Alveolar Consonant
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Alveolar Consonant

Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli (the sockets) of the upper teeth. Alveolar consonants may be articulated with the tip of the tongue (the apical consonants), as in English, or with the flat of the tongue just above the tip (the "blade" of the tongue; called laminal consonants), as in French and Spanish.

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) does not have separate symbols for the alveolar consonants. Rather, the same symbol is used for all coronal places of articulation that are not palatalized like English palato-alveolar sh, or retroflex. To disambiguate, the bridge ([s?, t?, n?, l?], etc.) may be used for a dental consonant, or the under-bar ([s?, t?, n?, l?], etc.) may be used for the postalveolars. [s?] differs from dental [?] in that the former is a sibilant and the latter is not. [s?] differs from postalveolar [?] 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 of articulation 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: [s?, t?, n?, l?], etc., though that could also mean extra-retracted.[1] The letters ⟨s, t, n, l⟩ 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 [p?, b?, m?, f?, v?], where the lower lip contacts the alveolar ridge.)


Alveolar consonants are transcribed in the IPA as follows:

IPA Description Example
Language Orthography IPA Meaning in English
Xsampa-n.png alveolar nasal English run [n]
Xsampa-t.png voiceless alveolar stop English stop [st?p]
Xsampa-d.png voiced alveolar stop English debt [d?t]
Xsampa-s.png voiceless alveolar fricative English suit [su:t]
Xsampa-z.png voiced alveolar fricative English zoo [zu:]
Xsampa-ts.png voiceless alveolar affricate English pizza [pit?s?]
Xsampa-dz.png voiced alveolar affricate Italian zaino ['d?zaino] backpack
Xsampa-K2.png voiceless alveolar lateral fricative Welsh llwyd [?d] grey
Xsampa-Kslash.png voiced alveolar lateral fricative Zulu dlala ['?álà] to play
t voiceless alveolar lateral affricate Tsez ??I ['?e?tni] winter
d voiced alveolar lateral affricate ? ? ? ?
Xsampa-rslash2.png alveolar approximant English red [??d]
Xsampa-l.png alveolar lateral approximant English loop [lup]
Xsampa-l eor5.png velarized alveolar lateral approximant English milk [m??k]
Xsampa-4.png alveolar flap English better [b???]
Xsampa-lslash.png alveolar lateral flap Venda [vu?a] to open
Xsampa-r.png alveolar trill Spanish perro [pero] dog
IPA alveolar ejective.png alveolar ejective Georgian ???? [t'it'a] tulip
IPA alveolar ejective fricative.png alveolar ejective fricative Amharic ?? [s'a]
Alveolar lateral ejective fricative2.PNG alveolar lateral ejective fricative Adyghe ?? [p?'?]
Xsampa-d lessthan.png voiced alveolar implosive Vietnamese ?ã [??:] Past tense indicator
Xsampa-exclamationslash.png apical alveolar click release (many distinct consonants) Nama !oas [??oas] hollow
Xsampa-doublebarslash.png alveolar lateral click release (many distinct consonants) Nama ?î [?:] discussed

Lack of alveolars

The alveolar or dental consonants [t] and [n] are, along with [k], the most common consonants in human languages.[2] Nonetheless, there are a few languages that lack them. A few languages on Bougainville Island and around Puget Sound, such as Makah, lack nasals and therefore [n], but have [t]. Colloquial Samoan, however, lacks both [t] and [n], but it has a lateral alveolar approximant /l/. (Samoan words written with t and n are pronounced with [k] and [?] in colloquial speech.) In Standard Hawaiian, [t] is an allophone of /k/, but /l/ and /n/ exist.

Labioalveolar consonants

In labioalveolars, the lower lip contacts the alveolar ridge. Such sounds are typically the result of a severe overbite. In the Extensions to the IPA for disordered speech, they are transcribed with the alveolar diacritic on labial letters: ⟨m? p? b? f? v?⟩.

See also


  1. ^ E.g. in Laver (1994) Principles of Phonetics, p. 559-560
  2. ^ Ian Maddieson and Sandra Ferrari Disner, 1984, Patterns of Sounds. Cambridge University Press


  • Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-631-19815-4.

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