Labio-velar approximant

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For consonants followed by superscript ʷ, see Labialization.
Labio-velar approximant
IPA number 170
Entity (decimal) w
Unicode (hex) U+0077
Kirshenbaum w
Braille ⠺ (braille pattern dots-2456)
Compressed labio-velar approximant

The voiced labio-velar approximant is a type of consonantal sound, used in certain spoken languages, including English. It is the sound denoted by the letter w in the English alphabet;[1] likewise, the symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is w, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is w. In most languages it is a labialized velar approximant [ɰʷ], and the semivocalic counterpart of the close back rounded vowel [u] - i.e. the non-syllabic close back rounded vowel. In inventory charts of languages with other labialized velar consonants, /w/ will be placed in the same column as those consonants. When consonant charts have only labial and velar columns, /w/ may be placed in the velar column, (bi)labial column, or both. The placement may have more to do with phonological criteria than phonetic ones.[2]


Features of the voiced labialized velar 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. The type of approximant is glide or semivowel. The term glide emphasizes the characteristic of movement (or 'glide') of /w/ from the /u/ vowel position to a following vowel position. The term semivowel emphasizes that, although the sound is vocalic in nature, it is not 'syllabic' (it does not form the nucleus of a syllable).
  • Its place of articulation is labialized velar, which means it is articulated with the back part of the tongue raised toward the soft palate (the velum) while rounding the lips. Some languages, such as Japanese and perhaps the Northern Iroquoian languages, have a sound typically transcribed as [w] where the lips are compressed (or at least not rounded), which is a true labial–velar (as opposed to labialized velar) consonant. Close transcriptions may avoid the symbol [w] in such cases, or may use the under-rounding diacritic, [w̜].
  • Its phonation is voiced, which means the vocal cords vibrate during the articulation.
  • 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.


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Abkhaz ауаҩы [awaˈɥə] 'human' See Abkhaz phonology
Adyghe оды About this sound [wadə]  'thin'
Arabic Standard[3] وَرْد [ward] 'roses' See Arabic phonology
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic ktawa [kta:wa] 'book' Most speakers. [v] and [ʋ] are used in the Urmia dialects.
Basque lau [law] 'four'
Catalan[4] creuar [kɾəˈwa] 'to cross' See Catalan phonology
Chinese Cantonese /wu4 [wuː˨˩] 'lake' See Cantonese phonology
Mandarin /wáng [wɑŋ˧˥] 'king' See Mandarin phonology
Dutch Standard Surinamese welp [wɛɫp] 'cub' Corresponds to [ʋ] in the Netherlands and to [β̞] in Belgium. See Dutch phonology
English weep [wiːp] 'weep' See English phonology
French[5] oui [wi] 'yes' See French phonology
Hawaiian[6] wikiwiki [wikiwiki] 'fast' May also be realized as [v]. See Hawaiian phonology
Hebrew Oriental כוח [ˈkowaħ] 'power' See Modern Hebrew phonology
Irish vóta [ˈwoːt̪ˠə] 'vote' See Irish phonology
Italian[7] uomo [ˈwɔːmo] 'man' See Italian phonology
Japanese わたし/watashi [ɰᵝataɕi] 'I' Pronounced with lip compression. See Japanese phonology
Kabardian уэ About this sound [wa]  'you'
Korean 왜가리/waegari [wɛɡɐɾi] 'heron' See Korean phonology
Malay wang [waŋ] 'money'
Pashto ﻭﺍﺭ [wɑr] 'one time'
Polish[8] łaska About this sound [ˈwäskä]  'grace' See Polish phonology. Corresponds to [ɫ] in older pronunciation and eastern dialects
Portuguese[9] Most dialects quando [ˈkwɐ̃d̪u] 'when' Post-lexically after //. See Portuguese phonology
General Brazilian qual [ˈkwaw] 'which' Allophone of /l/ in coda position for most Brazilian dialects.[10]
Romanian dulău [duˈləw] 'mastiff' See Romanian phonology
Serbo-Croatian Croatian[11] вук / vuk [wûːk] 'wolf' Allophone of /ʋ/ before /u/.[11] See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Seri cmiique [ˈkw̃ĩːkːɛ] 'person' Allophone of /m/
Slovene[12][13] cerkev [ˈt͡sèːrkəw] 'church' Allophone of /ʋ/ in the syllable coda.[12][13] Voiceless [ʍ] before voiceless consonants. See Slovene phonology
Sotho sewa [ˈsewa] 'epidemic' See Sesotho phonology
Spanish[14] cuanto [ˈkwãn̪t̪o̞] 'as much' See Spanish phonology
Swahili mwanafunzi [mwɑnɑfunzi] 'student'
Tagalog araw [ɐˈɾaw] 'day' See Tagalog phonology
Thai[15] แห /waen [wɛn˩˩˦] 'ring'
Ukrainian любов [lʲubɔw] 'love' See Ukrainian phonology
Vietnamese[16] tuần [t̪wən˨˩] 'week' See Vietnamese phonology
Welsh gwae [ɡwaɨ] 'woe' See Welsh phonology
West Frisian skowe [skoːwǝ] 'to shove'

