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Velar consonant

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Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue (the dorsum) against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth (also known as the "velum").

Since the velar region of the roof of the mouth is relatively extensive and the movements of the dorsum are not very precise, velars easily undergo assimilation, shifting their articulation back or to the front depending on the quality of adjacent vowels.[1] They often become automatically fronted, that is partly or completely palatal before a following front vowel, and retracted, that is partly or completely uvular before back vowels.

Palatalised velars (like English /k/ in keen or cube) are sometimes referred to as palatovelars. Many languages also have labialized velars, such as [kʷ], in which the articulation is accompanied by rounding of the lips. There are also labial–velar consonants, which are doubly articulated at the velum and at the lips, such as [k͡p]. This distinction disappears with the approximant consonant [w] since labialization involves adding of a labial approximant articulation to a sound, and this ambiguous situation is often called labiovelar.

A velar trill or tap is not possible according to the International Phonetics Association: see the shaded boxes on the table of pulmonic consonants. In the velar position, the tongue has an extremely restricted ability to carry out the type of motion associated with trills or taps, and the body of the tongue has no freedom to move quickly enough to produce a velar trill or flap.[2]


The velar consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:

IPA Description Example
Language Orthography IPA Meaning
ŋ̊ voiceless velar nasal Burmese[3] ငှါး/nga: [ŋ̊á] 'borrow'
ŋ voiced velar nasal English ring [ɹʷɪŋ] 'ring'
k voiceless velar plosive English skip [skɪp] 'skip'
ɡ voiced velar plosive English ago ɡoʊ̯] 'ago'
k͡x voiceless velar affricate Korean /keuda [k͡xɯ̽da] 'big'
ɡ͡ɣ voiced velar affricate English[a] good ɡ͡ɣʊˑd̥] 'good'
x voiceless velar fricative German Bauch [baʊx] 'abdomen'
ɣ voiced velar fricative Greek γάτα ɣata] 'cat'
ɰ voiced velar approximant Irish naoi [n̪ˠɰiː] 'nine'
ʍ voiceless labial-velar fricative English which[b] [ʍɪtʃ] 'which'
w voiced labio-velar approximant English witch [wɪtʃ] 'witch'
k͡𝼄 (k͡ʟ̝̊) voiceless velar lateral affricate Archi[4] лӀон/ƛon [k͡𝼄on] 'a flock'
ɡ͡ʟ̝ voiced velar lateral affricate Hiw qē [kʷg​͡ʟɪ] 'dolphin'
𝼄 (ʟ̝̊) voiceless velar lateral fricative Wahgi[5] [no𝼄˩] 'water'
𝼄̬ (ʟ̝) voiced velar lateral fricative Archi[4] наӏлъдут [naˤ𝼄̬dut] 'blue'
ʟ voiced velar lateral approximant Wahgi aʟaʟe [aʟaʟe] 'dizzy'
ʟ̆ voiced velar lateral tap Melpa [example needed]
velar ejective stop Archi кӀан [an] 'bottom'
k͡xʼ velar ejective affricate Hadza dlaggwa [cʎ̝̥ʼakxʷ’a] 'to cradle'
velar ejective fricative Tlingit áa [xʼáːxʼ] 'apple'
k͡𝼄ʼ (k͡ʟ̝̊ʼ) velar lateral ejective affricate Sandawe tl’ungu [k𝼄ʼùŋɡȕ] 'sky'
ɠ̊ (ƙ) voiceless velar implosive Uspantek[6] k'aam [ɠ̊aːm] 'cord/twine'
ɠ voiced velar implosive Sindhi ڳرو/əro [ɠəro] 'heavy'
ʞ back-released velar click Wolof (paralinguistic) [ʞ] 'yes'

Lack of velars[edit]

The velar consonant [k] is the most common consonant in human languages.[7] The only languages recorded to lack velars (and any dorsal consonant at all) may be Xavante, Tahitian, and (phonologically but not phonetically) several Skou languages (Wutung, a dialect of Vanimo, and Bobe). In Pirahã, men may lack the only velar consonant.

