Palatal approximant

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For consonants followed by superscript ʲ, see Palatalization.
Palatal approximant
IPA number 153
Entity (decimal) j
Unicode (hex) U+006A
Kirshenbaum j
Braille ⠚ (braille pattern dots-245)

The voiced palatal approximant is a type of consonant used in many spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨j⟩. The equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is j, and in the Americanist phonetic notation it is ⟨y⟩. Because the English name of the letter J, jay, does not start with [j] but with [d͡ʒ] (voiced palato-alveolar affricate), this approximant is sometimes called yod instead, as in the phonological history terms yod-dropping and yod-coalescence.

The palatal approximant is the semivocalic equivalent of the close front unrounded vowel [i]. The two are almost identical featurally. They alternate with each other in certain languages, such as French, and in the diphthongs of some languages, ⟨j⟩ and ⟨⟩ with the non-syllabic diacritic are used in different transcription systems to represent the same sound.

In the writing systems used for most of the languages of Central, Northern, and Eastern Europe, the letter j denotes the palatal approximant, as in German Jahr 'year'. That is followed by IPA although it may be counterintuitive for English speakers (words occur with this sound in a few loanwords in English like Hebrew "hallelujah" and German "Jägermeister").

In grammars of Ancient Greek, the palatal approximant, which was lost early in the history of Greek, is sometimes written as ⟨ι̯⟩ (iota with the inverted breve below, the nonsyllabic diacritic or marker of a semivowel).[1]

There is also a post-palatal approximant (also called pre-velar or fronted velar) in some languages.


Features of the palatal 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 /j/ from the /i/ 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 palatal, which means it is articulated with the middle or back part of the tongue raised to the hard palate. The otherwise identical post-palatal variant is articulated slightly behind the hard palate, making it sound slightly closer to the velar [ɰ].
  • 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
Adyghe ятӀэ About this sound [jatʼa]  'dirt'
Arabic Standard يوم [jawm] 'day' See Arabic phonology
Assamese মানৱীয়তা [manɔwijɔta] 'humanity'
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic yama [jaːma] 'ocean'
Armenian Eastern[2] յուղ [juʁ] 'fat'
Afrikaans ja [jɑː] 'yes' See Afrikaans phonology
Azerbaijani yuxu [juxu] 'dream'
Basque bai [baj] 'yes'
Bulgarian майка/mayka [ˈmajkɐ] 'mother' See Bulgarian phonology
Catalan[3] seient [səˈjen] 'seat' See Catalan phonology
Chechen ялх/yalx [jalx] 'six'
Chinese Cantonese /jat9 [jɐt˨ʔ] 'day' See Cantonese phonology
Mandarin /yā [ja˥] 'duck' See Mandarin phonology
Corsican ghjesgia [ˈjeːʒa] 'church' Also occurs in the Gallurese dialect
Czech je [jɛ] 'is' See Czech phonology
Danish jeg [jä] 'I' See Danish phonology
Dutch Standard[4] ja [jaː] 'yes' Frequently realized as a fricative [ʝ], especially in emphatic speech.[4] See Dutch phonology
English you [juː] 'you' See English phonology
Esperanto jaro [jaro] 'year' See Esperanto phonology
Finnish jalka [ˈjɑlkɑ] 'leg' See Finnish phonology
French yeux [jø] 'eyes' See French phonology
German Standard[5][6] Jacke [ˈjäkə] 'jacket' Also described as a fricative [ʝ][7][8] and a sound variable between a fricative and an approximant.[9] See Standard German phonology
Hebrew ילד [ˈjeled] 'boy' See Modern Hebrew phonology
Hindustani Hindi यान [jɑːn] 'vehicle' See Hindustani phonology
Hungarian játék [jaːteːk] 'game' See Hungarian phonology
Kabardian йи [ji] 'game'
Irish[10] ghearrfadh [ˈjɑːɾˠhəx] 'would cut' See Irish phonology
Italian[11] ione [ˈjoːne] 'ion' See Italian phonology
Japanese 焼く/yaku [jaku͍] 'to bake' See Japanese phonology
Korean 야구/yagu [ˈjaːɡu] 'baseball' See Korean phonology
Lithuanian[12] ji [jɪ] 'she' Also described as a fricative [ʝ].[13][14] See Lithuanian phonology
Macedonian крај [kraj] 'end' See Macedonian phonology
Malay sayang [sajaŋ] 'love'
Mapudungun[15] kayu [kɜˈjʊ] 'six' May be a fricative [ʝ] instead.[15]
Marathi [jəʃ] 'success'
Norwegian Standard Eastern[16][17] gi [jiː] 'to give' May be a fricative [ʝ] instead.[17][18] See Norwegian phonology
Polish[19] jutro About this sound [ˈjut̪rɔ]  'tomorrow' See Polish phonology
Portuguese[20] ia [ˈbɔj.jɐ] 'buoy', 'float' Allophone of both /i/ and /ʎ/,[21] as well as a very common epenthetic sound before coda sibilants in some dialects. See Portuguese phonology
Punjabi ਯਾਰ [jäːɾ] 'friend'
Romanian iar [jar] 'again' See Romanian phonology
Russian[22] яма [ˈjämə] 'pit' See Russian phonology
Slovak[23] jesť [je̞sc̟] 'to eat' See Slovak phonology
Spanish[24] viuda [ˈbjuð̞ä] 'widow' Both non-syllabic /i/ and intervocalic /ʝ/ are approximants, though speakers may still contrast the two. See Spanish phonology
Swedish jag [ˈjɑːɡ] 'I' See Swedish phonology
Turkish[25] yol [jo̞ɫ̪] 'way' See Turkish phonology
Turkmen ýüpek [jypek] 'silk'
Ubykh [ajəwʃqʼa] 'you did it' See Ubykh phonology
Ukrainian їжак/jižak [jiˈʒɑk] 'hedgehog' See Ukrainian phonology
Vietnamese Southern dialects de [jɛ] 'cinnamon' Corresponds to northern /z/. See Vietnamese phonology
West Frisian jas [jɔs] 'coat' See West Frisian phonology
Zapotec Tilquiapan[26] yan [jaŋ] 'neck'


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Spanish[27] seguir [se̞ˈj̠iɾ] 'to follow' Lenited allophone of /ɡ/ before front vowels;[27] typically transcribed with ⟨ɣ⟩. See Spanish phonology


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Turkish[28] ğün [ˈd̪y̠jy̠n̪] 'marriage' Either post-palatal or palatal; phonetic realization of /ɣ/ (also transcribed as /ɰ/) before front vowels.[28] See Turkish phonology

See also[edit]