Voiceless dental fricative
IPA Number130
Audio sample
Entity (decimal)θ
Unicode (hex)U+03B8
Braille⠨ (braille pattern dots-46)⠹ (braille pattern dots-1456)

The voiceless dental non-sibilant fricative is a type of consonantal sound used in some spoken languages. It is familiar to English speakers as the 'th' in think. Though rather rare as a phoneme among the world's languages, it is encountered in some of the most widespread and influential ones. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is θ, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is T. The IPA symbol is the Greek letter theta, which is used for this sound in post-classical Greek, and the sound is thus often referred to as "theta".

The dental non-sibilant fricatives are often called "interdental" because they are often produced with the tongue between the upper and lower teeth, and not just against the back of the upper or lower teeth, as they are with other dental consonants.

This sound and its voiced counterpart are rare phonemes, occurring in 4% of languages in a phonological analysis of 2,155 languages.[1] Among the more than 60 languages with over 10 million speakers, only English, northern varieties of the Berber language of North Africa, Standard Peninsular Spanish, various dialects of Arabic, Swahili (in words derived from Arabic), and Greek have the voiceless dental non-sibilant fricative.[citation needed] Speakers of languages and dialects without the sound sometimes have difficulty producing or distinguishing it from similar sounds, especially if they have had no chance to acquire it in childhood, and typically replace it with a voiceless alveolar fricative (/s/) (as in Indonesian), voiceless dental stop (/t/), or a voiceless labiodental fricative (/f/); known respectively as th-alveolarization, th-stopping,[2] and th-fronting.[3]

The sound is known to have disappeared from a number of languages, e.g. from most of the Germanic languages or dialects, where it is retained only in Scots, English, and Icelandic, but it is alveolar in the last of these.[4][5] Among non-Germanic Indo-European languages as a whole, the sound was also once much more widespread, but is today preserved in a few languages including the Brythonic languages, Peninsular Spanish, Galician, Venetian, Tuscan, Albanian, some Occitan dialects and Greek. It has likewise disappeared from many Semitic languages, such as Hebrew (excluding Yemenite Hebrew) and many modern varieties of Arabic (excluding Tunisian, Mesopotamian Arabic and various dialects in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Modern Standard Arabic).


Features of the voiceless dental non-sibilant fricative:


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Albanian thotë [θɔtə] 'says'
Arabic Modern Standard[6] ثَوْب [θawb] 'a dress' Represented by ث. See Arabic phonology.
Eastern Libya ثِلاثة [θɪˈlæːθæ] 'three'
Sanaa, Yemen[7][full citation needed] يِثَمَّن [jɪˈθæmːæn] 'it is priced'
Iraq ثمانْية [θ(ɪ)ˈmæːnjæ] 'eight'
Khuzestan, Iran[8] الثانْية [ɪθˈθæːnjæ] 'the second one'
Aragonese arbuzo [arˈbuθo] 'bush'
Arapaho yoo3on [jɔːθɔn] 'five'
Arpitan Genevan [fr] and Savoyard march [maʁθ'ia] 'market'
Fribourgeois [fr] èthêla [e'θɛːla] 'star'
Valaisan [fr] clâf [θo] 'key' Limited to l'Étivaz [fr] (VD), Bourg-Saint-Pierre (VS), and a few other villages.
Assyrian ܒܝܬܐ bèa [beːθa] 'house' Mostly used in the Western, Barwari, Tel Keppe, Batnaya and Alqosh dialects; realized as [t] in other varieties.
Asturian zumu [ˈθumu] 'juice'
Avestan 𐬑𐬱𐬀𐬚𐬭𐬀‎ xšaθra [xʃaθra] 'kingdom' Ancient dead sacred language.
Bashkir дуҫ / duθ [duθ] 'friend'
Berber maziɣ [θmæzɪɣθ] 'Berber (language)'(noun) This pronunciation is common in northern Morocco, central Morocco, and northern Algeria.
Berta [θɪ́ŋɑ̀] 'to eat'
Burmese[9] သုံး / thon: [θòʊ̯̃] 'three' Commonly realized as an affricate [t̪͡θ].[10]
Cornish eth [ɛθ] 'eight'
Emiliano-Romagnol[11] za [ˈfaːθɐ] 'face'
English Received Pronunciation[12] thin [θɪn] 'thin'
Western American [θ̪͆ɪn] Interdental.[12]
Galician Most dialects[13] cero [ˈθɛɾo] 'zero' Merges with /s/ into [s] in Western dialects.[13] See Galician phonology
Greek θάλασσα [ˈθalasa] 'sea' See Modern Greek phonology
Gweno [riθo] 'eye'
Gwich’in th [θaɬ] 'pants'
Halkomelem θqet [θqet] 'tree'
Hän nihthän [nihθɑn] 'I want'
Harsusi [θəroː] 'two'
Hebrew Iraqi עברית [ʕibˈriːθ] 'Hebrew' (language) See Modern Hebrew phonology
Yemenite [ʕivˈriːθ]
Hlai Basadung [θsio] 'one'
Italian Tuscan[14] i capitani [iˌhäɸiˈθäːni] 'the captains' Intervocalic allophone of /t/.[14] See Italian phonology and Tuscan gorgia
Kabyle afa [θafaθ] 'light'(noun)
Karen Sgaw သၢ [θə˧] 'three'
Karuk yiθa [jiθa] 'one'
Kickapoo neθwi [nɛθwi] 'three'
Kwama [mɑ̄ˈθíl] 'to laugh'
Leonese ceru [θeɾu] 'zero'
Lorediakarkar [θar] 'four'
Malay Selasa [θəlaθa] 'Tuesday' Mostly occurs in Arabic loanwords originally containing this sound, but the writing is not distinguished from the Arabic loanwords with the [s] sound and this sound must be learned separately by the speakers. See Malay phonology.
Massa [faθ] 'five'
Occitan Gascon macipon [maθiˈpu] '(male) child' Limited the sub-dialects of the region of Castillonais, in the Ariège department.
Vivaro-Alpine chin [θĩ] 'dog' Limited to Vénosc, in the Isère department.
Saanich ŦES [teθʔəs] 'eight'
Sardinian Nuorese petha [pɛθa] 'meat'
Shark Bay [θar] 'four'
Shawnee nthwi [nθwɪ] 'three'
Sioux Nakoda ktusa [ktũˈθa] 'four'
Spanish European[15] cazar [käˈθ̪͆äɾ] 'to hunt' Interdental. See Spanish phonology and Seseo. This sound is not contrastive in the Americas, southern Andalusia or the Canary Islands.
Castilian pared [paˈɾeθ] 'wall' Word-final, especially in Madrid.[16][17] Corresponds to [ð] in standard Spanish.
Swahili thamini [θɑˈmini] 'value' Mostly occurs in Arabic loanwords originally containing this sound.
Tanacross thiit [θiːtʰ] 'embers'
Toda உஇனபஒ [wɨnboθ] 'nine'
Tutchone Northern tho [θo] 'pants'
Southern thü [θɨ]
Upland Yuman Havasupai [θerap] 'five'
Hualapai [θarap]
Yavapai [θerapi]
Venetian Eastern dialects çinque [ˈθiŋkwe] 'five' Corresponds to /s/ in other dialects.
Wolaytta shiththa [ɕiθθa] 'flower'
Welsh saith [saiθ] 'seven'
Zhuang saw [θaːu˨˦] 'language'
Zotung Standard dialect of Lungngo kacciade [kəˈθʲaːðɛ] 'I go' Realized as [sʲ] and [t] in Aikap and other Northern dialects. It can also be voiced depending on the preceding consonant.

