Labial–velar consonant

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Labial–velar consonants are doubly articulated at the velum and the lips, such as [k͡p]. They are sometimes called "labiovelar consonants", a term that can also refer to labialized velars, such as the stop consonant [kʷ] and the approximant [w].

Labial-velars are often written as digraphs. In the Kâte language, however, /k͡p/ is written Q q, and /ɡ͡b/ as Ɋ ɋ.

Globally, these types of consonants are quite rare, only existing in two regions: West and Central Africa on the one hand, Eastern New Guinea[1] and northern Vanuatu[2] on the other. There are 2 other isolated cases, allophonically in Vietnamese and in the Adu dialect of Nuosu (Yi).

Plain labial-velar stops[edit]

Truly doubly articulated labial-velars include the stops [k͡p, ɡ͡b], the nasal [ŋ͡m], and the implosive [ɠ͜ɓ]. To pronounce them, one must attempt to say the velar consonants but then close their lips for the bilabial component, and then release the lips. While 90% of the occlusion overlaps, the onset of the velar occurs slightly before that of the labial, and the release of the labial occurs slightly after that of the velar so the preceding vowel sounds as if it were followed by a velar, and the following vowel sounds as if it were preceded by a labial. The order of the letters in k͡p and ɡ͡b is therefore not arbitrary but motivated by the phonetic details of the sounds.

Phonemic labial–velars occur in the majority of languages in West and Central Africa (for example in the name of Laurent Gbagbo, former president of Ivory Coast; they are found in many Niger–Congo languages as well as in the Ubangian, Chadic and Central Sudanic families), and are relatively common in the eastern end of New Guinea. The rare implosive is only found in Lese, a Nilo-Saharan language of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[3][4] In Southeast Asia, they occur in the Adu dialect of Nuosu (Yi), which aside from its isolated location, is unusual in having a relatively large inventory of labial-velar consonants, including the rare aspirated version: /k͡pʰ, k͡p, ɡ͡b, ᵑɡ͡b, ŋ͡m/.[5]

Labial–velar stops can also occur as an ejective [k͡pʼ] (unattested) and a voiceless implosive [ƙ͜ƥ]. Floyd (1981) and Clark (1990) report that voiced and voiceless implosives /ɠ͡ɓ, ƙ͜ƥ/ occur in Central Igbo. As stated above, the voiced implosive has been confirmed in Lese.

The Yele language of Rossel Island, Papua New Guinea, has both labial–velars and labial–alveolar consonants. Labial–velar stops and nasals also occur in Vietnamese but only word-finally.

IPA Description Example
Language Orthography IPA Meaning
k͡p voiceless labial–velar stop Logba ò-kpàyɔ̀ k͡pàjɔ̀] 'God'
ɡ͡b voiced labial–velar stop Ewe Ewegbe [ɛβɛɡ͡be] 'the Ewe language'
ɠ̊͜ɓ̥ voiceless labial–velar implosive Central Igbo kpọ́ [ɠ̊͜ɓ̥ɔ́] 'call'
ɠ͡ɓ voiced labial–velar implosive Lese [eɠ͡ɓe] 'in'
ŋ͡m labial-velar nasal Vietnamese cung [kuŋ͡m] 'sector'
ᵑ͡ᵐɡ͡b prenasalized voiced labial–velar stop Nen[6] nḡ [dɪᵑ͡ᵐɡ͡b] 'old-style bamboo pipe or container'

These sounds are clearly single consonants rather than consonant clusters. For example, Eggon contrasts /bɡ/, /ɡb/, and /ɡ͡b/. The following possibilities are possible if tone is ignored:

Single consonant Two-consonant sequence
pom to pound kba to dig
abu a dog bɡa to beat, to kill
aku a room ak͡pki a stomach
ɡom to break ɡ͡bɡa to grind
k͡pu to die kpu to kneel
ɡ͡bu to arrive ɡba to divide

Allophonic labial-velars are known from Vietnamese, where they are variants of the plain velar consonants /k/ and /ŋ/.

Labialized labial-velars[edit]

Some languages, especially in Papua New Guinea and in Vanuatu, combine the labial–velar consonants with a labial–velar approximant release: [k͡pʷ], [ŋ͡mʷ]. The extinct language Volow had a prenasalised labial-velar stop with labialization [ᵑ͡ᵐɡ͡bʷ].[7][8]

IPA Description Example
Language Orthography IPA Meaning
k͡pʷ voiceless labial–velar stop with labialization Dorig rqa [rk͡pʷa][9] 'woman'
ŋ͡mʷ labial-velar nasal with labialization Mwesen ē [ɪŋ͡mʷ] 'house'
ᵑ͡ᵐɡ͡bʷ prenasalized voiced labial–velar stop with labialization Volow n-leevēn [nlɛᵑᵐɡ͡bʷɛβɪn] 'woman'

Velar labial clicks[edit]

Bilabial clicks are stops that involve closure at both the lips and the soft palate. Treatments often analyze the dorsal articulation as part of the airstream mechanism, and so consider such stops to be labial. However, there may be a distinction between the velar labial clicks [k͡ʘ ɡ͡ʘ ŋ͡ʘ] and the uvular labial clicks [q͡ʘ ɢ͡ʘ ɴ͡ʘ], which is not captured if they are described as simply labial.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Maddieson, Ian. "WALS Online – Chapter Presence of Uncommon Consonants". Retrieved 2022-08-07.
  2. ^ See p.31 of François, Alexandre (2016). "The historical morphology of personal pronouns in northern Vanuatu" (PDF). Faits de Langues. 47: 25–60. doi:10.1163/19589514-047-01-900000003. S2CID 171459404.
  3. ^ Didier Demolin, Bernard Teston (September 1997). "Phonetic characteristics of double articulations in some Mangbutu-Efe languages" (PDF). International Speech Communication Association: 803–806.
  4. ^ Güldemann, Tom (2018-09-10). The Languages and Linguistics of Africa. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. ISBN 978-3-11-042175-0.
  5. ^ Hajek, John (2006). "On doubly articulated labial-velar stops and nasals in Tibeto-Burman". Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area. 29 (2): 127–130.
  6. ^ See p.332 of: Evans, Nicholas; Miller, Julia Colleen (2016). "Nen". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 46 (3): 331–349. doi:10.1017/S0025100315000365. ISSN 1475-3502..
  7. ^ See p.116 of: François, Alexandre (2005), "A typological overview of Mwotlap, an Oceanic language of Vanuatu", Linguistic Typology, 9 (1): 115–146, doi:10.1515/lity.2005.9.1.115, S2CID 55878308.
  8. ^ Presentation of the Volow language, by linguist A. François.
  9. ^ See pp.429-430 of: François, Alexandre (2010), "Phonotactics and the prestopped velar lateral of Hiw: Resolving the ambiguity of a complex segment", Phonology, 27 (3): 393–434, doi:10.1017/s0952675710000205, S2CID 62628417