Voiceless dental fricative

The voiceless dental non-sibilant fricative is a type of consonantal sound used in some spoken languages. It is familiar to English speakers as the 'th' in thing. Though rather rare as a phoneme in the world's inventory of languages, it is encountered in some of the most widespread and influential (see below). The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is θ, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is T. The IPA symbol is the Greek letter theta, which is used for this sound in post-classical Greek, and the sound is thus often referred to as "theta".

Voiceless dental fricative
IPA Number130
Entity (decimal)θ
Unicode (hex)U+03B8
Audio sample
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The dental non-sibilant fricatives are often called "interdental" because they are often produced with the tongue between the upper and lower teeth, and not just against the back of the upper or lower teeth, as they are with other dental consonants.

This sound and its voiced counterpart are rare phonemes occurring in 4% of languages in a phonological analysis of 2155 languages.[1] Among the more than 60 languages with over 10 million speakers, only English, various dialects of Arabic, Standard European Spanish, Swahili (in words derived from Arabic), Burmese, and Greek have the voiceless dental non-sibilant fricative. Speakers of languages and dialects without the sound sometimes have difficulty producing or distinguishing it from similar sounds, especially if they have had no chance to acquire it in childhood, and typically replace it with a voiceless alveolar fricative (/s/) (as in Indonesian), voiceless dental stop (/t/), or a voiceless labiodental fricative (/f/); known respectively as th-alveolarization, th-stopping,[2] and th-fronting.[3]

The sound is known to have disappeared from a number of languages, e.g. from most of the Germanic languages or dialects, where it is retained only in Scots, English, Elfdalian, and Icelandic, but it is alveolar in the last of these.[4][5] Among non-Germanic Indo-European languages as a whole, the sound was also once much more widespread, but is today preserved in a few languages including the Brythonic languages, Spanish, Galician, Venetian, Albanian, few Occitan dialects and Greek. It has likewise disappeared from many Semitic languages, such as Hebrew (excluding Yemenite Hebrew) and many modern varieties of Arabic (excluding Tunisian, Mesopotamian Arabic and various dialects in the Arabian Peninsula which still include it).


Features of the voiceless dental non-sibilant fricative:

  • Its manner of articulation is fricative, which means it is produced by constricting air flow through a narrow channel at the place of articulation, causing turbulence. It does not have the grooved tongue and directed airflow, or the high frequencies, of a sibilant.
  • Its phonation is voiceless, which means it is produced without vibrations of the vocal cords. In some languages the vocal cords are actively separated, so it is always voiceless; in others the cords are lax, so that it may take on the voicing of adjacent sounds.
  • 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.


ArabicModern Standard[6]ثَانِيَة[ˈθaːnija] 'second time/place'Represented by ث. See Arabic phonology.
Assyrian Neo-Aramaicܒܬ[beθa]'house'Mostly used in the Tyari, Barwari, Tel Keppe, Batnaya and Alqosh dialects; realized as [t] in other varieties.
Bashkir дуҫ / duθ [duθ]  'friend'
Berta[θɪ́ŋɑ̀]'to eat'
Burmese[7]သုံး / thon:[θòʊ̯̃]'three'Commonly realized as an affricate [t̪͡θ].[8]
Englishthin[θɪn]'thin'See English phonology
GalicianMost dialects[10]cero[ˈθɛɾʊ]'zero'Merges with /s/ into [s] in Western dialects.[10] See Galician phonology
Greekθάλασσα[ˈθalasa]'sea'See Modern Greek phonology
Hännihthän[nihθɑn]'I want'
HebrewIraqiעברית[ʕibˈriːθ]'Hebrew language'See Modern Hebrew phonology
ItalianTuscan[11]i capitani[iˌhäɸiˈθäːni]'the captains'Intervocalic allophone of /t/.[11] See Italian phonology and Tuscan gorgia
Kwama[mɑ̄ˈθíl]'to laugh'
MalaySelasa[θəlaθa]'Tuesday'Mostly occurs in Arabic loanwords originally containing this sound, but the writing is not distinguished from the Arabic loanwords with the [s] sound and this sound must be learned separately by the speakers. See Malay phonology.
Min languages Thena [-dəŋA] 'shaman'
Shark Bay[θar]'four'
SpanishCastilian[12]cazar[käˈθär]'to hunt'Interdental. See Spanish phonology and Ceceo
Swahilithamini[θɑmini]'value'Mostly occurs in Arabic loanwords originally containing this sound.
Upland YumanHavasupai[θerap]'five'
VenetianEastern dialectsçinque[ˈθiŋkwe]'five'Corresponds to /s/ in other dialects.

