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Alveolar (/ælˈvələr/;[1] UK also /ælviˈlər/[2]) consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli (the sockets) of the upper teeth. Alveolar consonants may be articulated with the tip of the tongue (the apical consonants), as in English, or with the flat of the tongue just above the tip (the "blade" of the tongue; called laminal consonants), as in French and Spanish.

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) does not have separate symbols for the alveolar consonants. Rather, the same symbol is used for all coronal places of articulation that are not palatalized like English palato-alveolar sh, or retroflex. To disambiguate, the bridge ([s̪, t̪, n̪, l̪], etc.) may be used for a dental consonant, or the under-bar ([s̠, t̠, n̠, l̠], etc.) may be used for the postalveolars. [s̪] differs from dental [θ] in that the former is a sibilant and the latter is not. [s̠] differs from postalveolar [ʃ] in being unpalatalized.

The bare letters [s, t, n, l], etc. cannot be assumed to specifically represent alveolars. The language may not make such distinctions, such that two or more coronal places of articulation are found allophonically, or the transcription may simply be too broad to distinguish dental from alveolar. If it is necessary to specify a consonant as alveolar, a diacritic from the Extended IPA may be used: [s͇, t͇, n͇, l͇], etc., though that could also mean extra-retracted.[3] The letters ⟨s, t, n, l⟩ are frequently called 'alveolar', and the language examples below are all alveolar sounds.

(The Extended IPA diacritic was devised for speech pathology and is frequently used to mean "alveolarized", as in the labioalveolar sounds [p͇, b͇, m͇, f͇, v͇], where the lower lip contacts the alveolar ridge.)


Alveolar consonants are transcribed in the IPA as follows:

IPA Description Example
Language Orthography IPA Meaning in English
voiceless alveolar nasal Burmese[4] နှာ [à] 'nose'
voiced alveolar nasal English run [ɹʌn]
voiceless alveolar plosive English top [tɒp]
voiced alveolar plosive English debt [dɛt]
voiceless alveolar fricative English suit [suːt]
voiced alveolar fricative English zoo [zuː]
voiceless alveolar affricate English pizza [pit͡sə]
voiced alveolar affricate Italian zaino d͡zaino] backpack
Voiceless alveolar lateral fricative (vector).svg
voiceless alveolar lateral fricative Welsh llwyd [ɬʊɪd] grey
voiced alveolar lateral fricative Zulu dlala ɮálà] to play
t͡ɬ voiceless alveolar lateral affricate Tsez элIни [ˈʔe̞t͡ɬni] winter
d͡ɮ voiced alveolar lateral affricate Pa Na[5] [d͡ɮau˩˧] 'deep'
voiced alveolar approximant English red [ɹɛd]
θ̠ voiceless alveolar non-sibilant fricative Irish English Italy [ˈɪθ̠ɪli]
ð̠ voiced alveolar non-sibilant fricative Scouse English maid [meɪð̠]
alveolar lateral approximant English loop [lup]
Xsampa-l eor5.png
velarized alveolar lateral approximant English milk [mɪɫk]
alveolar flap English better [bɛɾɚ]
alveolar lateral flap Venda [vuɺa] to open
alveolar trill Spanish perro [pero] dog
IPA alveolar ejective.png
alveolar ejective Georgian [ia] tulip
t͡sʼ alveolar ejective affricate Chechen цIе [t͡sʼe] 'name'
IPA alveolar ejective fricative.png
alveolar ejective fricative Amharic [ɛɡa]
t͡ɬʼ alveolar lateral ejective affricate Navajo tłʼóoʼdi [t͡ɬʼóːʔtɪ̀] '(at) the outside'
Alveolar lateral ejective fricative2.PNG
alveolar lateral ejective fricative Adyghe плӀы [pɬ’ə] 'four'
Xsampa-d lessthan.png
voiced alveolar implosive Vietnamese đã [ɗɐː] Past tense indicator
ƭ voiceless alveolar implosive Serer ? ? ?
apical alveolar click release (many distinct consonants) Nama !oas [ᵑ̊ǃˀoas] hollow
alveolar lateral click release (many distinct consonants) Nama ǁî [ᵑ̊ǁˀĩː] discussed

Lack of alveolars

The alveolar or dental consonants [t] and [n] are, along with [k], the most common consonants in human languages.[6] Nonetheless, there are a few languages that lack them. A few languages on Bougainville Island and around Puget Sound, such as Makah, lack nasals and therefore [n], but have [t]. Colloquial Samoan, however, lacks both [t] and [n], but it has a lateral alveolar approximant /l/. (Samoan words written with t and n are pronounced with [k] and [ŋ] in colloquial speech.) In Standard Hawaiian, [t] is an allophone of /k/, but /l/ and /n/ exist.

Labioalveolar consonants

In labioalveolars, the lower lip contacts the alveolar ridge. Such sounds are typically the result of a severe overbite. In the Extensions to the IPA for disordered speech, they are transcribed with the alveolar diacritic on labial letters: m͇ p͇ b͇ f͇ v͇.

See also


  1. ^ "alveolar". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
    "alveolar". Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  2. ^ "ALVEOLAR | English meaning - Cambridge Dictionary". Cambridge Dictionary.
    "alveolar". HarperCollins.
  3. ^ E.g. in Laver (1994) Principles of Phonetics, p. 559–560
  4. ^ Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), p. 111.
  5. ^ Chen, Qiguang [陈其光]. 2001. "A Brief Introduction of Bana Language [巴那语概况]". Minzu Yuwen.
  6. ^ Ian Maddieson and Sandra Ferrari Disner, 1984, Patterns of Sounds. Cambridge University Press