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A voiceless alveolar fricative is a type of fricative consonant pronounced with the tip or blade of the tongue against the alveolar ridge (gum line) just behind the teeth. This refers to a class of sounds, not a single sound. There are at least six types with significant perceptual differences:
The first three types are sibilants, meaning that they are made with the teeth closed and have a piercing, perceptually prominent sound.
|Voiceless alveolar sibilant|
|Voiceless laminal dentalized alveolar sibilant|
|Voiceless alveolar retracted sibilant|
|Unicode (hex)||U+0073 U+033A|
The voiceless alveolar sibilant is a common consonant sound in vocal languages. It is the sound in English words such as sea and pass, and is represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet with ⟨s⟩. It has a characteristic high-pitched, highly perceptible hissing sound. For this reason, it is often used to get someone's attention, using a call often written as sssst! or psssst!.
The voiceless alveolar sibilant [s] is one of the most common sounds cross-linguistically. If a language has fricatives, it will most likely have [s]. However, some languages have a related sibilant sound, such as [ʃ], but no [s]. In addition, sibilants are absent from Australian Aboriginal languages, in which fricatives are rare; even the few indigenous Australian languages that have developed fricatives do not have sibilants.
The voiceless alveolar retracted sibilant (commonly termed the voiceless apico-alveolar sibilant) is a fricative that is articulated with the tongue in a hollow shape, usually with the tip of the tongue (apex) against the alveolar ridge. It is a sibilant sound and is found most notably in a number of languages in a linguistic area covering northern and central Iberia. It is most well known from its occurrence in the Spanish of this area. In the Middle Ages, it occurred in a wider area, covering Romance languages spoken throughout France, Portugal, and Spain, as well as Old High German and Middle High German.
There is no single IPA symbol used for this sound. The symbol ⟨s̺⟩ is often used, with a diacritic indicating an apical pronunciation. However, that is potentially problematic in that not all alveolar retracted sibilants are apical (see below), and not all apical alveolar sibilants are retracted. The ad hoc non-IPA symbols ⟨ṣ⟩ and ⟨S⟩ are often used in the linguistic literature even when IPA symbols are used for other sounds, but ⟨ṣ⟩ is a common transcription of the retroflex sibilant [ʂ].
Often, to speakers of languages or dialects that do not have the sound, it is said to have a "whistling" quality, and to sound similar to palato-alveolar [ʃ]. For this reason, when borrowed into such languages or represented with non-Latin characters, it is often replaced with [ʃ]. This occurred, for example, in English borrowings from Old French (e.g. push from pousser, cash from caisse); in Polish borrowings from medieval German (e.g. kosztować from kosten, żur from sūr (contemporary sauer); and in representations of Mozarabic (an extinct medieval Romance language once spoken in southern Spain) in Arabic characters. The similarity between retracted [s̺] and [ʃ] has resulted in many exchanges in Spanish between the sounds, during the medieval period when Spanish had both phonemes. Examples are jabón (formerly xabón) "soap" from Latin sapō/sapōnem, jibia "cuttlefish" (formerly xibia) from Latin sēpia, and tijeras "scissors" (earlier tixeras < medieval tiseras) from Latin cīsōrias (with initial t- due to influence from tōnsor "shaver").
One of the clearest descriptions of this sound is from Obaid: "There is a Castilian s, which is a voiceless, concave, apicoalveolar fricative: The tip of the tongue turned upward forms a narrow opening against the alveoli of the upper incisors. It resembles a faint /ʃ/ and is found throughout much of the northern half of Spain".
It occurs as the normal voiceless alveolar sibilant in Astur-Leonese, Castilian Spanish, Catalan, Galician, working-class Glaswegian English, northern European Portuguese, and some Occitan dialects. It also occurs in Basque and Mirandese, where it is opposed to a different voiceless alveolar sibilant, the more common [s]; the same distinction occurs in a few dialects of northeastern Portuguese. Outside this area, it also occurs in a few dialects of Latin American Spanish (e.g. Antioqueño, in Colombia), and in many dialects of Modern Greek (with a laminal articulation).
