Alveolar consonant

Tongue shape
Places of articulation (passive & active):
1. Exo-labial, 2. Endo-labial, 3. Dental, 4. Alveolar, 5. Post-alveolar, 6. Pre-palatal, 7. Palatal, 8. Velar, 9. Uvular, 10. Pharyngeal, 11. Glottal, 12. Epiglottal, 13. Radical, 14. Postero-dorsal, 15. Antero-dorsal, 16. Laminal, 17. Apical, 18. Sub-apical

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 superior teeth. Alveolar consonants may be articulated with the tip of the tongue (so-called 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 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 characteristic timbre.

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 ([s̪, t̪, n̪, l̪], etc.) may be used for a dental consonant, or the under-bar ([s̠, t̠, n̠, l̠], etc.) may be used for the postalveolars. Note that [s̪] differs from dental [θ] in that the former is a sibilant and the latter is not. [s̠] 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 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: [s͇, t͇, n͇, l͇], etc., though that could also mean extra-retracted. 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 [p͇, b͇, m͇, f͇, v͇], where the lower lip contacts the alveolar ridge.)

    Alveolar consonants in IPA

    Alveolar consonants are transcribed in the IPA as follows:

    IPA Description Example
    Language Orthography IPA Meaning in English
    alveolar nasal English run [ɹʷʌn] run
    voiceless alveolar stop English stop [stɑp] stop
    voiced alveolar stop English debt [dɛt] debt
    voiceless alveolar fricative English suit [suːt] suit
    voiced alveolar fricative English zoo [zuː] zoo
    voiceless alveolar affricate German Zeit [t͡saɪt] time
    voiced alveolar affricate Italian zaino d͡zaino] backpack
    voiceless alveolar lateral fricative Welsh llwyd [ɬʊɪd] grey
    voiced alveolar lateral fricative Zulu dlala ɮálà] to play
    t͡ɬ voiceless alveolar lateral affricate Tsez элIни [ˈʔe̞t͡ɬni] winter
    d͡ɮ voiced alveolar lateral affricate Oowekyala [example needed]
    alveolar approximant English red [ɹʷɛd] red
    alveolar lateral approximant English loop [lup] loop
    velarized alveolar lateral approximant English milk [mɪɫk] milk
    alveolar flap English better [bɛɾɚ] better
    alveolar lateral flap Venda [vuɺa] to open
    alveolar trill Spanish perro [pero] dog
    alveolar ejective Georgian [ia] tulip
    alveolar ejective fricative Amharic [ɛɡa] grace
    alveolar lateral ejective fricative Adyghe плӀы [pɬ’ə] four
    voiced alveolar implosive Vietnamese đã [ɗɐː] Past tense indicator
    alveolar lateral click release (many distinct consonants) Nama ǁî [ǁĩː] discussed

    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 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], though it has a lateral alveolar approximant /l/. (Samoan words written with the letters t and n are pronounced with [k] and [ŋ] except in formal speech.) In Standard Hawaiian, [t] is an allophone of /k/, but /l/ and /n/ are present.

    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: m͇ p͇ b͇ f͇ v͇.

    See also