Approximant consonant

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Manners of articulation
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Approximants are speech sounds that could be regarded as intermediate between vowels and typical consonants. In the articulation of approximants, articulatory organs produce a narrowing of the vocal tract, but leave enough space for air to flow without much audible turbulence. Approximants are therefore more open than fricatives. This class of sounds includes lateral approximants like , as in lip, and the so-called semivowels and in yes and well.

Palatal approximants correspond to front vowels, velar approximants to back vowels, and labialized approximants to rounded vowels. They are typically briefer, less stable and often closer than the corresponding vowels.

When emphasized, approximants may be slightly fricated (that is, the airstream may become slightly turbulent), which is reminiscent of fricatives. Examples are the y of English yes! (especially when lengthened) and the "weak" allophones of Spanish b, d, g, which are often transcribed as fricatives (often due perhaps to a lack of dedicated approximant symbols). However, such frication is generally slight and intermittant, unlike the strong turbulence of fricative consonants.

This confusion is also common with voiceless approximants, which necessarily have a certain amount of fricative-like noise. For example, the voiceless labial-velar approximant is generally called a fricative, despite doubts that such doubly articulated fricatives are even possible. Tibetan has a voiceless lateral approximant, , and Welsh has a voiceless lateral fricative , but the distinction is not always clear from descriptions of these languages.

For the places of articulation further back in the mouth, languages do not contrast voiced fricatives and approximants. Therefore the IPA allows the symbols for the voiced fricatives to double up for the central approximants, with or without a lowering diacritic.

Occasionally the glottal "fricatives" are called approximants as well, but they are actually phonations of the glottis without any accompanying manner or place of articulation.

Central approximants

Doubly-articulated approximants

Lateral approximants

See also

ja:接近音 ko:접근음


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