Voiceless denti-alveolar sibilant

Voiceless denti-alveolar sibilant

The voiceless denti-alveolar sibilant is the only sibilant fricative in some dialects of Andalusian Spanish. It has no official symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet, though its features would be transcribed s̻̪ or s̪̻ (using the ◌̻, the diacritic marking a laminal consonant, and ◌̪, the diacritic marking a dental consonant). It is usually represented by an ad-hoc symbol such as , θˢ̣, or (advanced diacritic).

Dalbor (1980) describes this sound as follows: "[s̄] is a voiceless, corono-dentoalveolar groove fricative, the so-called s coronal or s plana because of the relatively flat shape of the tongue body.... To this writer, the coronal [s̄], heard throughout Andalusia, should be characterized by such terms as "soft," "fuzzy," or "imprecise," which, as we shall see, brings it quite close to one variety of /θ/ ... Canfield has referred, quite correctly, in our opinion, to this [s̄] as "the lisping coronal-dental," and Amado Alonso remarks how close it is to the post-dental [θ̦], suggesting a combined symbol [θˢ̣] to represent it".


Features of the voiceless denti-alveolar sibilant:


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Spanish Andalusian[18] casa [ˈkäs̻̪ä] 'house' Present in dialects with ceceo. See Spanish phonology

See also


  1. ^ Phoible.org. (2018). PHOIBLE Online - Segments. [online] Available at: http://phoible.org/parameters.
  2. ^ Wells (1982:565–66, 635)
  3. ^ Wells (1982:96–97, 328–30, 498, 500, 553, 557–58, 635)
  4. ^ Pétursson (1971:?), cited in Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:145)
  5. ^ Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:144–145)
  6. ^ Thelwall (1990:37)
  7. ^ [[#CITEREF|]]:224)
  8. ^ Versteegh (2001:159)
  9. ^ Watkins (2001:291–292)
  10. ^ Watkins (2001:292)
  11. ^ Fig. 11 La zeta bolognese (in Italian)
  12. ^ a b Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), p. 143.
  13. ^ a b Regueira (1996:119–120)
  14. ^ a b Hall (1944:75)
  15. ^ Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003:255)
  16. ^ García Mouton & Molina Martos (2016:283–296)
  17. ^ Molina Martos (2016:347–367)
  18. ^ a b Dalbor (1980:9)