In medieval times, it occurred in a wider area, including the Romance languages spoken in most or all of France and Iberia (Old Spanish, Galician-Portuguese, Catalan, French, etc.), as well as in the Old and Middle High German of central and southern Germany. In all of these languages, the retracted "apico-alveolar" sibilant was opposed to a non-retracted sibilant much like English [s], and in many of them, both voiceless and voiced versions of both sounds occurred. In general, the retracted "apico-alveolar" variants were written ⟨s⟩ or ⟨ss⟩, while the non-retracted variants were written ⟨z⟩, ⟨c⟩ or ⟨ç⟩. In the Romance languages, the retracted sibilants derived from Latin /s/, /ss/ or /ns/, while the non-retracted sibilants derived from earlier affricates [t͡s] and [d͡z], which in turn derived from palatalized /k/ or /t/. The situation was similar in High German, where the retracted sibilants derived largely from Proto-Germanic /s/, while the non-retracted sibilants derived from instances of Proto-Germanic /t/ that were shifted by the High German sound shift. Minimal pairs were common in all languages. Examples in Middle High German, for example, were wizzen "to know" (Old English witan, cf. "to wit") vs. wissen "known" (Old English wissen), and weiz "white" (Old English wīt) vs. weis "way" (Old English wīs, cf. "-wise").
This distinction has since vanished from most of these languages:
Because of the widespread medieval distribution, it has been speculated that retracted [s̺] was the normal pronunciation in spoken Latin. However, it equally well could have been an areal feature inherited from the prehistoric languages of Western Europe, as evidenced by its occurrence in modern Basque.
The term "voiceless alveolar sibilant" is potentially ambiguous in that it can refer to at least two different sounds. Various languages of northern Iberia (e.g. Astur-Leonese, Catalan, Basque, Galician, Portuguese and Spanish) have a so-called "voiceless apico-alveolar sibilant" that lacks the strong hissing of the [s] described in this article but has a duller, more "grave" sound quality somewhat reminiscent of a voiceless retroflex sibilant. Basque, Mirandese and some Portuguese dialects in northeast Portugal (as well as medieval Spanish and Portuguese in general) have both types of sounds in the same language.
There is no general agreement about what actual feature distinguishes these sounds. Spanish phoneticians normally describe the difference as apical (for the northern Iberian sound) vs. laminal (for the more common sound), but Ladefoged and Maddieson claim that English /s/ can be pronounced apical, which is evidently not the same as the apical sibilant of Iberian Spanish and Basque. Also, Adams asserts that many dialects of Modern Greek have a laminal sibilant with a sound quality similar to the "apico-alveolar" sibilant of northern Iberia.
Some authors have instead suggested that the difference lies in tongue shape. Adams describes the northern Iberian sibilant as "retracted". Ladefoged and Maddieson appear to characterize the more common hissing variant as grooved, and some phoneticians (such as J. Catford) have characterized it as sulcal (which is more or less a synonym of "grooved"), but in both cases, there is some doubt about whether all and only the "hissing" sounds actually have a "grooved" or "sulcal" tongue shape.