Other languages lack simple velars. An areal feature of the indigenous languages of the Americas of the coastal regions of the Pacific Northwest is that historical *k was palatalized. When such sounds remained stops, they were transcribed ⟨⟩ in Americanist phonetic notation, presumably corresponding to IPA ⟨c⟩, but in others, such as the Saanich dialect of Coastal Salish, Salish-Spokane-Kalispel, and Chemakum, *k went further and affricated to [tʃ]. Likewise, historical *k’ has become [tʃʼ] and historical *x has become [ʃ]; there was no *g or *ŋ. In the Northwest Caucasian languages, historical *[k] has also become palatalized, becoming /kʲ/ in Ubykh and /tʃ/ in most Circassian varieties. In both regions the languages retain a labialized velar series (e.g. [kʷ], [kʼʷ], [xʷ], [w] in the Pacific Northwest) as well as uvular consonants.[8] In the languages of those families that retain plain velars, both the plain and labialized velars are pre-velar, perhaps to make them more distinct from the uvulars which may be post-velar. Prevelar consonants are susceptible to palatalization. A similar system, contrasting *kʲ with *kʷ and leaving *k marginal at best, is reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European.

Apart from the voiceless plosive [k], no other velar consonant is particularly common, even the [w] and [ŋ] that occur in English. There can be no phoneme /ɡ/ in a language that lacks voiced stops, like Mandarin Chinese,[c] but it is sporadically missing elsewhere. Of the languages surveyed in the World Atlas of Language Structures, about 10% of languages that otherwise have /p b t d k/ are missing /ɡ/.[9]

Pirahã has both a [k] and a [ɡ] phonetically. However, the [k] does not behave as other consonants, and the argument has been made that it is phonemically /hi/, leaving Pirahã with only /ɡ/ as an underlyingly velar consonant.

Hawaiian does not distinguish [k] from [t]; ⟨k⟩ tends toward [k] at the beginning of utterances, [t] before [i], and is variable elsewhere, especially in the dialect of Niʻihau and Kauaʻi. Since Hawaiian has no [ŋ], and ⟨w⟩ varies between [w] and [v], it is not clearly meaningful to say that Hawaiian has phonemic velar consonants.

Several Khoisan languages have limited numbers or distributions of pulmonic velar consonants. (Their click consonants are articulated in the uvular or possibly velar region, but that occlusion is part of the airstream mechanism rather than the place of articulation of the consonant.) Khoekhoe, for example, does not allow velars in medial or final position, but in Juǀʼhoan velars are rare even in initial position.

Velodorsal consonants[edit]

Normal velar consonants are dorso-velar: The dorsum (body) of the tongue rises to contact the velum (soft palate) of the roof of the mouth. In disordered speech there are also velo-dorsal stops, with the opposite articulation: The velum lowers to contact the tongue, which remains static. In the extensions to the IPA for disordered speech, these are transcribed by reversing the IPA letter for a velar consonant, e.g. ⟨𝼃⟩ for a voiceless velodorsal stop,[d]𝼁⟩ for voiced, and ⟨𝼇⟩ for a nasal.

extIPA (html) Description
𝼃 k Voiceless velodorsal plosive
𝼁 ɡ Voiced velodorsal plosive
𝼇 ŋ Velodorsal nasal
ɰ Velodorsal approximant[e]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Occasional allophone of /ɡ/ for some speakers of Scouse, RP and Cockney.
  2. ^ In dialects that distinguish between which and witch.
  3. ^ What is written g in pinyin is /k/, though that sound does have an allophone [ɡ] in atonic syllables.
  4. ^ The old letter for a back-released velar click, turned-k ⟨ʞ⟩, was used from 2008 to 2015.
  5. ^ Not in Unicode or extIPA; unattested from disordered speech


  1. ^ Stroud, Kevin (August 2013). "Episode 5: Centum, Satem and the Letter C | The History of English Podcast". The History of English Podcast. Archived from the original on 24 August 2013. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
  2. ^ The International phonetic Alphabet
  3. ^ Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), p. 111.
  4. ^ a b "The Archi Language Tutorial" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-09-04. Retrieved 2009-12-23. (The source uses the symbol for the voiced alveolar lateral fricative, ⟨ɮ⟩, but also notes that the sound to be prevelar.)
  5. ^ Donald J. Phillips (1976). Wahgi Phonology and Morphology (PDF). B-36. Pacific Linguistics. p. 18.
  6. ^ Bennett, Ryan; Harvey, Meg; Henderson, Robert; Méndez López, Tomás Alberto (September 2022). "The phonetics and phonology of Uspanteko (Mayan)". Language and Linguistics Compass. 16 (9). doi:10.1111/lnc3.12467. ISSN 1749-818X. S2CID 252453913.
  7. ^ Ian Maddieson and Sandra Ferrari Disner, 1984, Patterns of Sounds. Cambridge University Press
  8. ^ Viacheslav A. Chirikba, 1996, Common West Caucasian: the reconstruction of its phonological system and parts of its lexicon and morphology, p. 192. Research School CNWS: Leiden.
  9. ^ The World Atlas of Language Structures Online:Voicing and Gaps in Plosive Systems

Further reading[edit]