Fricatives are consonants
produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made
by placing two articulators
close together. These may be the lower lip
against the upper teeth,
in the case of [f];
the back of the tongue
against the soft
palate, in the case of German
the final consonant of Bach;
or the side of the tongue against the molars,
in the case of Welsh
appearing twice in the name Llanelli.
This turbulent airflow is called frication. A particular
subset of fricatives are the sibilants.
When forming a sibilant, one still is forcing air through
a narrow channel, but in addition the tongue is curled
lengthwise to direct the air over the edge of the teeth.
are examples of this.
Two other terms are spirant and strident,
but their usage is less standardized. The former can be
used synonymously with "fricative", or (as in e.g. Uralic
linguistics) to refer to non-sibilant fricatives only.
The latter can be used synonymously with "sibilant", but
some authors include also labiodental
fricatives in the class.
but may be dental,
within that range. However, at the postalveolar place
of articulation the tongue may take several shapes: domed,
and each of these is given a separate symbol and a separate
name. Prototypical retroflexes are sub-apical
and palatal, but they are usually written with the same
symbol as the apical postalveolars. The alveolars and
dentals may also be either apical or laminal, but this
difference is indicated with diacritics rather than with
Central non-sibilant fricatives
The most familiar lateral fricative is the ll
as in Lloyd,
and the town of Machynlleth
Symbols used for both fricatives
No language distinguishes voiced fricatives from approximants
at these places, so the same symbol is used for both.
For the pharyngeals and epiglottals, approximants are
more numerous than fricatives. A fricative realization
may be specified by adding the uptack
to the letters, [ʁ̝,
ʕ̝, ʢ̝]. Likewise, the downtack
may be added to specify an approximant realization, [ʁ̞,
approximant and dental
approximant do not have dedicated symbols either and
are transcribed in a similar fashion: [β̞,
ð̞]. The base letters are however understood
to specifically refer to the fricatives.)
In many languages, such as English, the glottal "fricatives"
are unaccompanied phonation
states of the glottis, without any accompanying manner,
fricative or otherwise. However, in languages such as
Arabic, they are true fricatives.
In addition, [ʍ]
is usually called a "voiceless
labial-velar fricative", but it is actually an approximant.
True doubly-articulated fricatives may not occur in any
language; but see voiceless
palatal-velar fricative for a putative (and rather
of consonants for a table of fricatives in English.
may be the language with the most fricatives (twenty-seven
in all), some of which do not have symbols or diacritics
in the IPA. This number actually outstrips the number
of all consonants in English (which has 24 consonants).
By contrast, approximately 8.7% of the world's languages
display no phonemic fricatives at all .
This is a typical feature of Australian
Aboriginal languages, where the few fricatives that
exist result from changes to plosives
but also occurs in some indigenous languages of New
Guinea and South America that have especially small
numbers of consonants. However, whereas [h]
is entirely unknown in indigenous Australian languages,
most of the other languages without true fricatives do
in their consonant inventory.
Voicing contrasts in fricatives are largely confined
to Europe, Africa and Western Asia. Languages of South
and East Asia, such as the Dravidian
languages, typically do not have such voiced fricatives
which are very familiar to European speakers. These voiced
fricatives are also relatively rare in indigenous languages
of the Americas. Overall, voicing contrasts in fricatives
are much rarer than in plosives, being found only in about
a third of the world's languages as compared to 60 percent
for plosive voicing contrasts.
About 15 percent of the world's languages, however, have
unpaired voiced fricatives, i.e. a voiced fricative
without a voiceless counterpart. Two-thirds of these,
or 10 percent of all languages, have unpaired voiced fricatives
but no voicing contrast between any fricative pair.
This phenomenon occurs because voiced fricatives have
developed from lenition
of plosives or fortition
of approximants. This phenomenon of unpaired voiced fricatives
is scattered throughout the world, but is confined to
nonsibilant fricatives with the exception of a couple
of languages which have [ʒ]
but lack [ʃ].
(Relatedly, several languages have the voiced
but lack [tʃ].)
The fricatives which occur most often without a voiceless
counterpart are, in order of ratio of unpaired occurrences
to total occurrences, [ʝ],
Maddieson (1996). The Sounds of the World's
Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN
Maddieson, Ian. 2008. Absence of Common Consonants.
In: Haspelmath, Martin & Dryer, Matthew S. &
Gil, David & Comrie, Bernard (eds.) The World
Atlas of Language Structures Online. Munich: Max Planck
Digital Library, chapter 18. Available online at http://wals.info/feature/18.
Accessed on 2008-09-15.
Maddieson, Ian. "Voicing in Plosives and Fricatives",
in Martin Haspelmath et al. (eds.) The World Atlas
of Language Structures, pp. 26–29. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2005. ISBN
Maddieson, Ian. Patterns of Sounds. Cambridge
University Press, 1984. ISBN