Guttural speech sounds are those with a primary place of articulation near the back of the oral cavity. In some definitions, this is restricted to pharyngeal consonants, but in others includes some velar and uvular consonants. Guttural sounds are typically consonants, but some vowels' articulations may also be considered guttural in nature.

Tongue shape
Secondary articulation
See also

Although the term has historically been used by phoneticians, and is occasionally used by phonologists today, its technical use is now limited, and it is more common in popular use as an imprecise term for sounds produced relatively far back in the vocal tract. The term does, however, continue to be used by some phonologists to denote laryngeal consonants (including uvulars), as well as murmured, pharyngealized, glottalized, and strident vowels.[1][2]

Meaning and etymology

The word guttural literally means 'of the throat' (from Latin guttur, meaning throat), and was first used by phoneticians to describe the Hebrew glottal [ʔ] (א) and [h] (ה), uvular [χ] (ח), and pharyngeal [ʕ] (ע).[3]

The term is now commonly extended to include also velar consonants, which deviates from the strict etymology. As used in linguistics, such a definition includes all velar consonants, regardless of manner of articulation.

The term is also commonly used non-technically by English speakers to refer to sounds that subjectively appear harsh or grating. This definition usually includes a number of consonants that are not used in English, such as epiglottal [ʜ] and [ʡ], uvular [χ] and [q], and velar fricatives [x] and [ɣ]. However, it usually excludes sounds used in English, such as the velar stops [k] and [ɡ], the velar nasal [ŋ], and the glottal consonants [h] and [ʔ].[4][5]

Guttural languages

In popular consciousness, languages that make extensive use of guttural consonants are often considered to be guttural languages. English-speakers sometimes find such languages strange and even hard on the ear.[6]

Examples of significant usage

Some of the languages that extensively use [x], [χ], [ɣ] and/or [q] are:

In addition to their usage of [q], [x], [χ] and [ɣ], these languages also have the pharyngeal consonants of [ʕ] and [ħ]:

Examples of partial usage

In French, the only truly guttural sound is (usually) a uvular fricative (or the guttural R). In Portuguese, [ʁ] is becoming dominant in urban areas. There is also a realization as a [χ], and the original pronunciation as an [r] also remains very common in various dialects.

In Russian, /x/ is assimilated to the palatalization of the following velar consonant: лёгких [ˈlʲɵxʲkʲɪx] . It also has a voiced allophone ɣ, which occurs before voiced obstruents.[40] In Romanian, /h/ becomes the velar [x] in word-final positions (duh 'spirit') and before consonants (hrean 'horseradish').[41] In Czech, the phoneme /x/ followed by a voiced obstruent can be realized as either [ɦ] or [ɣ], e.g. abych byl [abɪɣ.bɪl].[42]

In Kyrgyz, the consonant phoneme /k/ has a uvular realisation ([q]) in back vowel contexts. In front-vowel environments, /g/ is fricativised between continuants to [ɣ], and in back vowel environments both /k/ and /g/ fricativise to [χ] and [ʁ] respectively.[43] In Uyghur, the phoneme /ʁ/ occurs with a back vowel. In the Mongolian language, /x/ is usually followed by /ŋ/.[44]

The Tuu and Juu (Khoisan) languages of southern Africa have large numbers of guttural vowels. These sounds share certain phonological behaviors that warrant the use of a term specifically for them. There are scattered reports of pharyngeals elsewhere, such as in the Nilo-Saharan, Tama language.

In Swabian German, a pharyngeal approximant [ʕ] is an allophone of /ʁ/ in nucleus and coda positions.[45] In onsets, it is pronounced as a uvular approximant.[45] In Danish, /ʁ/ may have slight frication, and, according to Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), it may be a pharyngeal approximant [ʕ].[46] In Finnish, a weak pharyngeal fricative is the realization of /h/ after the vowels /ɑ/ or /æ/ in syllable-coda position, e.g. [tæħti] 'star'.

