Voiced labial–velar approximant

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Voiced labial–velar approximant
IPA Number170
Entity (decimal)w
Unicode (hex)U+0077
Braille⠺ (braille pattern dots-2456)
Audio sample
Compressed labial–velar approximant

The voiced labial–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⟩, or rarely [ɰʷ], and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is w. In most languages it is the semivocalic counterpart of the close back rounded vowel [u]. 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]

Some languages have a voiced labial–prevelar approximant,[a] which is more fronted than the place of articulation of the prototypical voiced labialized velar approximant, though not as front as the prototypical labialized palatal approximant.


Features of the voiced labial–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/auaòy [awaˈɥə] 'human' See Abkhaz phonology
Adyghe оды/ody About this sound[wadə]  'thin'
Arabic Modern Standard[3] وَرْد‎/ward [ward] 'rose' See Arabic phonology
Assamese ৱাশ্বিংটন/washington [waʃiŋtɔn] 'Washington'
Assyrian ܟܬܒ̣ܐ ctava [ctaːwa] 'book' Most speakers. [v] and [ʋ] are used in the Urmia dialects.
Basque lau [law] 'four'
Belarusian воўк/voŭk [vɔwk] 'wolf' See Belarusian phonology
Bengali ওয়াদা/uada [wada] 'promise' Allophone of [o] and [u] when preceding a vowel word-initially. See Bengali phonology
Berber ⴰⵍ/awal [æwæl] 'speech'
Catalan[4] quart [ˈkwɑɾt] 'fourth' Post-lexically after /k/ and /ɡ/. See Catalan phonology
Chinese Cantonese /waat About this sound[wɑːt̚˧] 'dig' See Cantonese phonology
Mandarin /wā About this sound[wa̠˥] See Mandarin phonology
Dutch Colloquial kouwe [ˈkʌu̯wə] 'cold' Lenited allophone of /d/ after /ʌu̯/. See Dutch phonology
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
Esperanto aŭto ['awto] 'car' See Esperanto 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 כּוֹחַ‎/kowaḥ [ˈkowaħ] 'power' See Modern Hebrew phonology
Hindustani[7] Hindi विश्वा [ʋɪʃwaːs] 'believe' See Hindustani phonology
Urdu وشواس
Irish vóta [ˈwoːt̪ˠə] 'vote' See Irish phonology
Italian[8] uomo [ˈwɔːmo] 'man' See Italian phonology
Kabardian уэ/wǎ About this sound[wa]  'you'
Korean 왜가리/waegari [wɛɡɐɾi] 'heron' See Korean phonology
Luxembourgish[9] zwee [t͡swe̝ː] 'two' Allophone of /v/ after /k, t͡s, ʃ/.[10] See Luxembourgish phonology
Malay wang [waŋ] 'money'
Mayan Yucatec witz [wit͡s] 'mountain'
Nepali हावा [ɦäwä] 'wind' See Nepali phonology
Odia[11] ଅଗ୍ରୱାଲ୍/agrawāl [ɔgɾɔwäl] 'Agrawal'
Pashto ﻭﺍﺭ‎/war [wɑr] 'one time'
Polish[12] łaska About this sound[ˈwäskä]  'grace' See Polish phonology. Corresponds to [ɫ] in older pronunciation and eastern dialects
Portuguese[13] Most dialects quando [ˈkwɐ̃du] 'when' Post-lexically after /k/ and /ɡ/. See Portuguese phonology
boa [ˈbow.wɐ] 'good' (f.) Epenthetic glide or allophone of /u/, following a stressed rounded vowel and preceding an unrounded one.[14]
General Brazilian qual [ˈkwaw] 'which' Allophone of /l/ in coda position for most Brazilian dialects.[13]
Romanian dulău [d̪uˈl̪əw] 'mastiff' See Romanian phonology
Serbo-Croatian Croatian[15] vuk [wûːk] 'wolf' Allophone of /ʋ/ before /u/.[15] See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Seri cmiique [ˈkw̃ĩːkːɛ] 'person' Allophone of /m/
Slovene[16][17] cerkev [ˈt͡sèːrkəw] 'church' Allophone of /ʋ/ in the syllable coda.[16][17] Voiceless [ʍ] before voiceless consonants. See Slovene phonology
Sotho sewa [ˈsewa] 'epidemic' See Sesotho phonology
Spanish[18] cuanto [ˈkwãn̪t̪o̞] 'as much' See Spanish phonology
Swahili mwanafunzi [mwɑnɑfunzi] 'student'
Swedish Central Standard[19] [example needed] Labialized approximant consonant; allophone of /ɡ/ in casual speech before the protruded vowels /ɔ, oː/. See Swedish phonology
Tagalog araw [ˈɐɾaw] 'day' See Tagalog phonology
Thai แห /waen [wɛn˩˩˦] 'ring'
Ukrainian вовк/voŭk [vɔwk] 'wolf' See Ukrainian phonology
Vietnamese[20] tuần [t̪wən˨˩] 'week' See Vietnamese phonology
Welsh gwae [ɡwaɨ] 'woe' See Welsh phonology
West Frisian skowe [skoːwə] 'to shove'

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Instead of "pre-velar", it can be called "advanced velar", "fronted velar", "front-velar", "palato-velar", "post-palatal", "retracted palatal" or "backed palatal".
  1. ^ Guidelines for Transcription of English Consonants and Vowels (PDF); see the examples on the fifth page.
  2. ^ Ohala & Lorentz (1977), p. 577.
  3. ^ Watson (2002), p. 13.
  4. ^ Carbonell & Llisterri (1992), p. 55.
  5. ^ Fougeron & Smith (1993), p. 75.
  6. ^ Pukui & Elbert (1986), p. xvii.
  7. ^ Ladefoged (2005), p. 141.
  8. ^ Rogers & d'Arcangeli (2004), p. 117.
  9. ^ Gilles & Trouvain (2013), pp. 67, 69.
  10. ^ Gilles & Trouvain (2013), p. 69.
  11. ^ Masica (1991), p. 107.
  12. ^ Jassem (2003), p. 103.
  13. ^ a b Barbosa & Albano (2004), p. 230.
  14. ^ France (2004).
  15. ^ a b Landau et al. (1999), p. 68.
  16. ^ a b Šuštaršič, Komar & Petek (1999), p. 136.
  17. ^ a b Greenberg (2006), p. 18.
  18. ^ Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003), p. 256.
  19. ^ Engstrand (2004), p. 167.
  20. ^ Thompson (1959), pp. 458–461.


External links[edit]