Palatal approximant

The voiced palatal approximant is a type of consonant used in many spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is j. The equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is j, and in the Americanist phonetic notation it is y. Because the English name of the letter J, jay, does not start with [j] but with [d͡ʒ] (voiced palato-alveolar affricate), this approximant is sometimes called yod instead, as in the phonological history terms yod-dropping and yod-coalescence.

Palatal approximant
IPA Number153
Entity (decimal)j
Unicode (hex)U+006A
Audio sample
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Nature of the sound

The palatal approximant can in many cases be considered the semivocalic equivalent of the close front unrounded vowel [i]. The two are almost identical featurally. They alternate with each other in certain languages, such as French, and in the diphthongs of some languages, j and with the non-syllabic diacritic are used in different transcription systems to represent the same sound.

Some languages, though, have a palatal approximant that is unspecified for rounding, and therefore cannot be considered the semivocalic equivalent of either [i] or its rounded counterpart [y] (which would normally correspond to [ɥ]). An example of such language is Spanish, which distinguishes two palatal approximants: an approximant semivowel [j], which is always unrounded, and an unspecified for rounding approximant consonant [ʝ̞]. Eugenio Martínez Celdrán describes the difference between them as follows:[1]

[j] is shorter and is usually a merely transitory sound. It can only exist together with a full vowel and does not appear in syllable onset. [On the other hand,] [ʝ̞] has a lower amplitude, mainly in F2. It can only appear in syllable onset. It is not noisy either articulatorily or perceptually. [ʝ̞] can vary towards [ʝ] in emphatic pronunciations, having noise (turbulent airstream). (...)

There is a further argument through which we can establish a clear difference between [j] and [ʝ̞]: the first sound cannot be rounded, not even through co-articulation, whereas the second one is rounded before back vowels or the back semi-vowel. Thus, in words like viuda [ˈbjuð̞a] 'widow', Dios [ˈdjos] 'God', vio [ˈbjo] 's/he saw', etc., the semi-vowel [j] is unrounded; if it were rounded a sound that does not exist in Spanish, [ɥ], would appear. On the other hand, [ʝ̞] is unspecified as far as rounding is concerned and it is assimilated to the labial vowel context: rounded with rounded vowels, e.g. ayuda [aˈʝ̞ʷuð̞a] 'help', coyote [koˈʝ̞ʷote] 'coyote', hoyuelo [oˈʝ̞ʷwelo] 'dimple', etc., and unrounded with unrounded vowels: payaso [paˈʝ̞aso] 'clown', ayer [aˈʝ̞eɾ] 'yesterday'.

He also says that in his opinion, "the IPA shows a lack of precision in the treatment it gives to approximants, if we take into account our understanding of the phonetics of Spanish. [ʝ̞] and [j] are two different segments, but they have to be labelled as voiced palatal approximant consonants. I think that the former is a real consonant, whereas the latter is a semi-consonant, as it has traditionally been called in Spanish, or a semi-vowel, if preferred. The IPA, though, classifies it as a consonant."[2]

There is a parallel problem with transcribing the voiced velar approximant.

The symbol ʝ̞ may also be used when the palatal approximant is merely an allophone of the voiced palatal fricative /ʝ/ as, compared with j, it is somewhat more similar to the symbol ʝ. The X-SAMPA equivalent of ʝ̞ is j\_o.

The symbol ʝ̞ may not display properly in all browsers. In that case, ʝ˕ should be substituted.

In the writing systems used for most of the languages of Central, Northern, and Eastern Europe, the letter j denotes the palatal approximant, as in German Jahr 'year'. That is followed by IPA although it may be counterintuitive for English speakers (words occur with this sound in a few loanwords in English like Hebrew "hallelujah" and German "Jägermeister").

