The word guttural literally means 'of the throat' (from Latinguttur, meaning throat), and was first used by phoneticians to describe the Hebrew glottal [?] (?) and [h] (?), uvular [?] (?), and pharyngeal [?] (?).
The term is now commonly extended to include also velar consonants, which deviates from the strict etymology. As used in linguistics, such a definition includes all velar consonants, regardless of manner of articulation.
The term is also commonly used non-technically by English speakers to refer to sounds that subjectively appear harsh or grating. This definition usually includes a number of consonants that are not used in English, such as epiglottal [?] and [?], uvular [?] and [q], and velar fricatives [x] and [?]. However, it usually excludes sounds used in English, such as the velar stops [k] and [?], the velar nasal [?], and the glottal consonants [h] and [?].
In popular consciousness, languages that make extensive use of guttural consonants are considered to be guttural languages. A guttural language tends to make a sound rather "heavy" and/or "throaty". To English-speakers, guttural languages would sound strange and may be even hard on the ear of those who are used to the English pronunciation.
Examples of significant usage
Some of the languages that extensively use [x], [?], [?] and/or [q] are:
In French, the only truly guttural sound is (usually) a uvular fricative (or the guttural R). In Portuguese, [?] is becoming dominant in urban areas. There is also a realization as a [?], and the original pronunciation as an [r] also remains very common in various dialects.
In Russian, /x/ is assimilated to the palatalization of the following velar consonant: . It also has a voiced allophone?, which occurs before voiced obstruents. In Romanian, /h/ becomes the velar [x] in word-final positions (duh 'spirit') and before consonants (hrean 'horseradish'). In Czech, the phoneme /x/ followed by a voiced obstruent can be realized as either [?] or [?], e.g. abych byl .
In Kyrgyz, the consonant phoneme /k/ has a uvular realisation ([q]) in back vowel contexts. In front-vowel environments, /g/ is fricativised between continuants to [?], and in back vowel environments both /k/ and /g/ fricativise to [?] and [?] respectively. In Uyghur, the phoneme /?/ occurs with a back vowel. In the Mongolian language, /x/ is usually followed by /?/.
The Tuu and Juu (Khoisan) languages of southern Africa have large numbers of guttural vowels. These sounds share certain phonological behaviors that warrant the use of a term specifically for them. There are scattered reports of pharyngeals elsewhere, such as in the Nilo-Saharan, Tama language.
^Friedrich Maurer uses the term Istvaeonic instead of Franconian; see Friedrich Maurer (1942), Nordgermanen und Alemannen: Studien zur germanischen und frühdeutschen Sprachgeschichte, Stammes- und Volkskunde, Bern: Verlag Francke.
^Lazard, Gilbert, "Pahlavi, Pârsi, dari: Les langues d'Iran d'apès Ibn al-Muqaffa" in R.N. Frye, Iran and Islam. In Memory of the late Vladimir Minorsky, Edinburgh University Press, 1971.
^For a history of the German consonants see Fausto Cercignani, The Consonants of German: Synchrony and Diachrony, Milano, Cisalpino, 1979.
^Nichols, J. 1997 Nikolaev and Starostin's North Caucasian Etymological Dictionary and the Methodology of Long-Range Comparison: an assessment Paper presented at the 10th Biennial Non-Slavic Languages (NSL) Conference, Chicago, 8-10 May 1997.
^Row 7 in ? 6: ? ? [Appendix 6: Population of the Russian Federation by languages used] (XLS) (in Russian).