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Language: Linguistics · Semiotics · Speech

Places of articulation

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, known also 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. They often become automatically fronted, that is partly or completely palatal before a following front vowel, and retracted 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 [w], since labialization involves adding of a labial approximant articulation to a sound, and this ambiguous situation is often called labiovelar.

The velar consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:

IPA Description Example
Language Orthography IPA Meaning
File:Xsampa-N2.png velar nasal English ring [ɹʷɪTemplate:IPA bold dark red] ring
File:Xsampa-k.png voiceless velar plosive English skip [sTemplate:IPA bold dark redɪp] skip
File:Xsampa-g.png voiced velar plosive English get [Template:IPA bold dark redɛt] get
File:Xsampa-x.png voiceless velar fricative German Bauch [baʊTemplate:IPA bold dark red] abdomen
File:Xsampa-G2.png voiced velar fricative Greek γάτα [Template:IPA bold dark redata] cat
File:Xsampa-X.png voiceless labio-velar approximant English which[1] [Template:IPA bold dark redɪtʃ] which
File:Xsampa-Mslash.png velar approximant Spanish pagar[2] [paTemplate:IPA bold dark redaɾ] to pay
File:Xsampa-Lslash.png velar lateral approximant Mid-Wahgi aʟaʟe [aTemplate:IPA bold dark redaTemplate:IPA bold dark rede] dizzy
File:Xsampa-w2.png voiced labio-velar approximant English witch [Template:IPA bold dark redɪtʃ] witch
velar ejective plosive Archi кIан [Template:IPA bold dark redan] bottom
ɠ voiced velar implosive Sindhi əro/ڳرو [Template:IPA bold dark redəro] heavy

A velar trill or tap is not possible - see the shaded boxes on the consonant table at the bottom. In the velar position the tongue has an extremely restricted ability to carry out the type of motion associated with trills or taps. Nor does the body of the tongue have the freedom to move quickly enough to produce a velar trill or flap.[3]

Lack of velars

The velar consonant [k] is the most common consonant in human languages.[4] The only languages recorded to lack velars—indeed, to lack any dorsal consonant at all—may be Xavante and Tahitian. However, there are other languages that lack simple velars. An areal feature of the Pacific Northwest coast is that historical *k has become palatalized in many languages, in many languages becoming [kʲ], but, in others, such as Saanich, Salish, and Chemakun becoming [tʃ]. (Likewise, historical *k’ has become [tʃʼ] and historical *x has become [ʃ]; there was no *g or *ŋ.) However, all three languages retain a labiovelar series [kʷ], [kʼʷ], [xʷ], [w], as well as a uvular series.

Apart from [ɡ], none of the other velars are particularly common, not even [w] and [ŋ], which occur in English. Of course, [ɡ] does not occur in languages that lack voiced stops, like Mandarin Chinese, 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], such as Modern Standard Arabic, are missing [ɡ].[5]

The Pirahã language 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]; the sound spelled k tends toward [k] at the beginnings of utterances, [t] before [i], and is variable elsewhere, especially in the dialect of Niʻihau and Kauaʻi. Since Hawaiian has no [ŋ], and w similarly varies between [w] and labial [v], it is not clear that it is meaningful to say that Hawaiian has velar consonants.


  1. In dialects that distinguish between which and witch.
  2. Intervocalic g in Spanish often described instead as a very lightly articulated voiced velar fricative.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
  3. The International phonetic Alphabet
  4. Ian Maddieson and Sandra Ferrari Disner, 1984, Patterns of Sounds. Cambridge University Press
  5. The World Atlas of Language Structures Online:Voicing and Gaps in Plosive Systems


See also

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