In Semitic linguistics, an emphatic consonant is an obstruent consonant which originally contrasted with series of both voiced and voiceless obstruents. In specific Semitic languages, the members of this series may be realized as uvularized or pharyngealized, velarized, ejective, or plain voiced or voiceless consonants. It is also used, to a lesser extent, to describe cognate series in other Afro-Asiatic languages, where they are typically realized as ejective, implosive, or pharyngealized consonants.

In Semitic studies, they are commonly transcribed using the convention of placing a dot under the closest plain obstruent consonant in the Latin alphabet. With respect to particular Semitic and Afro-Asiatic languages, this term describes the particular phonetic feature which distinguishes these consonants from other consonants. Thus, in Arabic emphasis is synonymous with a secondary articulation involving retraction of the dorsum or root of the tongue, which has variously been described as velarization or pharyngealization depending on where the locus of the retraction is assumed to be. Original emphatic k developed into [q] in most Semitic languages; strictly speaking, it has thus ceased to be an emphatic version of k and has become a completely different consonant. (Accordingly, another common transcription in Semitic languages is q).

Within Arabic, the emphatic consonants vary in phonetic realization from dialect to dialect, but are typically realized as pharyngealized consonants. In Ethiopian Semitic and Modern South Arabian languages, they are realized as ejective consonants. While these sounds do not necessarily share any particular phonetic properties in common, most historically derive from a common source.

Five such "emphatic" phonemes are reconstructed for Proto-Semitic:

Proto-Semitic Phoneme Description IPA Trans. Hebrew Aramaic Arabic IPA Trans.
Alveolar ejective [] Tet ט Teth ט Ṭāʼ ط []
Dental ejective fricative [θʼ] ṯ̣ Tsadi צ Ẓāʾ ظ [ðˤ]
Alveolar ejective fricative or affricate [tsʼ]/[] Ṣade צ Ṣad ص []
Alveolar lateral ejective fricative or affricate [ɬʼ]/[tɬʼ] ṣ́ Ayin ע Ḍād ض [][note 1]
Velar ejective [] Qoph ק Qoph ק Qāf ق [q][note 2] q

An extra emphatic labial *ṗ occurs in some Semitic languages, but it is unclear whether it was a phoneme in Proto-Semitic.

General Israeli Modern Hebrew and Maltese are notable exceptions among Semitic languages to the presence of emphatic consonants. In both languages, they have been lost under the influence of Indo-European languages (particularly Yiddish in the case of Hebrew and Sicilian in the case of Maltese, though other languages may also have had an influence).


  1. ^ Historically, the emphatic consonant // was pronounced [ɮˤ], or possibly [d͡ɮˤ][1]—either way, a highly unusual sound. The medieval Arabs even termed their language لغة الضاد lughat al-ḍād 'the language of the Ḍād' (the name of the letter used for this sound), believing the sound unique to their language, though it also occurs in Mehri. It is preserved among older speakers in a few isolated dialects.[2]
  2. ^ In some Arabic dialects, especially those of the Hejaz and Najd, the emphatic [] developed to a plain [ɡ] instead of the common [q]. This form of pronunciation is quite old and probably existed already at the beginning of the Islamic conquests.


  1. ^ Ferguson, Charles (1959), "The Arabic Koine", Language, 35 (4): 630, doi:10.2307/410601, JSTOR 410601
  2. ^ Al-Azraqi, Munira (2019). "Delateralisation in Arabic and Mehri". Dialectologia. 23: 1–23.
  3. ^ Woodard 2008, p. 219.
  4. ^ Hetzron 1997, p. 147.