Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue
against or close to the superior alveolar
ridge, which is called that because it contains the
(the sockets) of the superior teeth. Alveolar consonants
may be articulated with the tip of the tongue (so-called
consonants), as in English, or with the flat of the
tongue just above the tip (the "blade" of the tongue;
consonants), as in French and Spanish. The laminal
alveolar articulation is often mistakenly called dental,
because the tip of the tongue can be seen near to or touching
the teeth. However, it is the rearmost point of contact
that defines the place of articulation; this is where
the oral cavity ends, and it is the resonant space of
the oral cavity that gives consonants and vowels their
Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) does not have separate symbols
for the alveolar consonants. Rather, the same symbol is
used for all coronal
places of articulation which aren't palatalized
like English palato-alveolar
sh, or retroflex.
To disambiguate, the bridge ([s̪,
t̪, n̪, l̪], etc.) may be
used for a dental consonant, or the under-bar
t̠, n̠, l̠], etc.) may be
used for the postalveolars.
Note that [s̪]
differs from dental [θ]
in being a sibilant,
rather than a thibilant.
differs from postalveolar [ʃ]
in being unpalatalized.
The bare letters [s,
t, n, l], etc. cannot be assumed to specifically
represent alveolars. The language may not make such distinctions,
such that two or more coronal places
are found allophonically,
or the transcription may simply be too broad to distinguish
dental from alveolar. If it is necessary to specify a
consonant as alveolar, a diacritic from the Extended
IPA may be used: [s͇,
t͇, n͇, l͇], etc.. Nonetheless,
the symbols <s, t, n, l> themselves are frequently
called 'alveolar', and the language examples below are
all alveolar sounds.
(The Extended IPA diacritic was devised for speech
pathology and is frequently used to mean 'alveolarized',
as in the labioalveolar sounds [p͇,
b͇, m͇, f͇, v͇], where the
lower lip contacts the alveolar ridge.)
Alveolar consonants in IPA
The alveolar/coronal consonants identified by the IPA
Lack of alveolars
The alveolar or dental consonants [t] and [n] are, along
with [k], the most common consonants in human languages.
Nonetheless, there are a few languages which lack them.
A few languages on Bougainville
Island and around Puget
Sound, such as Makah,
lack nasals and therefore [n],
but have [t].
however, lacks both [t]
though it has a lateral
alveolar approximant [l].
(Samoan words written with the letters t and n
are pronounced with [k]
except in formal speech.)
This table contains phonetic
information in IPA,
which may not display correctly in some browsers.
Where symbols appear in pairs, the one to the right
represents a voiced
consonant. Shaded areas denote pulmonic articulations
judged to be impossible.