Palatalization /ˌpælətəlˈzʃən/ PA-lə-tə-leye-ZAY-shən is a historical-linguistic sound change that results in a palatalized articulation of a consonant or, in certain cases, a front vowel. Palatalization involves change in the place or manner of articulation of consonants, or the fronting or raising of vowels. In some cases, palatalization involves assimilation or lenition.


Palatalization is sometimes an example of assimilation. In some cases, it is triggered by a palatal or palatalized consonant or front vowel, but in other cases, it is not conditioned in any way.


Palatalization changes place of articulation or manner of articulation of consonants. It may add palatal secondary articulation or change primary articulation from velar to palatal or alveolar, alveolar to postalveolar.

It may also cause a consonant to change its manner of articulation from stop to affricate or fricative. The change in the manner of articulation is a form of lenition. However, the lenition is frequently accompanied by a change in place of articulation.

Palatalization of velar consonants commonly causes them to front, and apical and coronal consonants are usually raised. In the process, stop consonants are often spirantised except for palatalized labials.[citation needed]

Palatalization, as a sound change, is usually triggered only by mid and close (high) front vowels and the semivowel [j]. The sound that results from palatalization may vary from language to language. For example, palatalization of [t] may produce [tʲ], [tʃ], [tɕ], [tsʲ], [ts], etc. A change from [t] to [tʃ] may pass through [tʲ] as an intermediate state, but there is no requirement for that to happen.

In the Nupe language, /s/ and /z/ are palatalized both before front vowels and /j/, while velars are only palatalized before front vowels. In Ciluba, /j/ palatalizes only a preceding /t/, /s/, /l/ or /n/. In some variants of Ojibwe, velars are palatalized before /j/, but apicals are not. In Indo-Aryan languages, dentals and /r/ are palatalized when occurring in clusters before /j/, but velars are not.


Palatalization sometimes refers to vowel shifts, the fronting of a back vowel or raising of a front vowel. The shifts are sometimes triggered by a nearby palatal or palatalized consonant or by a high front vowel. The Germanic umlaut is a famous example.

A similar change is reconstructed in the history of Old French in which Bartsch's law turned open vowels into [e] or [ɛ] after a palatalized velar consonant. If it was true for all open vowels in Old French, it would explain the palatalization of velar plosives before /a/.[1]

In Erzya, a Uralic language, the open vowel [a] is raised to near-open [æ] after a palatalized consonant, as in the name of the language, [erzʲæ].

In Russian, the back vowels /u o/ are fronted to central ɵ], and the open vowel /a/ is raised to near-open [æ], near palatalized consonants. The palatalized consonants also factor in how unstressed vowels are reduced.


Palatalization is sometimes unconditioned or spontaneous, not triggered by a palatal or palatalized consonant or front vowel.

In southwestern Romance, clusters of a voiceless obstruent with /l/ were palatalized once or twice. This first palatalization was unconditioned. It resulted in a cluster with a palatal lateral [ʎ], a palatal lateral on its own, or a cluster with a palatal approximant [j]. In a second palatalization, the /k/ was affricated to [tʃ] or spirantized to [ʃ].

> Istriot ciamà /tʃaˈma/, Portuguese chamar /ʃɐˈmaɾ/

In the Western Romance languages, Latin [kt] was palatalized once or twice. The first palatalization was unconditioned: the /k/ was vocalized to [i̯t] or spirantized to [çt]. In a second palatalization, the /t/ was affricated to [tʃ]:

> Spanish noche, western Occitan nuèch, Romansh notg


Allophony and phonemic split

Palatalization may result in a phonemic split, a historical change by which a phoneme becomes two new phonemes over time through palatalization.

Old historical splits have frequently drifted since the time they occurred and may be independent of current phonetic palatalization. The lenition tendency of palatalized consonants (by assibilation and deaffrication) is important. According to some analyses,[2] the lenition of the palatalized consonant is still a part of the palatalization process itself.