In grammars of Ancient Greek, the palatal approximant, which was lost early in the history of Greek, is sometimes written as ι̯ (iota with the inverted breve below, the nonsyllabic diacritic or marker of a semivowel).[3]

There is also the post-palatal approximant[4] in some languages, which is articulated slightly more back compared with the place of articulation of the prototypical palatal approximant, though not as back as the prototypical velar approximant. It can be considered the semivocalic equivalent of the close central unrounded vowel [ɨ], and the two are almost identical featurally. The International Phonetic Alphabet does not have a separate symbol for that sound, though it can be transcribed as , (both symbols denote a retracted j), ɰ̟ or ɰ˖ (both symbols denote an advanced ɰ). The equivalent X-SAMPA symbols are j_- and M\_+, respectively. Other possible transcriptions include a centralized j ( in the IPA, j_" in X-SAMPA), a centralized ɰ (ɰ̈ in the IPA, M\_" in X-SAMPA) and a non-syllabic ɨ (ɨ̯ in the IPA, 1_^ in X-SAMPA).

For the reasons mentioned above and in the article velar approximant, none of these symbols are appropriate for languages such as Spanish, in which the post-palatal approximant consonant (not a semivowel) appears as an allophone of /ɡ/ before front vowels, and is best transcribed ʝ̞˗, ʝ˕˗ (both symbols denote a lowered and retracted ʝ), ɣ̞˖ or ɣ˕˖ (both symbols denote a lowered and advanced ɣ). The equivalent X-SAMPA symbols are j\_o_- and G_o_+.

Especially in broad transcription, the post-palatal approximant may be transcribed as a palatalized velar approximant (ɰʲ, ɣ̞ʲ or ɣ˕ʲ in the IPA, M\', M\_j, G'_o or G_o_j in X-SAMPA).


Features of the palatal approximant:

  • Its manner of articulation is approximant, which means it is produced by narrowing the vocal tract at the place of articulation, but not enough to produce a turbulent airstream. The most common type of this approximant is glide or semivowel. The term glide emphasizes the characteristic of movement (or 'glide') of [j] from the [i] vowel position to a following vowel position. The term semivowel emphasizes that, although the sound is vocalic in nature, it is not 'syllabic' (it does not form the nucleus of a syllable). For a description of the approximant consonant variant used e.g. in Spanish, see above.
  • Its place of articulation is palatal, which means it is articulated with the middle or back part of the tongue raised to the hard palate. The otherwise identical post-palatal variant is articulated slightly behind the hard palate, making it sound slightly closer to the velar [ɰ].
  • Its phonation is voiced, which means the vocal cords vibrate during the articulation.
  • It is an oral consonant, which means air is allowed to escape through the mouth only.
  • It is a central consonant, which means it is produced by directing the airstream along the center of the tongue, rather than to the sides.



