Voiced labial–velar approximant

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Voiced labial–velar approximant
IPA Number170
Audio sample
Entity (decimal)w
Unicode (hex)U+0077
Braille⠺ (braille pattern dots-2456)
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 intercostal muscles and abdominal muscles, as in most sounds.


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Abkhaz ауаҩы/auaòy [awaˈɥə] 'human' See Abkhaz phonology
Alemannic Bernese German Giel [ɡ̊iə̯w] 'boy' Allophone of [l]
Arabic Modern Standard[3] وَرْد/ward [ward] 'rose' See Arabic phonology
Assamese ৱাশ্বিংটন/Washington [waʃiŋtɔn] 'Washington'
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'
Breton nav [ˈnaw] 'nine'
Bulgarian Colloquial лопата/lopata [wo'patɐ] 'shovel' Contemporary pronunciation of /ɫ/, an ongoing sound change. See Bulgarian phonology.
Pernik dialects This dialect has a long-standing tradition of pronouncing /ɫ/ as /w/, similar to the Polish language. Independent of the similar sound change happening in the standard language.
Standard Bulgarian уиски/uiski ['wisk̟i] 'whiskey' Appears in borrowings. See Bulgarian phonology
Catalan[4] quart [ˈkwɑɾt] 'fourth' Post-lexically after /k/ and /ɡ/. See Catalan phonology
Chinese Cantonese /waat [wɑːt̚˧] 'dig' See Cantonese phonology
Mandarin /wā [wa̠˥] See Mandarin phonology
Danish hav [hɑw] 'ocean' Allophone of [v]
Dutch Colloquial kouwe [ˈkʌu̯wə] 'cold' Lenited allophone of /d/ after /ʌu̯/. See Dutch phonology
Standard Surinamese welp [wɛɫp] 'cub' May also occur in this context in some continental Dutch accents and/or dialects.[5][6] Corresponds to [ʋ] in most of the Netherlands and to [β̞] in Belgium and (southern) parts of the Netherlands. See Dutch phonology
English weep [wiːp] 'weep' See English phonology
French[7] oui [wi] 'yes' See French phonology
German Quelle [kweːlə] 'source' Some regions[citation needed]
Hawaiian[8] wikiwiki [wikiwiki] 'fast' May also be realized as [v]. See Hawaiian phonology
Hebrew Mizrahi כּוֹחַ/kowaḥ [ˈkowaħ] 'power' See Modern Hebrew phonology
Hindustani[9] Hindi विश्वा [ʋɪʃwaːs] 'believe' See Hindustani phonology
Urdu وشواس
Irish vóta [ˈwoːt̪ˠə] 'vote' See Irish phonology
Italian[10] uomo [ˈwɔːmo] 'man' See Italian phonology
Kabardian уэ/wǎ [wa] 'you'
Kazakh ауа/aua [awa] 'air'
Korean 왜가리/waegari [wɛɡɐɾi] 'heron' See Korean phonology
Luxembourgish[11] zwee [t͡swe̝ː] 'two' Allophone of /v/ after /k, t͡s, ʃ/.[12] See Luxembourgish phonology
Malay wang [waŋ] 'money'
Malayalam ഉവ്വ് [uwːɨ̆] 'Yes' Some dialects.
Mayan Yucatec witz [wit͡s] 'mountain'
Nepali हावा [ɦäwä] 'wind' See Nepali phonology
Odia[13] ଅଗ୍ରୱାଲ୍/agrawāl [ɔgɾɔwäl] 'Agrawal'
Pashto ﻭﺍﺭ/war [wɑr] 'one time'
Persian Dari وَرزِش/warziš [warzɪʃ] 'sport' may approach /ʋ/ in some regional dialects.
Iranian Persian نَو/naw [now] 'new' Only as a diphthong or colloquially.
Polish[14] łaska [ˈwäskä] 'grace' See Polish phonology. Corresponds to [ɫ] in older pronunciation and eastern dialects
Portuguese[15] 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.[16]
General Brazilian qual [ˈkwaw] 'which' Allophone of /l/ in coda position for most Brazilian dialects.[15]
Romanian dulău [d̪uˈl̪əw] 'mastiff' See Romanian phonology
Russian волк/volk [wou̯k] 'wolf' Southern dialects.
Serbo-Croatian Croatian[17] vuk [wûːk] 'wolf' Allophone of /ʋ/ before /u/.[17] See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Seri cmiique [ˈkw̃ĩːkːɛ] 'person' Allophone of /m/
Slovene[18][19] cerkev [ˈt͡sèːrkəw] 'church' Allophone of /ʋ/ in the syllable coda.[18][19] Voiceless [ʍ] before voiceless consonants. See Slovene phonology
Sotho sewa [ˈsewa] 'epidemic' See Sesotho phonology
Svan უ̂ენ/ḳwen [kʼwen] 'marten'
Spanish[20] cuanto [ˈkwãn̪t̪o̞] 'as much' See Spanish phonology
Swahili mwanafunzi [mwɑnɑfunzi] 'student'
Swedish Central Standard[21] 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'
Vietnamese[22] tuần [t̪wən˨˩] 'week' See Vietnamese phonology
Ukrainian любов [lʲubɔw] 'love' See Ukrainian 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. ^ "Recording dialect from Egmond aan Zee (Bergen), North Holland)". www.meertens.knaw.nl. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  6. ^ "Recording and video from dialect of Katwijk, South Holland". YouTube. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  7. ^ Fougeron & Smith (1993), p. 75.
  8. ^ Pukui & Elbert (1986), p. xvii.
  9. ^ Ladefoged (2005), p. 141.
  10. ^ Rogers & d'Arcangeli (2004), p. 117.
  11. ^ Gilles & Trouvain (2013), pp. 67, 69.
  12. ^ Gilles & Trouvain (2013), p. 69.
  13. ^ Masica (1991), p. 107.
  14. ^ Jassem (2003), p. 103.
  15. ^ a b Barbosa & Albano (2004), p. 230.
  16. ^ France (2004).
  17. ^ a b Landau et al. (1999), p. 68.
  18. ^ a b Šuštaršič, Komar & Petek (1999), p. 136.
  19. ^ a b Greenberg (2006), p. 18.
  20. ^ Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003), p. 256.
  21. ^ Engstrand (2004), p. 167.
  22. ^ Thompson (1959), pp. 458–461.


External links[edit]