In Japanese, allophonic palatalization affected the dental plosives /t/ and /d/, turning them into alveolo-palatal affricates [tɕ] and [dʑ] before [i], romanized as ⟨ch⟩ and ⟨j⟩ respectively. Japanese has, however, recently regained phonetic [ti] and [di] from loanwords, and the originally-allophonic palatalization has thus become lexical. A similar change has also happened in Polish and Belarusian. That would also be true about most dialects of Brazilian Portuguese but for the strong phonotactical resistance of its native speakers that turn dental plosives into post-alveolar affricates even in loanwords: McDonald's [mɛkiˈdõnɐwdʒ(is)].

For example, Votic has undergone such a change historically, *keelitšeeli 'language', but there is currently an additional distinction between palatalized laminal and non-palatalized apical consonants. An extreme example occurs in Spanish, whose palatalized ('soft') g has ended up as [x] from a long process where Latin /ɡ/ became palatalized to [ɡʲ] (Late Latin) and then affricated to [dʒ] (Proto-Romance), deaffricated to [ʒ] (Old Spanish), devoiced to [ʃ] (16th century), and finally retracted to a velar, giving [x] (c. 1650). (See History of the Spanish language and Phonological history of Spanish coronal fricatives for more information).


Palatalization has played a major role in the history of English, and of other languages and language groups throughout the world, such as the Slavic languages.



Further information: Phonological history of Old English § Palatalization

In Anglo-Frisian, the language that gave rise to English and the Frisian languages, the velar stops /k ɡ/ and the consonant cluster /sk/ were palatalized in certain cases and became the sounds /tʃ/, /dʒ/, /j/, and /ʃ/. Many words with Anglo-Frisian palatalization survive in Modern English, and the palatalized sounds are typically spelled ⟨ch⟩, ⟨(d)ge⟩, ⟨y⟩, and ⟨sh⟩ in Modern English.

Palatalization only occurred in certain environments, and so it did not apply to all words from the same root. This is the origin of some alternations in cognate words, such as speak and speech /ˈspiːk, ˈspiːtʃ/, cold and chill /ˈkoʊld, ˈtʃɪl/, burrow and bury /ˈbʌroʊ, ˈbɛri/, dawn and day /ˈdɔːn, ˈdeɪ/. Here ⟨k⟩ originates from unpalatalized /k/ and ⟨w⟩ from unpalatalized /ɡ/.

Some English words with palatalization have unpalatalized doublets from the Northumbrian dialect and from Old Norse, such as shirt and skirt /ˈʃərt, ˈskərt/, church and kirk /ˈtʃɜrtʃ, ˈkɜrk/, ditch and dike /ˈdɪtʃ, ˈdaɪk/. German only underwent palatalization of /sk/: cheese /tʃiːz/ and Käse /kɛːzə/; lie /ˈlaɪ/ and liegen /ˈliːɡən/; lay /ˈleɪ/ and legen /ˈleːɡən/; fish and Fisch /fɪʃ/.

The pronunciation of wicca as [ˈwɪkə] with a hard ⟨c⟩ is a spelling pronunciation, since the actual Old English pronunciation gave rise to witch.


This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (December 2016)

Others include the following:

In some English-speaking areas, the sound /s/ changed to /ʃ/, like for example in the words Worcestershire (/wʊs.tɚ.ʃiɹ/ to /wʊʃ.tɚ.ʃiɹ/) and Association (/əˌsoʊsiˈeɪʃən/ to /əˌsoʊʃiˈeɪʃən/). Various other examples include asphalt, (to) assume.

This is found in non-rhotic dialects of New York City, according to Labov, triggered by the loss of the coil–curl merger. It results in the palatalization of /ɝ/.[3] (Labov never specified the resultant vowel.)

