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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 which aren't 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.. Nonetheless, the symbols <s, t, n, l> themselves 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[edit]

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 [ɹʷʌn] run
Xsampa-t.png voiceless alveolar stop English stop [stɑp] stop
Xsampa-d.png voiced alveolar stop English debt [dɛt] debt
Xsampa-s.png voiceless alveolar fricative English suit [suːt] suit
Xsampa-z.png voiced alveolar fricative English zoo [zuː] zoo
Xsampa-ts.png voiceless alveolar affricate German Zeit [t͡saɪt] time
Xsampa-dz.png voiced alveolar affricate Italian zaino d͡zaino] backpack
Xsampa-K2.png voiceless alveolar lateral fricative Welsh llwyd [ɬʊɪd] grey
Xsampa-Kslash.png 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]
Xsampa-rslash2.png alveolar approximant English red [ɹʷɛd] red
Xsampa-l.png alveolar lateral approximant English loop [lup] loop
Xsampa-l eor5.png velarized alveolar lateral approximant English milk [mɪɫk] milk
Xsampa-4.png alveolar flap English better [bɛɾɚ] better
Xsampa-lslash.png alveolar lateral flap Venda [vuɺa] to open
Xsampa-r.png alveolar trill Spanish perro [pero] dog
IPA alveolar ejective.png alveolar ejective Georgian [ia] tulip
IPA alveolar ejective fricative.png alveolar ejective fricative Amharic [ɛɡa] grace
Alveolar lateral ejective fricative2.PNG alveolar lateral ejective fricative Adyghe плӀы [pɬ’ə] four
Xsampa-d lessthan.png voiced alveolar implosive Vietnamese đã [ɗɐː] Past tense indicator
Xsampa-doublebarslash.png alveolar lateral click Nama ǁî [ǁĩː] discussed

Lack of alveolars[edit]

The alveolar or dental consonants [t] and [n] are, along with [k], the most common consonants in human languages.[1] Nonetheless, there are a few languages which 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 distinct.

Alveolar switching[edit]

Japanese speakers often mix alveolar lateral approximant sounds in other languages with alveolar approximant sounds due to a lack of alveolar lateral approximants in their own language.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ian Maddieson and Sandra Ferrari Disner, 1984, Patterns of Sounds. Cambridge University Press


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