AdygheятӀэ[jatʼa] 'dirt'
Afrikaansja[jɑː]'yes'See Afrikaans phonology
ArabicStandardيوم[jawm]'day'See Arabic phonology
Aragonese[5]caye[ˈkaʝ̞e̞]'falls'Unspecified for rounding palatal approximant consonant; the language also features an unrounded palatal approximant semivowel (which may replace /ʝ̞/ before /e/).[5]
Assyrian Neo-Aramaicyama[jaːma]'ocean'
Bengaliয়[nɔjon]'eye'See Bengali phonology
Bulgarianмайка / mayka[ˈmajkɐ]'mother'See Bulgarian phonology
Catalan[7]seient[səˈjen]'seat'See Catalan phonology
Chechenялх / yalx[jalx]'six'
ChineseCantonese / jat9[jɐt˨ʔ]'day'See Cantonese phonology
Mandarin / yā[ja˥]'duck'See Mandarin phonology
Czechje[jɛ]'is'See Czech phonology
Danishjeg[jɑ]'I'See Danish phonology
DutchStandard[8]ja[jaː]'yes'Frequently realized as a fricative [ʝ], especially in emphatic speech.[8] See Dutch phonology
Englishyou[juː]'you'See English phonology
Esperantojaro[jaro]'year'See Esperanto phonology
Estonianjalg[ˈjɑlg]'leg'See Estonian phonology
Finnishjalka[ˈjɑlkɑ]'leg'See Finnish phonology
Frenchyeux[jø]'eyes'See French phonology
GermanStandard[9][10]Jacke[ˈjäkə]'jacket'Also described as a fricative [ʝ][11][12] and a sound variable between a fricative and an approximant.[13] See Standard German phonology
Greek Ancient Greek εἴη [ˈejːɛː] ‘(third person) they (singular) shall (present) come’ See Ancient Greek phonology
Hebrewילד[ˈjeled]'boy'See Modern Hebrew phonology
Hindustaniया / یان[jɑːn]'vehicle'See Hindustani phonology
Hungarianjáték[jaːteːk]'game'See Hungarian phonology
Irish[14]ghearrfadh[ˈjɑːɾˠhəx]'would cut'See Irish phonology
Italian[15]ione[ˈjoːne]'ion'See Italian phonology
Jalapa Mazatec[16]Contrasts voiceless //, plain voiced /j/ and glottalized voiced /ȷ̃/ approximants.[16]
Japanese焼く / yaku[jaku͍]'to bake'See Japanese phonology
Korean여섯 / yeoseot[jʌsʌt̚]'six'See Korean phonology
Latiniacere[ˈjakɛrɛ]'to throw'See Latin spelling and pronunciation
Lithuanian[17]ji[jɪ]'she'Also described as a fricative [ʝ].[18][19] See Lithuanian phonology
Macedonianкрај[kraj]'end'See Macedonian phonology
Maltese jiekol [jɪɛkol] 'he eats'
Mapudungun[20]kayu[kɜˈjʊ]'six'May be a fricative [ʝ] instead.[20]
NorwegianUrban East[21][22]gi[jiː]'to give'May be a fricative [ʝ] instead.[22][23] See Norwegian phonology
Persianیزد[jæzd]'Yazd'See Persian phonology
Polish[24]jutro[ˈjut̪rɔ] 'tomorrow'See Polish phonology
Portuguese[25]boia[ˈbɔj.jɐ]'buoy', 'float'Allophone of both /i/ and /ʎ/,[26] as well as a very common epenthetic sound before coda sibilants in some dialects. See Portuguese phonology
Romanianiar[jar]'again'See Romanian phonology
Russian[27]яма[ˈjämə]'pit'See Russian phonology
Serbo-Croatian[28]југ / jug[jȗg]'South'See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Slovak[29]jesť[jɛ̝sc̟]'to eat'See Slovak phonology
Spanish[30]ayer[aˈʝ̞e̞ɾ]'yesterday'Unspecified for rounding palatal approximant consonant; the language also features an unrounded palatal approximant semivowel.[30] See Spanish phonology
Swedishjag[ˈjɑːɡ]'I'May be realized as a palatal fricative [ʝ] instead. See Swedish phonology
Turkish[31]yol[jo̞ɫ̪]'way'See Turkish phonology
Ubykh[ajəwʃqʼa]'you did it'See Ubykh phonology
Ukrainianїжак / jižak[jiˈʒɑk]'hedgehog'See Ukrainian phonology
VietnameseSouthern dialectsde[jɛ]'cinnamon'Corresponds to northern /z/. See Vietnamese phonology
Washodayáʔ[daˈjaʔ]'leaf'Contrasts voiceless // and voiced /j/ approximants.
West Frisianjas[jɔs]'coat'See West Frisian phonology


Post-palatal approximant
Audio sample
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Spanish[33]seguir[se̞ˈɣ̞˖iɾ]'to follow'Lenited allophone of /ɡ/ before front vowels;[33] typically transcribed in IPA with ɣ. See Spanish phonology


TurkishStandard prescriptive[34]ğün[ˈd̪y̠jy̠n̪]'marriage'Either post-palatal or palatal; phonetic realization of /ɣ/ (also transcribed as /ɰ/) before front vowels.[34] See Turkish phonology

See also



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