Slack voice

Slack voice (or lax voice) is the pronunciation of consonant or vowels with a glottal opening slightly wider than that occurring in modal voice. Such sounds are often referred to informally as lenis or half-voiced in the case of consonants. In some Chinese varieties, such as Wu, and in a few Austronesian languages, the 'intermediate' phonation of slack stops confuses listeners of languages without these distinctions, so that different transcription systems may use p or b for the same consonant. In Xhosa, slack-voiced consonants have usually been transcribed as breathy voice. Although the IPA has no dedicated diacritic for slack voice, the voiceless diacritic (the under-ring) may be used with a voiced consonant letter, though this convention is also used for partially voiced consonants in languages such as English.[1]

Wu Chinese "muddy" consonants are slack voice word-initially, the primary effect of which is a slightly breathy quality of the following vowel.[1]

Wu ChineseformChinese charactertranslationformChinese charactertranslationformChinese charactertranslation
slack voice [b̥ʌ̀ʔ]white [d̥ǐ]earth [ɡ̊ə̀ʔ](possessive particle)
tenuis [pʌ́ʔ]hundred [tíʔ](a grammatical particle) [kóʔ]corner
aspirated [pʰʌ́ʔ]to strike [tʰî]sky [kʰʌ́ʔ]guest

Javanese contrasts slack and stiff voiced bilabial, dental, retroflex, and velar stops.[1]

stiff voice [paku]nail [tamu]guest [tsariʔ]sheet (of paper) [ʈiʈiʔ]little [kali]river
slack voice [b̥aku]standard [d̥amu]blow [d̥z̥arit](type of women's clothing) [ɖ̥isiʔ]first [ɡ̊ali]to dig

Parauk contrasts slack voicing in its vowels. The contrast is between "slightly stiff" and "slightly breathy" vowels; the first are between modal and stiff voice, while the latter are captured by slack voice.[1]


  1. Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 63–6. ISBN 978-0-631-19815-4.
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