Voiced velar approximant

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Velar approximant
IPA number 154
Entity (decimal) ɰ
Unicode (hex) U+0270
Kirshenbaum j<vel>
Braille ⠦ (braille pattern dots-236) ⠍ (braille pattern dots-134)

The voiced velar approximant is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ɰ⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is M\.

The voiced velar approximant can in many cases be considered the semivocalic counterpart of the close back unrounded vowel [ɯ]. The two are almost identical featurally. ⟨ɰ⟩ and ⟨ɯ̯⟩ with the non-syllabic diacritic are used in different transcription systems to represent the same sound.

Some languages, though, have a voiced velar approximant that is unspecified for rounding, and therefore cannot be considered the semivocalic equivalent of either [ɯ] or its rounded counterpart [u]. Examples of such languages are Catalan, Galician and Spanish, in which the unspecified for rounding voiced velar approximant consonant (not semivowel) appears as an allophone of /ɡ/.[1]

Eugenio Martínez Celdrán describes the voiced velar approximant consonant as follows:[2]

As for the symbol [ɰ], it is quite evidently inappropriate for representing the Spanish voiced velar approximant consonant. Many authors have pointed out the fact that [ɰ] is not rounded; for example, Pullum & Ladusaw (1986:98) state that 'the sound in question can be described as a semi-vowel (glide) with the properties "high", "back", and "unrounded"'. They even establish an interesting parallelism: 'the sound can be regarded as an unrounded [w]'. It is evident, then, that [ɰ] is not an adequate symbol for Spanish. First of all, because it has never been taken into consideration that there is a diphthong in words like paga 'pay', vago 'lazy', lego 'lay', etc., and, secondly, because this sound is rounded when it precedes rounded vowels. Besides, it would be utterly wrong to transcribe the word jugo 'juice' with [ɰ] *[ˈχuɰo], because the pronunciation of that consonant between two rounded vowels is completely rounded whereas [ɰ] is not. (...)

The symbol I have always proposed is [ɣ̞], the correlate to the other central approximants in Spanish, [β̞ ð̞] (Martínez Celdrán 1991, 1996:47). This coincides with Ball & Rahilly (1999:90), whose example for the three approximants is the Spanish word abogado 'lawyer' (see figure 1). Ball & Rahilly too criticise in a footnote the confusion between these symbols: 'The difference between an approximant version of the voiced velar fricative [ɣ], and the velar semi-vowel [ɰ] is that the latter requires spread lips, and must have a slightly more open articulatory channel so that it becomes [ɯ] if prolonged' (p. 189, fn. 1).

There is a parallel problem with transcribing the palatal approximant.

The symbol ⟨ɣ̞⟩ may also be used when the voiced velar approximant is merely an allophone of the voiced velar fricative /ɣ/ as, compared with ⟨ɰ⟩, it is more similar to the symbol ⟨ɣ⟩. The X-SAMPA equivalent of ⟨ɣ̞⟩ is G_o.

Note that the symbol ⟨ɣ̞⟩ may not display properly in all browsers. If that is the case, ⟨ɣ˕⟩ should be substituted. In broader transcriptions,[3] the lowering diacritic may be omitted altogether, so that the symbol is rendered ⟨ɣ⟩, i.e. as if it represented the corresponding fricative.

Some languages have the voiced pre-velar approximant,[4] which is articulated slightly more front compared with the place of articulation of the prototypical voiced velar approximant, though not as front as the prototypical palatal approximant - see that article for more information.


