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Bilabial clicks

Labial click
IPA number 176
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Kirshenbaum p!
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Voiced labial click
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Kirshenbaum b!
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Nasal labial click
ᵑʘ ᵐʘ
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Kirshenbaum m!
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The labial or bilabial clicks are a family of click consonants that sound something like a smack of the lips. They are found as phonemes only in the small Tuu language family (currently two languages, one moribund), in the ǂHõã language of Botswana (also moribund), and in the extinct Damin ritual jargon of Australia. However, bilabial clicks are found paralinguistically for a kiss in various languages, and as allophones of labial–velar stops in some West African languages (Ladefoged 1968), as of /mw/ in some of the languages neighboring Shona, such as Ndau and Tonga.

The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents the place of articulation of these sounds is ʘ. This may be combined with a second letter to indicate the manner of articulation, though this is commonly omitted for tenuis clicks, and increasingly a diacritic is used instead. Common labial clicks are:

IPA I IPA II Description
ʘ tenuis bilabial click
ʘʰ aspirated bilabial click
ʘ̬ ᶢʘ voiced bilabial click
ʘ̃ ᵑʘ bilabial nasal click
ʘ̥̃ʰ ᵑ̊ʘʰ aspirated bilabial nasal click
ʘ̃ˀ ᵑʘˀ glottalized bilabial nasal click

The last is what is heard in the sound sample at right, as non-native speakers tend to glottalize clicks to avoid nasalizing them.

Damin also had an egressive bilabial [ʘ↑], the world's only attested egressive click.


Features of ingressive labial clicks:

  • The basic articulation may be voiced, nasal, aspirated, glottalized, etc.
  • The forward place of articulation is labial, which means it is articulated with the lips. The release is a noisy, affricate-like sound. Bilabial articulation, using both lips, is typical. Sometimes this may pass through a labio-dental stage as the click is released, making it noisier.[1] In other cases, the lower lip may start out in contact with both the upper teeth and the upper lip.[2]
  • Clicks may be oral or nasal, which means that the airflow is either restricted to the mouth, or passes through the nose as well.
  • Because the sound is not produced with airflow over the tongue, the centrallateral dichotomy does not apply.
  • The airstream mechanism is lingual ingressive (also known as velaric ingressive), which means a pocket of air trapped between two closures is rarefied by a "sucking" action of the tongue, rather than being moved by the glottis or the lungs/diaphragm. The release of the forward closure produces the "click" sound. Voiced and nasal clicks have a simultaneous pulmonic egressive airstream. (One of the two labial clicks in Damin is lingual egressive, which means that the trapped air pocket is compressed by the tongue until it is allowed to spurt out through the lips.)

The labial clicks are sometimes erroneously described as sounding like a kiss. However, they do not have the pursed lips of a kiss. Instead, the lips are compressed, more like a [p] than a [w], and they sound more like a noisy smack of the lips than a kiss.


The bullseye or bull's eye (ʘ) symbol used in phonetic transcription of the phoneme was made an official part of the International Phonetic Alphabet in 1979, but had existed for at least 50 years earlier. It is encoded in Unicode as U+0298 LATIN LETTER BILABIAL CLICK.

Similar graphemes consisting of a circled dot encoded by Unicode are:

A symbol a turned b with a tail was created and is used in older publications. It was never widely used and was eventually dropped for ʘ. Still the deprecated IPA character is encoded at Template:Unichar. Earlier it is privately encoded by SIL International at Template:Unichar and is available in SIL supporting fonts.[3]


English does not have a labial click (or any click consonant, for that matter) as a phoneme, but a plain bilabial click does occur in mimesis, as a lip-smacking sound children use to imitate a fish.

Labial clicks only occur in the Tuu and Kx'a families of southern Africa, and in the Australian ritual language Damin.

Language Word IPA Meaning
ǂHoan ʘoa two
Taa ʘàa child
Damin m!i ʘ̃i vegetable

See also


  1. ^ Ladefoged & Maddieson 1996:251)
  2. ^ Miller, 2007, The Sounds of N|uu, pp 121ff
  3. ^ "SIL PUA 6.1c". SIL International. 2002-09-16. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 


  • Pullum, Geoffrey K.; Ladusaw, William A. (1996). Phonetic Symbol Guide. University of Chicago Press. pp. 132–133. 
  • Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Blackwell Publishers. pp. 246–280.