See also


  1. Miller, Amanda (2007). "Guttural vowels and guttural co-articulation in Juǀʼhoansi". Journal of Phonetics. 35 (1): 56–84. doi:10.1016/j.wocn.2005.11.001.
  2. Pullum, Geoffrey K.; Ladusaw, William (1996). Phonetic Symbol Guide (Second ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226685359.
  3. See Oxford English Dictionary entry
  4. McCarthy, John J. 1989. 'Guttural Phonology', ms., University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
  5. McCarthy, John J. Forthcoming. 'Guttural Transparency', ms., University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
  6. Hayward, K. M. and Hayward, R. J. 1989. '"Guttural": Arguments for a New Distinctive Feature', Transactions of the Philological Society 87: 179-193.
  7. "John Wells's phonetic blog: velar or uvular?". 5 December 2011. Retrieved 12 February 2015.
  8. Dum-Tragut (2009:17–20)
  9. Beyer, Klaus (1986). The Aramaic language: its distribution and subdivisions. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht. ISBN 3-525-53573-2.
  10. Brock, Sebastian (2006). An Introduction to Syriac Studies. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press. ISBN 1-59333-349-8.
  11. Shiraliyev, Mammadagha. The Baku Dialect. Azerbaijan SSR Academy of Sciences Publ.: Baku, 1957; p. 41
  12. Kavitskaya 2010, p. 10
  13. Friedrich Maurer uses the term Istvaeonic instead of Franconian; see Friedrich Maurer (1942), Nordgermanen und Alemannen: Studien zur germanischen und frühdeutschen Sprachgeschichte, Stammes- und Volkskunde, Bern: Verlag Francke.
  14. For a history of the German consonants see Fausto Cercignani, The Consonants of German: Synchrony and Diachrony, Milano, Cisalpino, 1979.
  15. Boeder (2002), p. 3
  16. Boeder (2005), p. 6
  17. Gamkrelidze (1966), p. 69
  18. Fähnrich & Sardzhveladze (2000)
  19. Habib, Abdul (1967). The Two Thousand Years Old Language of Afghanistan or The Mother of Dari Language (An Analysis of the Baghlan Inscription) (PDF). Historical Society of Afghanistan. p. 6.
  20. Lazard, Gilbert, "Pahlavi, Pârsi, dari: Les langues d'Iran d'apès Ibn al-Muqaffa" in R.N. Frye, Iran and Islam. In Memory of the late Vladimir Minorsky, Edinburgh University Press, 1971.
  21. Bauer, Michael Blas na Gàidhlig - The Practical Guide to Gaelic Pronunciation (2011) Akerbeltz ISBN 978-1-907165-00-9
  22. A Beginners' Guide to Tajiki by Azim Baizoyev and John Hayward, Routledge, London and New York, 2003, p. 3
  23. John C. Wells (1982), Accents of English, Cambridge University Press, p. 390, ISBN 9780521285407
  24. Brenzinger (2007:128)
  25. Chaker (1996:4–5)
  26. Abdel-Massih (1971b:11)
  27. Creissels (2006:3–4)
  28. Richard Hayward, "Afroasiatic", in Heine & Nurse, 2000, African Languages
  29. Savà, Graziano; Tosco, Mauro (2003). "The classification of Ongota". In Bender, M. Lionel; et al. (eds.). Selected comparative-historical Afrasian linguistic studies. LINCOM Europa.
  30. Sands, Bonny (2009). "Africa's Linguistic Diversity". Language and Linguistics Compass. 3 (2): 559–580. doi:10.1111/j.1749-818x.2008.00124.x.
  31. Haig, Geoffrey; Yaron Matras (2002). "Kurdish linguistics: a brief overview" (PDF). Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung. Berlin. 55 (1): 3–14. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
  32. Hewitt, George (2004). Introduction to the Study of the Languages of the Caucasus. Munich: Lincom Europaq. p. 49.
  33. Plaster, Keith; et al. "Noun classes grow on trees: noun classification in the North-East Caucasus". Language and Representations (Tentative). Retrieved 20 April 2013.
  34. Nichols, J. 1997 Nikolaev and Starostin's North Caucasian Etymological Dictionary and the Methodology of Long-Range Comparison: an assessment Paper presented at the 10th Biennial Non-Slavic Languages (NSL) Conference, Chicago, 8–10 May 1997.
  35. Row 7 in Приложение 6: Население Российской Федерации по владению языками [Appendix 6: Population of the Russian Federation by languages used] (XLS) (in Russian).
  36. "First Nations Culture Areas Index". the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
  37. Jorgensen, Joseph G. (1969). Salishan language and culture. Language science monographs. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University. p. 105.
  38. Kaufman, Stephen (1997), "Aramaic", in Hetzron, Robert (ed.), The Semitic Languages, Routledge, pp. 117–119.
  39. Garnier, Romain; Jacques, Guillaume (2012). "A neglected phonetic law: The assimilation of pretonic yod to a following coronal in North-West Semitic". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 75.1: 135–145. CiteSeerX doi:10.1017/s0041977x11001261.
  40. Аванесов, Р. И. (1984). Русское литературное произношение. М.: Просвещение. pp. 145–167.
  41. Ovidiu Drăghici. "Limba Română contemporană. Fonetică. Fonologie. Ortografie. Lexicologie" (PDF). Retrieved April 19, 2013.
  42. Kučera, H. (1961). The Phonology of Czech. s’ Gravenhage: Mouton & Co.
  43. Кызласов И. Л., Рунические письменности евразийских степей (Kyzlasov I.L. Runic scripts of Eurasian steppes), Восточная литература (Eastern Literature), Moscow, 1994, pp. 80 on, ISBN 5-02-017741-5, with further bibliography.
  44. Anastasia Mukhanova Karlsson, Lund University, Department of Linguistics. "Vowels in Mongolian speech: deletions and epenthesis". Retrieved 2014-07-26.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  45. Markus Hiller. "Pharyngeals and "lax" vowel quality" (PDF). Mannheim: Institut für Deutsche Sprache. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-05-28.
  46. Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:323)


  • Bauer, Michael Blas na Gàidhlig - The Practical Guide to Gaelic Pronunciation (2011), Akerbeltz. ISBN 978-1-907165-00-9
  • Beyer, Klaus (1986). The Aramaic language: its distribution and subdivisions. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht. ISBN 3-525-53573-2.
  • An Introduction to Syriac Studies. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press. ISBN 1-59333-349-8.
  • Kyzlasov I.L. Runic scripts of Eurasian steppes, Восточная литература (Eastern Literature), Moscow, 1994, pp. 80 on, ISBN 5-02-017741-5
  • Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-631-19815-4.
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