Features of the velar 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 most common type of this approximant is glide or semivowel. The term glide emphasizes the characteristic of movement (or 'glide') of [ɰ] from the [ɯ] 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). For a description of the approximant consonant variant used e.g. in Spanish, see above.
  • Its place of articulation is velar, which means it is articulated with the back of the tongue (the dorsum) at the soft 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
Aragonese[5] caixigo [kajˈʃiɣ̞o̞] 'oak tree' Unspecified for rounding voiced velar approximant consonant; allophone of /ɡ/.
Astur-Leonese Asturian [example needed] Unspecified for rounding voiced velar approximant consonant; allophone of /ɡ/.
Extremaduran [example needed]
Leonese [example needed]
Mirandese [example needed]
Catalan[6][7] aigua [ˈajɣ̞wə] 'water' Unspecified for rounding voiced velar approximant consonant; allophone of /ɡ/.[6][7] See Catalan phonology
Cherokee wa-tsi [ɰatsi] 'watch' Also represented by Ꮺ, Ꮻ, Ꮼ, Ꮽ, and Ꮾ
Danish Older speakers[8] talg [ˈtˢalˀɰ] 'tallow' Still used by some older speakers in high register, much more commonly than a fricative [ɣ].[8] Depending on the environment, it corresponds to [ʊ̯], [ɪ̯] or [j] in young speakers of contemporary Standard Danish.[9] See Danish phonology
Dutch Randstad[10] [example needed] A very rare pronunciation of /r/,[11] distribution unclear. Realization of /r/ varies considerably among dialects. See Dutch phonology
Southern Netherlandic[10] [example needed]
French Belgian[12] ara [aɰa] 'macaw' Intervocalic allophone of /ʀ/ for some speakers, unless /ʀ/ is realized as a liaison consonant – then, most often, it is realized as a trill [ʀ].[12] See French phonology
Galician[1] auga [ˈɑwɣ̞ɑ] 'water' Unspecified for rounding voiced velar approximant consonant; allophone of /ɡ/.[1] See Galician phonology
Greek Cypriot[13] μαγαζί [maɰaˈzi] 'shop' Allophone of /ɣ/.
Guarani gotyo [ɰoˈtɨo] 'near, close to' Contrasts with [w]
Ibibio[14] ufok [úfʌ̟̀ɰɔ̞] [translation needed] Intervocalic allophone of /k/; may be a uvular tap [ɢ̆] instead.[14]
Icelandic saga [ˈsäɰä] 'saga' See Icelandic phonology
Irish naoi [n̪ˠɰiː] 'nine' Occurs only between broad consonants and front vowels. See Irish phonology
Korean 의사/uisa [ɰi.sä] 'doctor' Occurs only before /i/. See Korean phonology
Shipibo[15] igi [i̞ɰi̞] [translation needed] Allophone of /k/ in certain high-frequency morphemes; can be realized as a fricative [ɣ] instead.[15]
Spanish[16] pagar [päˈɣ̞äɾ] 'to pay' Unspecified for rounding voiced velar approximant consonant; allophone of /ɡ/.[16] See Spanish phonology
Swedish Central Standard[17] agronom [äɰɾʊˈn̪oːm] 'agronomist' Allophone of /g/ in casual speech. See Swedish phonology
Tagalog igriega [iːɡɾɪˈje̞ɰɐ] 'y (letter)' See Tagalog phonology
Tiwi ngaga [ˈŋaɰa] 'we (inclusive)'

The sound in Japanese often denoted by ⟨w⟩ in IPA notation and described as unrounded is actually pronounced with lip compression and is therefore labio-velar, albeit with acoustic differences from other labio-velar consonants.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Martínez Celdrán (2004), pp. 203–204.
  2. ^ Martínez Celdrán (2004), pp. 202–203.
  3. ^ See e.g. Carbonell & Llisterri (1992).
  4. ^ Instead of "pre-velar", it can be called "advanced velar", "fronted velar", "front-velar", "palato-velar", "post-palatal", "retracted palatal" or "backed palatal".
  5. ^ Mott (2007), pp. 104–105.
  6. ^ a b Carbonell & Llisterri (1992), p. 55.
  7. ^ a b Martínez Celdrán (2004), p. 204.
  8. ^ a b Grønnum (2005), p. 123.
  9. ^ Basbøll (2005), pp. 211–212.
  10. ^ a b Verstraten & van de Velde (2001), p. 54.
  11. ^ Verstraten & van de Velde (2001), pp. 50–51, 54.
  12. ^ a b Demolin (2001), pp. 65, 71.
  13. ^ Arvaniti (1999), p. 174.
  14. ^ a b Urua (2004), p. 106.
  15. ^ a b Valenzuela, Márquez Pinedo & Maddieson (2001), p. 282.
  16. ^ a b Martínez Celdrán (2004), pp. 202–204.
  17. ^ Engstrand (2004), p. 167.


  • Arvaniti, Amalia (1999), "Cypriot Greek" (PDF), Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 29 (2): 173–178, doi:10.1017/S002510030000654X 
  • Basbøll, Hans (2005), The Phonology of Danish, ISBN 0-203-97876-5 
  • Carbonell, Joan F.; Llisterri, Joaquim (1992), "Catalan" (PDF), Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 22 (1-2): 53–56, doi:10.1017/s0025100300004618 
  • Demolin, Didier (2001), "Some phonetic and phonological observations concerning /ʀ/ in Belgian French", in van de Velde, Hans; van Hout, Roeland, 'r-atics, Brussels: Etudes & Travaux, pp. 61–73, ISSN 0777-3692 
  • Engstrand, Olle (2004), Fonetikens grunder (in Swedish), Lund: Studenlitteratur, ISBN 91-44-04238-8 
  • Grønnum, Nina (2005), Fonetik og fonologi, Almen og Dansk (3rd ed.), Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, ISBN 87-500-3865-6 
  • Martínez Celdrán, Eugenio (2004), "Problems in the Classification of Approximants", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 34 (2): 201–210, doi:10.1017/S0025100304001732 
  • Mott, Brian (2007), "Chistabino (Pyrenean Aragonese)" (PDF), Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 37 (1): 103–114, doi:10.1017/S0025100306002842 
  • Urua, Eno-Abasi E. (2004), "Ibibio", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 34 (1): 105–109, doi:10.1017/S0025100304001550 
  • Valenzuela, Pilar M.; Márquez Pinedo, Luis; Maddieson, Ian (2001), "Shipibo", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 31 (2): 281–285, doi:10.1017/S0025100301002109 
  • Verstraten, Bart; van de Velde, Hans (2001), "Socio-geographical variation of /r/ in standard Dutch", in van de Velde, Hans; van Hout, Roeland, 'r-atics, Brussels: Etudes & Travaux, pp. 45–61, ISSN 0777-3692 
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