Semitic languages



While in most Semitic languages, e.g. Aramaic, Hebrew, Ge'ez the Gimel represents a [ɡ], Arabic is considered unique among them where the Gimel was palatalized in most dialects to Jīm ج an affricate [d͡ʒ] or further into a fricative [ʒ]. While there is variation in Modern Arabic varieties, most of them reflect this palatalized pronunciation except in Egyptian Arabic and a number of Yemeni and Omani dialects, where it is pronounced as [ɡ]. It is not well known when this change occurred or if it is connected to the pronunciation of Qāf ق as a [ɡ], but in most of the Arabian peninsula which is the homeland of the Arabic language, the ج represents a [d͡ʒ] and ق represents a [ɡ], except in western and southern Yemen and parts of Oman where ج represents a [ɡ] and ق represents a [q], which shows a strong correlation between the palatalization of ج to [d͡ʒ] and the pronunciation of the ق as a [ɡ] as shown in the table below:

Language / Arabic Dialects Pronunciation of the letters
ج ق
Proto-Semitic /ɡ/ /kʼ/
Parts of Southern Arabia /ɡ/ /q/
Most Arabian Peninsular Dialects /d͡ʒ/ /ɡ/
Modern Standard Arabic /d͡ʒ/ /q/
Modern Arabic dialects

Some modern Arabic varieties developed palatalization of ك (turning [k] into [], [ts], [ʃ], or [s]), ق (turning [ɡ~q] into [] or [dz]) and ج (turning [d͡ʒ] into [j]), usually when adjacent to front vowel, though these palatalizations also occur in other environments as well. These three palatalizations occur in a variety of dialects, including Iraqi, rural Levantine varieties (e.g. rural Palestinian), a number of Gulf Arabic dialects,[5][6] such as Kuwaiti, Qatari, Bahraini, and Emarati, as well as others like Najdi,[7][8] parts of Oman,[9] and various Bedouin dialects across the Arab World.[10] Examples:

Palatalization occurs in the pronunciation of the second person feminine singular pronoun in those dialects. For instance:

Classical Arabic عَيْنُكِ 'your eye' (to a female) /ʕajnuki/ is pronounced:

Speakers in these dialects that do not use the palatalization would merge the feminine and masculine suffix pronouns e.g. عينك [ʕe̞ːnək] ('your eye' to a male/female) as opposed to Classical Arabic /ʕajnuka/ عَيْنُكَ ('your eye' to a male) and /ʕajnuki/ عَيْنُكِ ('your eye' to a female) and most other modern urban dialects /ʕeːnak/ (to a male) and /ʕeːnik/ (to a female).

Assyrian Neo-Aramaic

Assyrian Neo-Aramaic features the palatalization of kaph (turning /k/ into []), taw (turning /t/ into [ʃ]) and gimel (turning /ɡ/ into []),[11] albeit in some dialects only and seldom in the standardized version of the language.[12]

Romance languages

Further information: Palatalization in the Romance languages

The Romance languages developed from Vulgar Latin, the colloquial form of Latin spoken in the Roman Empire. Various palatalizations occurred during the historical development of the Romance languages. Some groups of the Romance languages underwent more palatalizations than others. One palatalization affected all groups, some palatalizations affected most groups, and one affected only a few groups.


In Gallo-Romance, Vulgar Latin *[ka] became *[tʃa] very early (and then in French become [ʃa]), with the subsequent deaffrication and some further developments of the vowel. For instance:

Early English borrowings from French show the original affricate, as chamber /ˈtʃeɪmbəɾ/ "(private) room" < Old French chambre /tʃɑ̃mbrə/ < Vulgar Latin camera; compare French chambre /ʃɑ̃bʁ/ "room".


Mouillé (French pronunciation: [muje], "moistened") is a term for palatal consonants in the Romance languages. Palatal consonants in the Romance languages developed from /l/ or /n/ by palatalization.

Spelling of palatal consonants
l mouillé n mouillé
Italian gl(i) gn
French il(l) gn
Occitan lh nh
Catalan ll ny
Spanish ll ñ
Portuguese lh nh

L and n mouillé have a variety of origins in the Romance languages. In these tables, letters that represent or used to represent /ʎ/ or /ɲ/ are bolded. In French, /ʎ/ merged with /j/ in pronunciation in the 18th century; in most dialects of Spanish, /ʎ/ has merged with /ʝ/. Romanian formerly had both /ʎ/ and /ɲ/, but both have either merged with /j/ or got lost: muliĕr(em) > *muʎere > Romanian muiere /muˈjere/ "woman"; vinĕa > *viɲe > Romanian vie /ˈvi.e/ "vineyard".