Features of the voiceless alveolar sibilant:
|Basque||gauza||[ɡäus̪ä]||'thing'||Contrasts with an apical sibilant. See Basque phonology|
|Belarusian||стагоддзе||[s̪t̪äˈɣod̪d̪͡z̪ʲe]||'century'||Contrasts with palatalized form. See Belarusian phonology|
|Bulgarian||всеки||[ˈvs̪ɛki]||'everyone'||Contrasts with palatalized form|
|Chinese||Mandarin||三 sān||[s̪a̋n]||'three'||See Mandarin phonology|
|Czech||svět||[s̪vjɛt̪]||'world'||See Czech phonology|
|English||Auckland||sand||[s̪ɛnˑd̥]||'sand'||See English phonology|
|French||façade||[fäs̪äd̪]||'front'||See French phonology|
|Hungarian||sziget||[ˈs̪iɡɛt̪]||'island'||See Hungarian phonology|
|Latvian||sens||[s̪en̪s̪]||'ancient'||See Latvian phonology|
|Macedonian||скока||[ˈs̪kɔkä]||'jump'||See Macedonian phonology|
|Mirandese||[example needed]||Contrasts seven sibilants altogether, preserving medieval Ibero-Romance contrasts.|
|Polish||sum||[s̪um] (help·info)||'catfish'||See Polish phonology|
|Romanian||surd||[s̪ur̪d̪]||'deaf'||See Romanian phonology|
|Russian||волосы||[ˈvo̞ɫ̪əs̪ɨ̞] (help·info)||'hair'||Contrasts with palatalized form. See Russian phonology|
|Scottish Gaelic||Slàinte||[ˈs̪ɫ̪äːn̪t̪ʰʲə]||'cheers'||See Scottish Gaelic phonology|
|Serbo-Croatian||сам sam||[s̪ȃ̠m]||'alone'||See Serbo-Croatian phonology|
|Slovene||svet||[s̪ʋéːt̪]||'world'||See Slovene phonology|
|Spanish||European||estar||[e̞s̪ˈt̪är]||'to be'||Allophone of /s/ before dental consonants. See Spanish phonology|
|Swedish||Central Standard||säte||[ˈs̪ɛːt̪e]||'seat'||Retracted in some southern dialects. See Swedish phonology|
|Turkish||su||[s̪u]||'water'||See Turkish phonology|
|Ukrainian||село||[s̪ɛˈɫ̪ɔ]||'village'||See Ukrainian phonology|
|Upper Sorbian||sowa||[ˈs̪ovä]||'owl'||See Upper Sorbian phonology|
|Vietnamese||Hanoi||xa||[s̪äː]||'far'||See Vietnamese phonology|
|Arabic||Modern Standard||جَلَسَ||[ˈdʒælæsɐ]||'to sit'||See Arabic phonology|
|Bengali||রাস্তা||[raːst̪a]||'street'||See Bengali phonology|
|Burmese||စစားဗျီ||[sə sá bjì]||'I am eating now'|
|Chinese||Cantonese||閃 sim2||[siːm˧˥]||'twinkle'||See Cantonese phonology|
|Dutch||staan||[s̻t̻aːn̻]||'to stand'||Laminal; may have only mid-to-low pitched friction in the Netherlands. See Dutch phonology|
|English||sit||[sɪt]||'sit'||See English phonology|
|Esperanto||Esperanto||[espeˈranto]||'Who hopes'||See Esperanto phonology|
|Hebrew||ספר||[ˈsefeʁ]||'book'||See Modern Hebrew phonology|
|Hindi||साल||[saːl]||'year'||See Hindustani phonology|
|Icelandic||segi||[ˈs̺ɛːjɪ]||'I say'||Apical. See Icelandic phonology|
|sali||[ˈs̺ʲäːli]||'you go up'||Palatalized apical; may be [ʂ] or [ʃ] instead. See Italian phonology|
|Japanese||複数形 fukusūkē||[ɸɯkɯsɯːkeː]||'plural'||See Japanese phonology|
|Korean||소 so||[sʰo]||'ox'||See Korean phonology|
|Marathi||सपाट||[səpaːʈ]||'flat'||See Marathi phonology|
|Persian||سیب sib||[sib]||'apple'||See Persian phonology|
|Portuguese||caço||[ˈkasu]||'I hunt'||See Portuguese phonology|
|Spanish||Latin American||saltador||[s̻al̪t̪aˈð̞o̞r]||'jumper'||See Spanish phonology and Seseo|
|Urdu||سال||[saːl]||'year'||See Hindustani phonology|
|Vietnamese||xa||[saː˧]||'far'||See Vietnamese phonology|
|West Frisian||sâlt||[sɔːt]||'salt'||See West Frisian phonology|
|Basque||su||[s̺u]||'fire'||Apical. Contrasts with a dentalized laminal sibilant.|
|Catalan||Most dialects||set||[ˈs̺ɛt̪]||'seven'||Apical. See Catalan phonology|
|Some Valencian speakers||peix||[ˈpe̠js̠ʲ]||'fish'||Normally transcribed with ⟨ʂ⟩; realized as pre-palatal [ɕ] in Standard Catalan and Valencian.|