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Guidelines for Transcription of English Consonants and Vowels (PDF) ; see the examples on the fifth page.
  2. ^ Ohala & Lorentz (1977:577)
  3. ^ Watson (2002:13)
  4. ^ Carbonell & Llisterri (1992:55)
  5. ^ Fougeron & Smith (1993:75)
  6. ^ Pukui & Elbert (1986:xvii)
  7. ^ Rogers & d'Arcangeli (2004:117)
  8. ^ Jassem (2003:103)
  9. ^ Barbosa & Albano (2004:230)
  10. ^ Barbosa, Plínio A.; Albano, Eleonora C. (23 Dec 2004). "Brazilian Portuguese". Journal of the International Phonetic Association 34 (02): 227–232. doi:10.1017/S0025100304001756. Retrieved 21 December 2014. 
  11. ^ a b Landau et al. (1999:68)
  12. ^ a b Šuštaršič, Komar & Petek (1999:136)
  13. ^ a b Greenberg (2006:18)
  14. ^ Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003:256)
  15. ^ Wen in a Thai–English dictionary, with recorded pronunciation
  16. ^ Thompson (1959:458–461)


  • Barbosa, Plínio A.; Albano, Eleonora C. (2004), "Brazilian Portuguese", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 34 (2): 227–232, doi:10.1017/S0025100304001756 
  • Carbonell, Joan F.; Llisterri, Joaquim (1992), "Catalan", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 22 (1–2): 53–56, doi:10.1017/S0025100300004618 
  • Fougeron, Cecile; Smith, Caroline L. (1993), "French", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 23 (2): 73–76, doi:10.1017/S0025100300004874 
  • Greenberg, Mark L. (2006), A Short Reference Grammar of Standard Slovene, Kansas: University of Kansas 
  • Jassem, Wiktor (2003), "Polish", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 33 (1): 103–107, doi:10.1017/S0025100303001191 
  • Landau, Ernestina; Lončarić, Mijo; Horga, Damir; Škarić, Ivo (1999), "Croatian", Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A guide to the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 66–69, ISBN 0-521-65236-7 
  • Martínez-Celdrán, Eugenio; Fernández-Planas, Ana Ma.; Carrera-Sabaté, Josefina (2003), "Castilian Spanish", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 33 (2): 255–259, doi:10.1017/S0025100303001373 
  • Ohala, John; Lorentz, James (1977), "Story of [w]: An exercise in the phonetic explanation for sound patterns" (PDF), Berkeley Linguistics Society annual meeting 3 proceedings, pp. 577–599 
  • Pukui, Mary Kawena; Elbert, Samuel H. (1986), Hawaiian Dictionary, Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, ISBN 0-8248-0703-0 
  • Rogers, Derek; d'Arcangeli, Luciana (2004), "Italian", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 34 (1): 117–121, doi:10.1017/S0025100304001628 
  • Šuštaršič, Rastislav; Komar, Smiljana; Petek, Bojan (1999), "Slovene", Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A guide to the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 135–139, doi:10.1017/S0025100300004874, ISBN 0-521-65236-7 
  • Thompson, Laurence (1959), "Saigon phonemics", Language 35 (3): 454–476, doi:10.2307/411232, JSTOR 411232 
  • Watson, Janet (2002), The Phonology and Morphology of Arabic, New York: Oxford University Press