Palatal lateral approximant

The palatal lateral approximant is a type of consonantal sound used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ʎ, a rotated lowercase letter y (not to be confused with lowercase lambda, λ), and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is L.

Palatal lateral approximant
IPA Number157
Entity (decimal)ʎ
Unicode (hex)U+028E
Audio sample
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Alveolo-palatal lateral approximant

Many languages that were previously thought to have a palatal lateral approximant actually have a lateral approximant that is, broadly, alveolo-palatal; that is to say, it is articulated at a place in-between the alveolar ridge and the hard palate (excluded), and it may be variously described as alveolo-palatal, lamino-postalveolar,[1] or postalveolo-prepalatal.[2] None of the 13 languages investigated by Recasens (2013), many of them Romance, has a 'true' palatal.[3] That is likely the case for several other languages listed here. Some languages, like Portuguese and Catalan, have a lateral approximant that varies between alveolar and alveolo-palatal.[4]

There is no dedicated symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents the alveolo-palatal lateral approximant. If precision is desired, it may be transcribed l̠ʲ or ʎ̟; they are essentially equivalent because the contact includes both the blade and body (but not the tip) of the tongue. There is also a non-IPA letter ȴ ("l", plus the curl found in the symbols for alveolo-palatal sibilant fricatives ɕ, ʑ), used especially in Sinological circles.

The palatal lateral approximant contrasts phonemically with its voiceless counterpart /ʎ̥/ in the Xumi language spoken in China.[5][6]


Features of the palatal lateral approximant:

  • 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 lateral consonant, which means it is produced by directing the airstream over the sides of the tongue, rather than down the middle.


Astur-LeoneseAsturianllingua[ˈʎĩŋɡwa̝]'language'Where /ʎ/ is absent due to a yeísmo-like merger, it is replaced by different sounds (depending on dialect) and spelled . Yeísmo is prevalent in Extremaduran language (spoken in northwestern Extremadura) and west central Asturian.
CatalanStandardull[ˈuʎ̟]'eye'Alveolo-palatal.[2] See Catalan phonology
Eastern Aragonclau[ˈkʎ̟a̠w]'key'Allophone of /l/ in consonant clusters.
EnglishCounty Donegal[7]million[ˈmɪʎən]'million'Allophone of the sequence /lj/.[7]
General American[8]A frequent allophone of the sequence /lj/; sometimes realized as [jj].[8] See English phonology
Enindhilyagwaangalya[aŋal̠ʲa]'place'Laminal post-alveolar
Faroese[9]telgja[ˈtʰɛʎt͡ʃa]'to carve'Allophone of /l/ before palatal consonants.[9] Sometimes voiceless [ʎ̥].[9] See Faroese phonology
FrenchSome dialects[10]papillon[papiʎɒ̃]'butterfly'Corresponds to /j/ in modern standard French. See French phonology
GalicianStandardillado[iˈʎa̠ðo̝]'insulated'Many Galician speakers are nowadays yeístas because of influence from Spanish
Greekήλιος[ˈiʎos] 'sun'Postalveolar.[11] See Modern Greek phonology
HungarianNorthern dialects[12]lyuk[ʎuk]'hole'Alveolo-palatal.[13] Modern standard Hungarian has undergone a phenomenon akin to Spanish yeísmo, merging /ʎ/ into /j/. See Hungarian ly and Hungarian phonology
Irishduille[ˈd̪ˠɪl̠ʲə]'leaf'Alveolo-palatal. Some dialects contrast it with palatalized alveolar /lʲ/. See Irish phonology
Italian[2]figlio[ˈfiʎːo] 'son'Alveolo-palatal.[2] Realized as fricative [ʎ̝] in a large number of accents.[14] See Italian phonology
IvilyuatIviuɂat[ʔivɪʎʊʔat]'the speaking [Ivilyuat]' ('Ivilyuat language')
NorwegianNorthern and central dialects[15]alle[ɑʎːe]'all'See Norwegian phonology
OccitanStandardmiralhar[miɾa̠ˈʎa̠]'to reflect'See Occitan phonology
PaiwanStandardveljevelj[vəʎəvəɬ]'banana'See Paiwan language
PortugueseStandardralho[ˈʁaʎu]'I scold'Alveolo-palatal in European Portuguese.[16] May instead be [lʲ], [l] (Northeast) or [j] (Caipira), especially before unrounded vowels.[17][18] See Portuguese phonology
Many dialects[19] sandália [sɐ̃ˈda̠l̠ʲɐ] 'sandal' Possible realization of post-stressed /li/ plus vowel.
RomanianTransylvanian dialects[21]lingură[ˈʎunɡurə]'spoon'Corresponds to [l] in standard Romanian. See Romanian phonology
Scottish Gaelic[22]till[tʲʰiːʎ]'return'Alveolo-palatal. See Scottish Gaelic phonology
Serbo-Croatian[23] љуљaшка / ljuljaška[ʎ̟ǔʎ̟äːʂkä]'swing (seat)'Palato-alveolar.[23] See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Slovakľúbiť[ˈʎu̞ːbi̞c̟] 'to love'Merges with /l/ in western dialects. See Slovak phonology
Spanish[24]Andeancaballo[ka̠ˈβa̠ʎö]'horse'Found in traditional speakers in Peninsular Spanish. Also found in Andean countries and Paraguay. For most speakers, this sound has merged with /ʝ/, a phenomenon called yeísmo. See Spanish phonology
Central areas in Extremadura
Eastern and southwestern Manchego
Philippine Spanish
Very few areas in Andalusia
XumiLower[5][Rʎ̟o]'musk deer'Alveolo-palatal; contrasts with the voiceless /ʎ̥/.[5][6]
Upper[6][Hʎ̟ɛ]'correct, right'

See also


  1. Recasens (2013:2), citing Ladefoged (1997:602)
  2. Recasens et al. (1993:222)
  3. Recasens (2013:11)
  4. Recasens (2013:10–13)
  5. Chirkova & Chen (2013:365, 367–368)
  6. Chirkova, Chen & Kocjančič Antolík (2013:382–383)
  7. Stenson (1991), cited in Hickey (2004:71)
  8. Wells (1982:490)
  9. Árnason (2011:115)
  10. Grevisse & Goosse (2011, §33, b), Fagyal, Kibbee & Jenkins (2006:47)
  11. Arvaniti (2007:20)
  12. Benkő (1972:?)
  13. Recasens (2013:10)
  14. Ashby (2011:64): "(…) in a large number of Italian accents, there is considerable friction involved in the pronunciation of [ʎ], creating a voiced palatal lateral fricative (for which there is no established IPA symbol)."
  15. Skjekkeland (1997:105–107)
  16. Teixeira et al. (2012:321)
  17. Stein (2011:223)
  18. Aragão (2009:168)
  19. Considerações sobre o status das palato-alveolares em português
  20. Ladefoged (2005:149)
  21. Pop (1938), p. 30.
  22. Oftedal (1956:?)
  23. Jazić (1977:?), cited in Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:188)
  24. ALPI
  25. Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003:255)
  26. Lipski (1996) and Alvar (1996). [ Yeísmo en el español de América]


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