Breathy voice

Breathy voice

Breathy voice (also called murmured voice, soughing, or susurration) is a phonation in which the vocal cords vibrate, as they do in normal (modal) voicing, but are held further apart, so that a larger volume of air escapes between them. This produces an audible noise. A breathy-voiced phonation [ɦ] (not actually a fricative, as a literal reading of the IPA chart would suggest) can be heard as an allophone of English /h/ between vowels, e.g. in behind. A stop with breathy-voiced release (symbolized either as etc. or as etc.) is like aspiration in that it delays the onset of full voicing. This is the phonation of the Hindi "voiced aspirated stops": bh, dh, ḍh, jh, and gh.

There are several ways to generate breathy-voiced sounds like [ɦ]. One is to hold the vocal cords apart, so that they are lax as they are for [h], but to increase the volume of airflow so that they vibrate loosely. A second is to bring the vocal cords closer together along their entire length than in voiceless [h], but not as close as in modally voiced sounds such as vowels. This results in an airflow intermediate between [h] and vowels, and is the case with English intervocalic /h/. A third is to constrict the glottis, but separate the arytenoid cartilages that control one end. This results in the vocal cords being drawn together for voicing in the back, but separated to allow the passage of large volumes of air in the front. This is the situation with Hindi.

From the Latin, murmur, a soft-sounded and quiet utterance, often where the speaker does not want to be known.

Breathy voice as a phonological property

A number of languages use breathy voicing in a phonologically contrastive way, that is, they display a three-way consonant contrast (voiced<>breathy voiced<>voiceless), or possibly a four-way consonant contrast (voiced<>breathy voiced<>voiceless (unaspirated)<>voiceless aspirated). Languages displaying four-way contrasts include Hindi, and the Nguni languages in the southern Bantu languages family, including Phuthi, Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele and Swati. These three- or four-way contrasts are typically manifested only for stop consonants (possibly including affricates), not for fricatives.

In some of these Bantu languages, 'breathy voiced' stops have been phonetically altered to devoiced stops , but the four-way contrast in the system has been retained. In all five of the southeastern Bantu languages named, the breathy voiced stops (even if they are realised phonetically as devoiced) have a marked tone-lowering (or tone-depressing) effect on the following tautosyllabic vowels. For this reason, such stop consonants are frequently referred to in the local linguistic literature as 'depressor' stops.

Swati, and even more so Phuthi, display good evidence that breathy voicing can be used as a morphological property independent of any consonant voicing value. For example, in both languages, the standard morphological mechanism for achieving the morphosyntactic copula is to simply execute the noun prefix syllable as breathy voiced (or 'depressed').

See also

References

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