] (in Abkhaz, Ubykh)
- palatal ejective affricate [cçʼ]
- dental ejective affricate [tθʼ] (in Chipewyan, Gwich’in)
- velar ejective affricate [kxʼ] (in Hadza, Zulu)
- uvular ejective affricate [qχʼ] (in Avar, Giwi, Lillooet)
- alveolar lateral ejective affricate [tɬʼ] (in Baslaney, Chipewyan, Dahalo, Gwich’in, Haida, Lillooet, Nez Perce, Sandawe, Tlingit, Tsez)
- palatal lateral ejective affricate [c͡ʎ̝̥ʼ] (in Dahalo, Hadza)
- velar lateral ejective affricate [k͡ʟ̝̊ʼ] (in Archi, Gǀui)
- labialized velar lateral ejective affricate [k͡ʟ̝̊ʷʼ] (in Archi)
- bilabial ejective fricative [ɸʼ]
- labiodental ejective fricative [fʼ] (in Abaza, Kabardian)
- dental ejective fricative [θʼ] (in Chiwere)
- alveolar ejective fricative [sʼ] (in Chiwere, Lakota, Shapsug, Tigrinya, Tlingit)
- alveolar lateral ejective fricative [ɬʼ] (in Abaza, Adyghe, Kabardian, Tlingit, Ubykh)
- palato-alveolar ejective fricative [ʃʼ] (in Adyghe, Lakota)
- labialized palato-alveolar ejective fricative [ʃʷʼ] (in Adyghe)
- retroflex ejective fricative [ʂʼ]
- alveolo-palatal ejective fricative [ɕʼ] (in Kabardian)
- palatal ejective fricative [çʼ]
- velar ejective fricative [xʼ] (in Tlingit)
- labialized velar ejective fricative [xʷʼ] (in Tlingit)
- uvular ejective fricative [χʼ] (in Tlingit)
- labialized uvular ejective fricative [χʷʼ] (in Tlingit)
- [ʘqʼ ǀqʼ ǁqʼ ǃqʼ ǂqʼ]
- [ʘ̬qʼ ǀ̬qʼ ǁ̬qʼ ǃ̬qʼ ǂ̬qʼ]
- [ʘqχʼ ǀqχʼ ǁqχʼ ǃqχʼ ǂqχʼ ~ ʘkxʼ ǀkxʼ ǁkxʼ ǃkxʼ ǂkxʼ ~ ʘkʼ ǀkʼ ǁkʼ ǃkʼ ǂkʼ]
- [ʘ̬qχʼ ǀ̬qχʼ ǁ̬qχʼ ǃ̬qχʼ ǂ̬qχʼ ~ ʘ̬kxʼ ǀ̬kxʼ ǁ̬kxʼ ǃ̬kxʼ ǂ̬kxʼ ~ ʘ̬kʼ ǀ̬kʼ ǁ̬kʼ ǃ̬kʼ ǂ̬kʼ]
- Ladefoged (2005:147–148)
- Fallon, 2002. The synchronic and diachronic phonology of ejectives
- Ladefoged (2005:148)
- Greenberg (1970:?)
- Bickford & Floyd (2006) Articulatory Phonetics, Table 25.1, augmented by sources at the articles on individual consonants
- In Ubyx; allophonic with [tʷʼ] and [t͡ʙʼ]
- John Esling (2010) "Phonetic Notation", in Hardcastle, Laver & Gibbon (eds) The Handbook of Phonetic Sciences, 2nd ed., p 700.
- Heselwood (2013: 148)
- Beck, David (2006). "The emergence of ejective fricatives in Upper Necaxa Totonac". University of Alberta Working Papers in Linguistics. 1: 1–18.
- Campbell, Lyle. 1973. On Glottalic Consonants. International Journal of American Linguistics 39, 44–46. JSTOR 1264659
- Chirikba, V.A. Aspects of Phonological Typology. Moscow, 1991 (in Russian).
- Fallon, Paul. 2002. The Synchronic and Diachronic Phonology of Ejectives. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-93800-7, ISBN 978-0-415-93800-6.
- Hogan, J. T. (1976). "An analysis of the temporal features of ejective consonants." Phonetica 33: 275–284. doi:10.1159/000259776
- Greenberg, Joseph H. (1970), "Some generalizations concerning glottalic consonants, especially implosives.", International Journal of American Linguistics, 36: 123–145, doi:10.1086/465105
- Ladefoged, Peter (2005), Vowels and Consonants (Second ed.), Blackwell, ISBN 0-631-21411-9
- Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-19814-8.
- Lindau, M. (1984). "Phonetic differences in glottalic consonants." Journal of Phonetics, 12: 147–155. doi:10.1121/1.2019283
- Lindsey, Geoffrey; Hayward, Katrina; Haruna, Andrew (1992). "Hausa Glottalic Consonants: A Laryngographic Study". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 55: 511–527. doi:10.1017/S0041977X00003682.
- Taddese, Takkele (1992). "Are sʼ and tʼ variants of an Amharic variable? A sociolinguistic analysis". Journal of Ethiopian Languages and Literature. 2: 104–21.
- Wright, Richard; Hargus, Sharon; Davis, Katharine (2002). "On the categorization of ejectives: data from Witsuwit'en.". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 32: 43–77. doi:10.1017/S0025100302000142.