Voiceless denti-alveolar sibilant

Voiceless denti-alveolar sibilant

The voiceless denti-alveolar sibilant is the only sibilant fricative in some dialects of Andalusian Spanish. It has no official symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet, though its features would be transcribed s̻̪ or s̪̻ (using the ◌̻, the diacritic marking a laminal consonant, and ◌̪, the diacritic marking a dental consonant). It is usually represented by an ad-hoc symbol such as , θˢ̣, or s̟ (advanced diacritic).

Dalbor (1980) describes this sound as follows: "[s̄] is a voiceless, corono-dentoalveolar groove fricative, the so-called s coronal or s plana because of the relatively flat shape of the tongue body.... To this writer, the coronal [s̄], heard throughout Andalusia, should be characterized by such terms as "soft," "fuzzy," or "imprecise," which, as we shall see, brings it quite close to one variety of /θ/ ... Canfield has referred, quite correctly, in our opinion, to this [s̄] as "the lisping coronal-dental," and Amado Alonso remarks how close it is to the post-dental [θ̦], suggesting a combined symbol [θˢ̣] to represent it."


Features of the voiceless denti-alveolar sibilant:

  • Its phonation is voiceless, which means it is produced without vibrations of the vocal cords. In some languages the vocal cords are actively separated, so it is always voiceless; in others the cords are lax, so that it may take on the voicing of adjacent sounds.
  • It is an oral consonant, which means air is allowed to escape through the mouth only.


SpanishAndalusian[13]casa[ˈkäs̻̪ä]'house'Present in dialects with ceceo. See Spanish phonology

See also


  1. Phoible.org. (2018). PHOIBLE Online - Segments. [online] Available at: http://phoible.org/parameters.
  2. Wells (1982:565–66, 635)
  3. Wells (1982:96–97, 328–30, 498, 500, 553, 557–58, 635)
  4. Pétursson (1971:?), cited in Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:145)
  5. Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:144–145)
  6. Thelwall (1990:37)
  7. Watkins (2001:291–292)
  8. Watkins (2001:292)
  9. Fig. 11 La zeta bolognese (in Italian)
  10. Regueira (1996:119–120)
  11. Hall (1944:75)
  12. Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003:255)
  13. Dalbor (1980:9)


  • Dalbor, John B. (1980), "Observations on Present-Day Seseo and Ceceo in Southern Spain", Hispania, American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, 63 (1): 5–19, doi:10.2307/340806, JSTOR 340806
  • Hall, Robert A. Jr. (1944). "Italian phonemes and orthography". Italica. American Association of Teachers of Italian. 21 (2): 72–82. doi:10.2307/475860. JSTOR 475860.
  • Hickey, Raymond (1984), "Coronal Segments in Irish English", Journal of Linguistics, 20 (2): 233–250, doi:10.1017/S0022226700013876
  • Ladefoged, Peter (2005), Vowels and Consonants (2nd ed.), Blackwell
  • Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-631-19815-4.
  • Marotta, Giovanna; Barth, Marlen (2005), "Acoustic and sociolingustic aspects of lenition in Liverpool English" (PDF), Studi Linguistici e Filologici Online, 3 (2): 377–413
  • Martínez-Celdrán, Eugenio; Fernández-Planas, Ana Ma.; Carrera-Sabaté, Josefina (2003), "Castilian Spanish", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 33 (2): 255–259, doi:10.1017/S0025100303001373
  • Pétursson, Magnus (1971), "Étude de la réalisation des consonnes islandaises þ, ð, s, dans la prononciation d'un sujet islandais à partir de la radiocinématographie", Phonetica, 33: 203–216, doi:10.1159/000259344
  • Regueira, Xosé Luís (1996), "Galician", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 26 (2): 119–122, doi:10.1017/s0025100300006162
  • Thelwall, Robin (1990), "Illustrations of the IPA: Arabic", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 20 (2): 37–41, doi:10.1017/S0025100300004266
  • Watkins, Justin W. (2001), "Illustrations of the IPA: Burmese" (PDF), Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 31 (2): 291–295, doi:10.1017/S0025100301002122
  • Wells, John C (1982), Accents of English, second, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-24224-X
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