Palatal approximant

The voiced palatal approximant is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is j. The equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is j, and in the Americanist phonetic notation it is y. Because the English name of the letter J, jay, does not start with j, this approximant is sometimes called yod instead, as in the phonological history terms yod-dropping and yod-coalescence.

The palatal approximant is the semivocalic equivalent of the close front unrounded vowel [i]. The two are almost identical featurally. They alternate with each other in certain languages, such as French, and in the diphthongs of some languages, j and with the non-syllabic diacritic are used in different transcription systems to represent the same sound.

In the writing systems used for most of the languages of Central, Northern and Eastern Europe, the letter j denotes the palatal approximant, as in German Jahr 'year'. This is the IPA usage, and although it may be counter-intuitive for English speakers, it does occur with this sound in a few English words, such as hallelujah and Jägermeister.

In grammars of Ancient Greek, the palatal approximant, which was lost early in the history of Greek, is sometimes written as ι̯ (iota with the inverted breve below, the non-syllabic diacritic or marker of a semivowel).


    Features of the palatal approximant:

    • Its manner of articulation is approximant, which means it is produced by narrowing the vocal tract at the place of articulation, but not enough to produce a turbulent airstream. The type of approximant is glide or semivowel. The term glide emphasizes the characteristic of movement (or 'glide') of /j/ from the /i/ vowel position to a following vowel position. The term semivowel emphasizes that, although the sound is vocalic in nature, it is not 'syllabic' (it does not form the nucleus of a syllable).
    • Its place of articulation is palatal, which means it is articulated with the middle or back part of the tongue raised to the hard palate.
    • Its phonation is voiced, which means the vocal cords vibrate during the articulation.
    • It is an oral consonant, which means air is allowed to escape through the mouth only.
    • It is a central consonant, which means it is produced by directing the airstream along the center of the tongue, rather than to the sides.
    • The airstream mechanism is pulmonic, which means it is articulated by pushing air solely with the lungs and diaphragm, as in most sounds.


    Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
    Adyghe ятӀэ  [jatʼa]  'dirt'
    Arabic Standard يوم [jawm] 'day' See Arabic phonology
    Assyrian Neo-Aramaic yama [ja:ma] 'ocean'
    Armenian Eastern յուղ [juʁ] 'fat'
    Afrikaans ja [jaː] 'yes'
    Azerbaijani yuxu [juxu] 'dream'
    Basque bai [baj] 'yes'
    Bulgarian майка/mayka [ˈmajkɐ] 'mother'
    Catalan seient [səˈjen] 'seat' See Catalan phonology
    Chechen ялх/yalx [jalx] 'six'
    Chinese Cantonese /jat9 [jɐt˨ʔ] 'day' See Cantonese phonology
    Mandarin /yā [ja˥] 'duck' See Mandarin phonology
    Corsican ghjesgia [ˈjeːʒa] 'church' Also occurs in the Gallurese dialect
    Czech je [jɛ] 'is' See Czech phonology
    Danish jeg [jä] 'I' See Danish phonology
    Dutch jaar [jäːr] 'year' See Dutch phonology
    English you [juː] 'you' See English phonology
    Esperanto jaro [jaro] 'year' See Esperanto phonology
    Finnish jalka [ˈjɑlkɑ] 'leg' See Finnish phonology
    French yeux [jø] 'eyes' See French phonology
    German Joch [jɔx] 'yoke' See German phonology
    Hebrew ילד [ˈjeled] 'boy' See Modern Hebrew phonology
    Hindustani Hindi यान [jɑːn] 'vehicle' See Hindustani phonology
    Hungarian játék [jaːteːk] 'game' See Hungarian phonology
    Kabardian йи [ji] 'game'
    Irish ghearrfadh [ˈjɑːɾˠhəx] 'would cut' See Irish phonology
    Italian ione [ˈjoːne] 'ion' See Italian phonology
    Japanese 焼く/yaku [jaku͍] 'to bake' See Japanese phonology
    Korean 야구/yagu [ˈjaːɡu] 'baseball' See Korean phonology
    Macedonian крај [kraj] 'end' See Macedonian phonology
    Malay sayang [sajaŋ] 'love'
    Marathi [jəʃ] 'success'
    Norwegian Standard Eastern gi [jiː] 'to give' May be a fricative [ʝ] instead. See Norwegian phonology
    Polish jutro    'tomorrow' See Polish phonology
    Portuguese All dialects ia [ˈbɔj.jɐ] 'buoy', 'float' Allophone of both /i/ and /ʎ/, as well as a very common epenthetic sound before coda sibilants in some dialects. See Portuguese phonology
    Some dialects os olhos [ujˈzɔj.ju] 'the eyes'
    Punjabi ਯਾਰ [jäːɾ] 'friend'
    Romanian iar [jar] 'again' See Romanian phonology
    Russian я/ya [ja] 'I' See Russian phonology
    Spanish viuda [ˈbjuð̞ä] 'widow' Both non-syllabic /i/ and intervocalic /ʝ/ are approximants, though speakers may still contrast the two. See Spanish phonology
    Swedish jag [ˈjɑːɡ] 'I' See Swedish phonology
    Turkish yol [joɫ] 'way' See Turkish phonology
    Turkmen ýüpek [jypek] 'silk'
    Ubykh [ajəwʃqʼa] 'you did it' See Ubykh phonology
    Ukrainian їжак/jižak [jiˈʒɑk] 'hedgehog' See Ukrainian phonology
    Vietnamese de [jɛ] 'cinnamon' Southern dialects. Corresponds to northern /z/. See Vietnamese phonology
    West Frisian jas [jɔs] 'coat'
    Zapotec Tilquiapan yan [jaŋ] 'neck'

    See also



    • Carbonell, Joan F.; Llisterri, Joaquim (1992), "Catalan", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 22 (1–2): 53–56, doi:10.1017/S0025100300004618 
    • Dum-Tragut, Jasmine (2009), Armenian: Modern Eastern Armenian, Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company 
    • Jassem, Wiktor (2003), "Polish", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 33 (1): 103–107, doi:10.1017/S0025100303001191 
    • Kristoffersen, Gjert (2000), The Phonology of Norwegian, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-823765-5 
    • Martínez-Celdrán, Eugenio; Fernández-Planas, Ana Ma.; Carrera-Sabaté, Josefina (2003), "Castilian Spanish", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 33 (2): 255–259, doi:10.1017/S0025100303001373 
    • Merrill, Elizabeth (2008), "Tilquiapan Zapotec", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 38 (1): 107–114, doi:10.1017/S0025100308003344 
    • Ó Sé, Diarmuid (2000), Gaeilge Chorca Dhuibhne (in Irish), Dublin: Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann, ISBN 0-946452-97-0 
    • Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920), A Greek Grammar for Colleges, Calvin College Library 
    • Rogers, Derek; d'Arcangeli, Luciana (2004), "Italian", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 34 (1): 117–121, doi:10.1017/S0025100304001628 
    • Thelwall, Robin; Sa'Adeddin, M. Akram (1990), "Arabic", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 20 (2): 37–41, doi:10.1017/S0025100300004266 
    • Vanvik, Arne (1979), Norsk fonetikk, Oslo: Universitetet i Oslo, ISBN 82-990584-0-6