Examples of palatal /ʎ/
Latin meliōr(em)
"to coagulate"
Italian migliore cagliare orecchia cavallo luna chiave
French meilleur cailler oreille cheval lune clé
Piedmontese mijor cajé orija caval lun-a ciav
Occitan melhor calhar aurelha caval luna clau
Catalan millor quallar orella cavall lluna clau
Spanish mejor[a] cuajar[a] oreja[a] caballo luna llave
Portuguese melhor coalhar orelha cavalo lua chave
Romanian închega ureche cal lună cheie
  1. ^ a b c These cases come from the early fricativization of palatal /ʎ/, first into palatal /ʒ/ and ultimately into velar /x/, represented by ⟨j⟩.
Examples of palatal /ɲ/
Latin seniōr(em)
Italian signore cognato anno sonno sogno unghia vino
French seigneur an somme songe ongle vin
Occitan senhor cunhat an sòm sòmi ongla vin
Catalan senyor cunyat any son somni ungla vi
Spanish señor cuñado año sueño sueño uña vino
Portuguese senhor cunhado ano sono sonho unha vinho
Romanian cumnat an somn unghie vin

Satem languages

Main article: Centum–satem isogloss

In certain Indo-European language groups, the reconstructed "palato-velars" of Proto-Indo-European (*ḱ, *ǵ, *ǵʰ) were palatalized into sibilants. The language groups with and without palatalization are called satem and centum languages, after the characteristic developments of the PIE word for "hundred":

Latin centum /ˈkentum/ (no palatalization)

Slavic languages

Main articles: Slavic first palatalization, Slavic second palatalization, and History of Proto-Slavic

The Slavic languages are known for their tendency towards palatalization.

In Proto-Slavic or Common Slavic times the velars *k *g *x experienced three successive palatalizations. In the first palatalization they were fronted to *č *ž *š before the front vowels *e *ē *i *ī. In the second palatalization, the velars changed to *c, *dz or *z, and *s or *š (depending on dialect) before new *ē *ī (either from monophthongization of previous diphthongs or from borrowings). The third palatalization, also called the progressive palatalization, was triggered by a preceding *i or *ī and had the same outcomes as the second palatalization.[16]

In the process of iotation various sounds were also palatalized in front of the semivowel *j. The results vary by language.[17]

In addition, there were further palatalizing sound changes in the various Slavic languages after the break-up of Proto-Slavic. In some of them, including Polish and Russian, most sounds were palatalized by a following front vowel, causing the rise of a phonological contrast between hard (unpalatalized) and soft (palatalized) consonants.[18] In Kashubian and the neighboring Polish dialects the reflexes of PS velars *k *g were palatalized a fourth time before front vowels, resulting in palatal affricates.[19]

Sinitic languages

Main articles: Mandarin Chinese § Initials, and Standard Chinese phonology § Palatal series

In many varieties of Chinese, namely Mandarin, Northern Wu, and several others scattered throughout China, the velar series, /k x/, were palatalized before the medials /i y/ and shifted to alveolo-palatal series /tɕ tɕʰ ɕ/. Alveolo-palatal consonants occur in modern Standard Chinese and are written as j q x in Pinyin. Postal romanization does not show palatalized consonants, reflecting the dialect of the imperial court during the Qing dynasty. For instance, the name of the capital of China was formerly spelled Peking, but is now spelled Běijīng [pèɪ.tɕíŋ], and Tientsin and Sian were the former spellings of Tiānjīn [tʰjɛ́n.tɕín] and Xī'ān [ɕí.án].

