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Velar consonant

"Velar" redirects here. For the village in Rajasthan, India, see Velar (village).
Tongue shape

Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue (the dorsum) against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth (known also as the velum).

Since the velar region of the roof of the mouth is relatively extensive and the movements of the dorsum are not very precise, velars easily undergo assimilation, shifting their articulation back or to the front depending on the quality of adjacent vowels. They often become automatically fronted, that is partly or completely palatal before a following front vowel, and retracted before back vowels.

Palatalised velars (like English /k/ in keen or cube) are sometimes referred to as palatovelars. Many languages also have labialized velars, such as [kʷ], in which the articulation is accompanied by rounding of the lips. There are also labial-velar consonants, which are doubly articulated at the velum and at the lips, such as [k͡p]. This distinction disappears with the approximant [w] since labialization involves adding of a labial approximant articulation to a sound, and this ambiguous situation is often called labiovelar.

A velar trill or tap is not possible: see the shaded boxes on the table of pulmonic consonants. In the velar position, the tongue has an extremely restricted ability to carry out the type of motion associated with trills or taps, and the body of the tongue has no freedom to move quickly enough to produce a velar trill or flap.[1]

The velar consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:

IPA Description Example
Language Orthography IPA Meaning
File:Xsampa-N2.png velar nasal English ring [ɹʷɪŋ] ring
File:Xsampa-k.png voiceless velar stop English skip [skɪp] skip
File:Xsampa-g.png voiced velar stop English get [ɡɛt] get
File:Xsampa-x.png voiceless velar fricative German Bauch [baʊx] abdomen
File:Xsampa-G2.png voiced velar fricative Greek γάτα [ɣata] cat
File:Xsampa-X.png voiceless labio-velar approximant English which[2] [ʍɪtʃ] which
File:Xsampa-Mslash.png velar approximant Spanish pagar[3] [paɰaɾ] to pay
File:Xsampa-Lslash.png velar lateral approximant Mid-Wahgi aʟaʟe [aʟaʟe] dizzy
File:Xsampa-w2.png voiced labio-velar approximant English witch [wɪtʃ] witch
velar ejective stop Archi кIан [an] bottom
ɠ voiced velar implosive Sindhi əro/ڳرو [ɠəro] heavy

Lack of velars

The velar consonant [k] is the most common consonant in human languages.[4] The only languages recorded to lack velars (or any dorsal consonant at all) may be Xavante, Tahitian Wutung, Vanimo, and Nori. However, there are other languages that lack simple velars. An areal feature of the Pacific Northwest coast is that historical *k has become palatalized in many languages, often becoming [kʲ], but in others, such as Saanich, Salish, and Chemakum, becoming [tʃ]. (Likewise, historical *k’ has become [tʃʼ] and historical *x has become [ʃ]; there was no *g or *ŋ.)

However, all three languages retain a labiovelar series [kʷ], [kʼʷ], [xʷ], [w], as well as a uvular series. In the Northwest Caucasian languages historical *[k] has also become palatalized, becoming /kʲ/ in Ubykh and /tʃ/ in most Circassian varieties, but, like the languages of the Pacific Northwest, they also retain a labialized-velar series as well as a complement of uvulars.[5] A similar system, contrasting /kʲ/ with /kʷ/ and leaving /k/ marginal at best, is reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European.

Apart from [ɡ], no other velar is particularly common, even [w] and [ŋ], which occur in English. Of course, [ɡ] does not occur in languages that lack voiced stops, like Mandarin Chinese, but it is sporadically missing elsewhere. Of the languages surveyed in the World Atlas of Language Structures, about 10% of languages that otherwise have [p b t d k] are missing [ɡ].[6]

Pirahã has both a [k] and a [ɡ] phonetically. However, the [k] does not behave as other consonants, and the argument has been made that it is phonemically /hi/, leaving Pirahã with only [ɡ] as an underlyingly velar consonant.

Hawaiian does not distinguish [k] from [t]; k tends toward [k] at the beginning of utterances, [t] before [i], and is variable elsewhere, especially in the dialect of Niʻihau and Kauaʻi. Since Hawaiian has no [ŋ], and w varies between [w] and [v], it is not clearly meaningful to say that Hawaiian has velar consonants.

Several Khoisan languages, which have click consonants pronounced in the dorsal region, have limited numbers or distributions of pulmonic velar consonants. Khoekhoe, for example, does not allow them in medial or final position, but in Juǀ'hoan, they are rare even in initial position.


  1. ^ The International phonetic Alphabet
  2. ^ In dialects that distinguish between which and witch.
  3. ^ Intervocalic g in Spanish often described instead as a very lightly articulated voiced velar fricative.[citation needed]
  4. ^ Ian Maddieson and Sandra Ferrari Disner, 1984, Patterns of Sounds. Cambridge University Press
  5. ^ Viacheslav A. Chirikba, 1996, Common West Caucasian: the reconstruction of its phonological system and parts of its lexicon and morphology, p. 192. Research School CNWS: Leiden.
  6. ^ The World Atlas of Language Structures Online:Voicing and Gaps in Plosive Systems


See also