Voiced velar approximant

Velar approximant
IPA number 154
Entity (decimal) ɰ
Unicode (hex) U+0270
Kirshenbaum j<vel>
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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 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.


Aragonese[5]caixigo[kajˈʃiɣ̞o̞]'oak tree'Unspecified for rounding voiced velar approximant consonant; allophone of /ɡ/.
Astur-LeoneseAsturianUnspecified for rounding voiced velar approximant consonant; allophone of /ɡ/.
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
DanishOlder 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
FrenchBelgian[10]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].[10] See French phonology
Galician[1]auga[ˈɑwɣ̞ɑ]'water'Unspecified for rounding voiced velar approximant consonant; allophone of /ɡ/.[1] See Galician phonology
GreekCypriot[11]μαγαζί[maɰaˈzi]'shop'Allophone of /ɣ/.
Guaranigotyo[ɰoˈtɨo]'near, close to'Contrasts with [w]
Ibibio[12]ufok[úfʌ̟̀ɰɔ̞]Intervocalic allophone of /k/; may be a uvular tap [ɢ̆] instead.[12]
Icelandicsaga[ˈsäɰä]'saga'See Icelandic phonology
Irishnaoi[n̪ˠɰiː]'nine'Occurs only between broad consonants and front vowels. See Irish phonology
Korean의사 / uisa[ɰisɐ]'doctor'Occurs only before /i/. See Korean phonology
Shipibo[13]igi[i̞ɰi̞]Allophone of /k/ in certain high-frequency morphemes; can be realized as a fricative [ɣ] instead.[13]
Spanish[14]pagar[päˈɣ̞äɾ]'to pay'Unspecified for rounding voiced velar approximant consonant; allophone of /ɡ/.[14] See Spanish phonology
SwedishCentral Standard[15]agronom[äɰɾʊˈn̪oːm]'agronomist'Allophone of /g/ in casual speech. See Swedish phonology
Tagalogigriega[iːɡɾɪˈje̞ɰɐ]'y (letter)'See Tagalog phonology
Tiwingaga[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. 1 2 3 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. 1 2 Carbonell & Llisterri (1992), p. 55.
  7. 1 2 Martínez Celdrán (2004), p. 204.
  8. 1 2 Grønnum (2005), p. 123.
  9. Basbøll (2005), pp. 211–212.
  10. 1 2 Demolin (2001), pp. 65, 71.
  11. Arvaniti (1999), p. 174.
  12. 1 2 Urua (2004), p. 106.
  13. 1 2 Valenzuela, Márquez Pinedo & Maddieson (2001), p. 282.
  14. 1 2 Martínez Celdrán (2004), pp. 202–204.
  15. Engstrand (2004), p. 167.


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