Ingressive sound

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In phonetics, ingressive sounds are sounds by which the airstream flows inward through the mouth or nose. The three types of ingressive sounds are lingual ingressive or velaric ingressive (from the tongue and the velum), glottalic ingressive (from the glottis), and pulmonic ingressive (from the lungs).

The opposite of an ingressive sound is an egressive sound, by which the air stream is created by pushing air out through the mouth or nose. The majority of sounds in most languages, such as vowels, are both pulmonic and egressive.

Types of ingressive sounds[edit]

Lingual ingressive[edit]

Lingual ingressive, or velaric ingressive, describes an airstream mechanism whereby a sound is produced by closing the vocal tract at two places of articulation in the mouth, rarifying the air in the enclosed space by lowering the tongue, and then releasing both closures. The sounds made this way are called clicks.

Glottalic ingressive[edit]

This term is generally applied to the implosive consonants, which actually use a mixed glottalic ingressive–pulmonic egressive airstream. True glottalic ingressives, called voiceless implosives or reverse ejectives, are quite rare.

Pulmonic ingressive[edit]

Pulmonic ingressive sounds are those ingressive sounds in which the airstream is created by the lungs. Pulmonic ingressive sounds are generally paralinguistic, and may be found as phonemes, words, and entire phrases on all continents and in genetically unrelated languages, most frequently in sounds for agreement and backchanneling.

Pulmonic ingressive sounds are extremely rare outside of paralinguistic phenomena. A pulmonic ingressive phoneme was found in the apparently constructed ritual language Damin, the last speaker of which died in the 1990s. The Taa language of Botswana has a series of nasalized click consonants in which the nasal airstream is pulmonic ingressive. Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:268) state that "This ǃXóõ [Taa] click is probably unique among the sounds of the world's languages that, even in the middle of a sentence, it may have ingressive pulmonic airflow."[citation needed]

In the extensions to the International Phonetic Alphabet, ingressive sounds are indicated with ⟨⟩, so the Norwegian backchanneling particles ja and nei would be transcribed ⟨jɑː↓⟩ and ⟨næɪ↓⟩. Laver[1] uses instead ⟨˒⟩, for ⟨j˒ɑː˒⟩ and ⟨n˒æɪ˒⟩.[2]

Ingressive speech[edit]

Ingressive speech (IS) sounds are produced while the speaker breathes in. This is in contrast to most speech sounds, which are produced as the speaker breathes out. The air used to voice the speech is drawn in rather than pushed out. Ingressive speech can be either glottalic, velaric or pulmonic.


Ingressive sounds occur in many languages, being frequently associated with the Scandinavian languages, despite it being a common phenomenon. The majority of words that are subject to ingressive speech are feedback words (yes, no) or very short or primal (a cry of pain, sobbing). It also sometimes occurs in rapid counting, in order to maintain a steady air flow throughout a long series of unbroken sounds. It is also very common among animals, frogs, dogs, and cats (purring).

In English, ingressive sounds include when one says "Huh!" (a gasping sound) which is used to express surprise, or "Sss" (an inward hiss) which expresses empathy when another is hurt.

Tsou and Damin have both been claimed to possess an ingressive phoneme, but neither of these claims have been validated to date, and the Tsou claim has been nearly disproved. There are claims of some Tohono O'odham women speaking entirely ingressively.[citation needed]

There are examples of ingressive sounds that belong to paralanguage. Japanese has what has been described an apicoprepalatal fricative approximant, similar to an inbreathed [s], which is used as a response to statements that are upsetting, or as a sign of deference. Japanese speakers also use an ingressive bilateral bidental friction used as a "pre-turn opening in conversation" or when beginning a prayer.[3][4]


Speech technologist Robert Eklund has found reports of ingressive speech in around 50 languages worldwide, dating as far back as Cranz's (1765) "Historie von Grönland, enthaltend… " where it is mentioned in female affirmations among the Eskimo.

Inhaled affirmative 'yeah'[edit]

Several languages include an affirmative "yeah", "yah", "yuh" or "yes" made with inhaled breath which sounds something like a gasp. This is an example of a pulmonic ingressive. This feature is found in:

  • Dialects of English spoken in Ireland (Hiberno-English) and the Scottish Highlands (Highland English),[5] typically used to express agreement and show attentiveness.
  • Dialects of English spoken in Newfoundland and the Maritimes in Canada.[6]
  • Dialects of English spoken in the state of Maine. The word is often transcribed as "ayup" and people attempting to imitate Maine accent rarely use the ingressive form. It is missing in most Maine-dialect TV and Hollywood productions.
  • Casual French (ouais).
  • In Faroese and Icelandic, entire phrases are sometimes produced ingressively.
  • In Danish, Norwegian and Swedish words like "ja", "jo" (yes), "nei/nej" (no) etc. are often pronounced with inhaled breath, which can be confusing to foreigners. The main function of inhaled speech can be paralinguistic, showing e.g. agreement with a statement and to encourage a speaker to continue on, but in northern Sweden "Yes" can be replaced just with an inhalation sound.[7] It is consequently also typical of dialogue.
  • In Northern German dialects an affirmative "ja" (yes) is often pronounced ingressively, especially in dialogue.
  • In Finnish niin.[8][clarification needed]
  • In Estonian "jah" (yes).
  • In Khalkha Mongolian the words тийм [tʰiːm] ("that/[yes]"), үгүй [ʊɡʊi] ("no"), and мэдэхгүй [mɛdɛx-ɡʊi] know.INF-NEG ("[I] don't know") are often pronounced in daily conversation with pulmonic ingressive airflow.
  • In Ewe and other Togolese languages, as well as in parts of Mali and Cameroon, and in the Hausa language of southern Niger and northern Nigeria.
  • In Austronesian languages such as Tagalog [opo] and more forcefully in Waray and softer in Borongan (Samar Province) [uhuh] or [ohoh] usually spelled in these countries oo and possibly stronger in Oras, Arteche, Dolores (all in Samar). The sound is almost guttural and the aspirant is inhaled, not exhaled air. Thus, for an English speaker exhaling this response, the exhaled sound is not understood by native Samar speakers. The American English trouble expression of 'Uh Oh' does not remotely approximate this sound. Eastern, Western and Northern Samar have different accents in the same dialect, and should be studied further to explore this phoneme group.

Sound files[edit]

Several sound files of Swedish, Scottish English and Faroese ingressive speech can be downloaded from Robert Eklund's Ingressive Speech site: Spectrograms are also found there.


  1. ^ Laver (1994) Principles of Phonetics, p. 169
  2. ^ The diacritic is acually centered in x-height rather than resting on the baseline.
  3. ^ "Airstream Mechanisms" (PDF). Department of Linguistics. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 20, 2010. Retrieved July 19, 2016. 
  4. ^ Poyatos, Fernando (2002). Nonverbal Communication across Disciplines: Volume 2: Paralanguage, kinesics, silence, personal and environmental interaction. John Benjamins Publishing. p. 162. ISBN 9789027297112. 
  5. ^ Robert Eklund (2008): Pulmonic ingressive phonation: Diachronic and synchronic characteristics, distribution and function in animal and human sound production and in human speech, Journal of the International Phonetic Association, vol. 38, no. 3, pp. 235–324.
  6. ^ Bird, Lindsay (Oct 16, 2016). "An Atlantic Canadian speech pattern, explained 'Ingressive pulmonic speech' used only in a few parts of the world". CBC News. Retrieved 17 October 2016. 
  7. ^ Gee, Oliver (8 January 2015). "Is this the strangest sound in Swedish?". Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  8. ^ Cfr. third and fourth acceptions

External links[edit]