|Some Valencian speakers||patisc||[päˈt̪is̠ʲk]||'I suffer'|
|English||Glasgow||sun||[s̺ʌn]||'sun'||Working-class pronunciation, other speakers may use a non-retracted [s]|
|Italian||Central Italy||sali||[ˈs̠äːli]||'you go up'||Present in Lazio north of Cape Linaro, most of Umbria (save Perugia and the extreme south), Marche and south of Potenza.|
|Northern Italy||Apical. Present in many areas north of the La Spezia–Rimini Line. See Italian phonology|
|Sicily||Present south and west of a line drawn from Syracuse to Cefalù.|
|Low German||[example needed]|
|Mirandese||passo||[ˈpäs̺u]||'step'||Apical. Contrasts with /s̪/.|
|Occitan||Gascon||dos||[d̻ys̺]||'two'||See Occitan phonology|
|cansaço||[kə̃ˈs̺äs̻u]||'weariness'||Apical. Contrasts with /s̻/. See Portuguese phonology|
|cansaço||[kə̃ˈs̺äs̺u]||Merges with /s̻/. See Portuguese phonology|
|pescador||[pe̞s̺käˈd̻oχ]||'fisherman'||Realization of Portuguese coda sibilant, which may be postalveolars, depending on dialect|
|Carioca do brejo||escadas||[is̺ˈkäd̻ɐs̺]||'stairs'|
|Spanish||Andean||saltador||[s̺äl̪t̪äˈð̞o̞ɾ]||'jumper'||Apical. In Andean and Paisa (except in southern parts of Antioquia) alternates with a more frequent corono-dental /s/. See Spanish phonology and seseo|
|Swedish||Blekinge||säte||[ˈs̠ɛːte]||'seat'||See Swedish phonology|
|Danish||sælge||[ˈseljə]||'sell'||Most often non-retracted apical, but can be dentalized laminal for some speakers. See Danish phonology|
|Finnish||sinä||[sinæ]||'you'||Varies between non-retracted and retracted. See Finnish phonology|
|German||Standard||Biss||[bɪs]||'bite'||Varies between dentalized laminal, non-retracted laminal and non-retracted apical. See Standard German phonology|
|Greek||σαν san||[sɐn]||'as'||Varies between non-retracted and retracted, depending on the environment. See Modern Greek phonology|
|Norwegian||Urban East||sand||[sɑnː]||'sand'||Most often dentalized laminal, but can be non-retracted apical for some speakers. See Norwegian phonology|
|Italian||Standard||sali||[ˈsäːli]||'you go up'||Varies between dentalized laminal and non-retracted apical. See Italian phonology|
|Ticino||Varies between dentalized laminal and non-retracted apical. Both variants may be labiodentalized. See Italian phonology|
|Voiceless alveolar non-sibilant fricative|
|IPA number||130 414|
|Unicode (hex)||U+03B8 U+0331|
The voiceless alveolar non-sibilant fricative (also known as a "slit" fricative) is a consonantal sound. As the International Phonetic Alphabet does not have separate symbols for the alveolar consonants (the same symbol is used for all coronal places of articulation that are not palatalized), this sound is usually transcribed ⟨θ̠⟩, occasionally ⟨θ͇⟩ (retracted or alveolarized [θ], respectively), ⟨ɹ̝̊⟩ (constricted voiceless [ɹ]), or ⟨t̞⟩ (lowered [t]).
|Dutch||Geert||[ɣeːɹ̝̊t]||'Geert'||One of many possible realizations of /r/; distribution unclear. See Dutch phonology|
|English||Australian||Italy||[ˈɪ̟θ̠əɫɪi̯]||'Italy'||Occasional allophone of /t/. See Australian English phonology|
|Received Pronunciation||[ˈɪθ̠əlɪi̯]||Common allophone of /t/.|
|Irish||[ˈɪθ̠ɪli]||Allophone of /t/. See English phonology|
|Icelandic||þakið||[θ̠akið̠]||'the roof'||Laminal. See Icelandic phonology|
|Italian||Bologna||sali||[ˈθ̠äːli]||'you go up'||Laminal; a hypercorrective variant of /s/ for some young speakers. Either non-sibilant, or "not sibilant enough". See Italian phonology|