Locality Middle Chinese Beijing Jinan Xi’an Taiyuan Wuhan Chengdu Hefei Yangzhou Nanjing Shanghai Suzhou Wenzhou Changsha Shuangfeng Nanchang Meixian Guangzhou Yangjiang Xiamen Chaozhou Fuzhou Jian’ou



꜀kau ꜀kɔ ꜀kau ꜀kau ꜀kau ꜀kau ꜀kɔ ꜀kɔ ꜀kɔ ꜀kɔ ꜀kæ ꜀kɜ ꜀kau ꜀kɤ ꜀kau ꜀kau ꜀kou ꜀kou ꜀ko ꜀kau (literary), ꜀ko (vernacular) ꜀kɔ ꜂au



꜀tɕiau ꜀tɕiɔ ꜀tɕiau ꜀tɕiau ꜀tɕiau (literary), ꜀kau (vernacular) ꜀tɕiau ꜀tɕiɔ ꜀tɕiau (literary), ꜀kɔ (vernacular) ꜀tɕiɔ ꜀tɕiɔ (literary), ꜀kɔ (vernacular) ꜀tɕiæ (literary), ꜀kæ (vernacular) ꜀kuɔ ꜀tɕiau ꜀tɕiɤ ꜀kau ꜀kau, kau꜄ ꜀kau ꜀kau, ꜀kʰau ꜀kau (literary), ꜀ka (vernacular) ꜀kau ꜀kau (literary), ꜀ka (vernacular) ꜀kau

See also


  1. ^ Buckley (2003)
  2. ^ For example, Bhat (1978)
  3. ^ Labov (1966), p. 216
  4. ^ Cole, J., Hualde, J.I., Laboratory Phonology 9, Walter de Gruyter 2007, p. 69.
  5. ^ McCarus, Hamdi A. Qafisheh; in consultation with Ernest N. (1977). "Appendix II". A short reference grammar of Gulf Arabic. Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Press. p. 265. ISBN 0-8165-0570-5.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ McCarus, Hamdi A. Qafisheh; in consultation with Ernest N. (1977). "Appendix III". A short reference grammar of Gulf Arabic. Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Press. p. 267. ISBN 0-8165-0570-5.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Al Motairi (2015)
  8. ^ Mahzari, Mohammad (2 March 2023). "The Historical Changes of /k/ and /q/ in Najdi Arabic: A Phonological Analysis". Theory and Practice in Language Studies. 13 (3): 796–807. doi:10.17507/tpls.1303.30. ISSN 2053-0692.
  9. ^ Al-Aghbari, Khalsa Hamed (2001). The Broken Plurals in the Muscat Dialect of Omani Arabic (PDF) (Master thesis). University of Victoria. Retrieved 23 June 2024. However, the exposure of Omanis to other dialects as well as the extensive interaction with foreigners admit the alveopalatal /ǰ/ to freely co-occur with the velar /g/. Open access icon
  10. ^ Freeman, Aaron (9 March 2015). The Linguistic Geography of Dorsal Consonants in Syria (PDF). 29th Annual Arabic Linguistics Symposium. Milwaukee: University of Pennsylvania. Our main focus will be on processes typical of the Bedouin dialect group: the 'uvular chain shift' g < q < ġ and the palatalization of k as it relates to the borrowability of /tʃ/ in Turkish loanwords.
  11. ^ Rudolf Macuch Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London Vol. 53, No. 2 (1990), pp. 214-223
  12. ^ Rudder, Joshua. Learn to Write Aramaic: A Step-by-Step Approach to the Historical & Modern Scripts. n.p.: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011. 220 pp. ISBN 978-1461021421 Includes the Estrangela (pp. 59–113), Madnhaya (pp. 191–206), and the Western Serto (pp. 173–190) scripts.
  13. ^ Brock, Sebastian (2006). An Introduction to Syriac Studies. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press. ISBN 1-59333-349-8.
  14. ^ Tsereteli, Konstantin G. (1990). "The velar spirant 0 in modern East Aramaic Dialects", W. Heinrichs (ed.): Studies in Neo-Aramaic (Harvard Semitic Studies 36), Atlanta, 35-42.
  15. ^ *Beyer, Klaus (1986). The Aramaic language: its distribution and subdivisions. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht. ISBN 3-525-53573-2.
  16. ^ Stieber 1989, pp. 66–74.
  17. ^ Stieber 1989, pp. 74–78.
  18. ^ Stieber 1989, pp. 87–89.
  19. ^ Stieber, Zdzisław (1965). Zarys dialektologii języków zachodnio-słowiańskich (in Polish) (2 ed.). Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe. p. 35.