Voiceless glottal fricative

The voiceless glottal transition, commonly called a "fricative", is a type of sound used in some spoken languages which often behaves like a consonant, but sometimes behaves more like a vowel, or is indeterminate in its behavior. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is h, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is h. People lacking this sound in their native language often have difficulty trying to produce it - notably, speakers of French.

Although [h] has been described as a voiceless vowel because in many languages it lacks the place and manner of articulation of a prototypical consonant, it also lacks the height and backness of a prototypical vowel:

[h and ɦ] have been described as voiceless or breathy voiced counterparts of the vowels that follow them [but] the shape of the vocal tract […] is often simply that of the surrounding sounds. […] Accordingly, in such cases it is more appropriate to regard h and ɦ as segments that have only a laryngeal specification, and are unmarked for all other features. There are other languages [such as Hebrew and Arabic] which show a more definite displacement of the formant frequencies for h, suggesting it has a [glottal] constriction associated with its production.


Features of the "voiceless glottal fricative":

  • Its phonation type is voiceless, which means that the air passes through the vocal cords without causing them to vibrate.
  • In some languages, it has the constricted manner of articulation of a fricative. However, in many if not most it is a transitional state of the glottis, with no manner of articulation other than its phonation type. Because there is no other constriction to produce friction in the vocal tract in the languages they are familiar with, many phoneticians no longer consider [h] to be a fricative. However, the term "fricative" is generally retained for historical reasons.
  • It may have a glottal place of articulation. However, it may have no fricative articulation, in which case the term 'glottal' only refers to the nature of its phonation, and does not describe the location of the stricture nor the turbulence. All consonants except for the glottals, and all vowels, have an individual place of articulation in addition to the state of the glottis. As with all other consonants, surrounding vowels influence the pronunciation [h], and [h] has sometimes been presented as a voiceless vowel, having the place of articulation of these surrounding vowels.
  • It is an oral consonant, which means air is allowed to escape through the mouth.
  • Because it is pronounced in the throat, without a component in the mouth, the central/lateral dichotomy does not apply.
  • The airstream mechanism is pulmonic egressive, which means it is articulated by pushing air out of the lungs and through the vocal tract, rather than from the glottis or the mouth.


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Arabic Standard هَاتِف [haːˈt̪if] 'telephone' See Arabic phonology
Armenian հայերեն [hajɛɹɛn] 'Armenian'
Avar гьа 'oath'
Basque hirur 'this'
Chechen хIара/? [hara] 'this'
Coptic ϩⲣⲁ 'face'
English high 'high' See English phonology
Faroese Hon 'she'
Finnish hammas 'tooth' See Finnish phonology
Georgian ავა [hɑvɑ] 'Climate'
German Hass [has] 'hatred' See German phonology
Hawaiian haole [ˈhaole] See Hawaiian phonology
Hebrew הר' [haʁ] 'mountain' See Hebrew phonology
Hmong hawm [haɨ̰] 'to honor'
Hungarian helyes [hɛjɛʃ] 'right' See Hungarian phonology
Japanese すはだ/suhada 'bare skin' See Japanese phonology
Korean 호랑이/horang-i 'tiger' See Korean phonology
Kabardian тхылъхэ [tχɪɬhɑ] 'books'
Lao ຫ້າ [haː˧˩] 'five'
Navajo hastiin [hàsd̥ìːn] ''
Norwegian hatt 'hat' See Norwegian phonology
Pashto ﻫﻮ [ho] 'yes'
Persian هفت [hæft] 'seven' See Persian phonology
Pirahã hi [hì] 'he'
Portuguese Brazilian carro [ˈkahu] 'car' More frequently realized as an alveolar or uvular trill. See Portuguese phonology
Romanian hăţ [həts] 'bridle' See Romanian phonology
Spanish Many dialects obispo [o̞ˈβihpo̞] 'bishop' Allophone of /s/. See Spanish phonology
Some dialects jaca [ˈhaka] 'pony' corresponds to /x/ in other dialects.
Thai ห้า [haː˥˩] 'five'
Turkish halı [häˈɫɯ] 'carpet' See Turkish phonology
Ubykh [dwaha] 'prayer' See Ubykh phonology
Vietnamese hư 'corrupt; decayed' See Vietnamese phonology

See also



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