Ejective consonant: Wikis


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In phonetics, ejective consonants are voiceless consonants that are pronounced with simultaneous closure of the glottis. In the phonology of a particular language, ejectives may contrast with aspirated or tenuis consonants. Additionally, some languages have sonorants with creaky voice that pattern with ejectives while other languages have ejectives that pattern with implosives — this has led to phonologists positing a phonological class of glottalized consonants (see glottalic consonant and below for further discussion).



In producing an ejective, the stylohyoid muscle and digastric muscle contract—causing the hyoid bone and the connected glottis to raise—while the forward articulation (at the velum in the case of [kʼ]) is held, raising air pressure greatly in the mouth, so that when the oral articulators separate, there is a dramatic burst of air.[1] The Adam's apple may be seen moving when the sound is pronounced. In the languages where they are more obvious, ejectives are often described as sounding like "spat" consonants; but ejectives are often quite weak and, in some contexts, and in some languages, are easy to mistake for unaspirated plosives. These weakly ejective articulations are sometimes called intermediates in older American linguistic literature and are notated with different phonetic symbols: [C!] = strongly ejective, [Cʼ] = weakly ejective. Strong and weak ejectives have not been found to be contrastive in any language.

In strict, technical terms, ejectives are glottalic egressive consonants. The most common ejective is [kʼ], not because it is easier to produce than other ejectives like [tʼ] or [pʼ] (it isn't) but because the auditory distinction between [kʼ] and [k] is greater than with other ejectives and voiceless consonants of the same place of articulation.[2] In proportion to the frequency of uvular consonants, [qʼ] is even more common, as would be expected from the very small oral cavity used to pronounce a voiceless uvular plosive. [pʼ], on the other hand, is quite rare. This is the opposite pattern to what is found in the implosive consonants, in which the bilabial is common and the velar is rare.[3]. Ejective fricatives are rare for presumably the same reason: with the air escaping from the mouth while the pressure is being raised, like inflating a leaky bicycle tire, it is harder to distinguish the resulting sound as salient as a [kʼ].

Occurrence in languages

Ejectives occur in about 20% of the world's languages.[2] but ejectives that phonemically contrast with pulmonic consonants occur in about 15% of languages around the world. They are extremely common in northwest North America, and frequently occur throughout the western parts of both North and South America. They are also common in eastern and southern Africa. In Eurasia, the Caucasus forms an island of ejective languages. Elsewhere they are rare.

Language families which distinguish ejective consonants include all three Caucasian families (Abkhaz-Adyghe, Nakho-Dagestanian and Kartvelian (Georgian)); the Athabaskan, Siouan and Salishan families of North America, along with the many diverse families of the Pacific Northwest from central California to British Columbia; the Mayan family and Aymara; the southern varieties of Quechua (Qusqu-Qullaw); the Afro-Asiatic family (notably most of the Cushitic and Omotic languages, Hausa and South Semitic languages like Amharic and Tigrinya) and a few Nilo-Saharan languages; Sandawe, Hadza, and the Khoisan families of southern Africa. Among the scattered languages with ejectives elsewhere are Itelmen of the Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages and Yapese of the Austronesian family. According to the glottalic theory, the Proto-Indo-European language had a series of ejectives, although no attested Indo-European language retains these sounds; nevertheless, ejectives are found in the Indo-European Ossetic and some dialects of Armenian; both have acquired ejectives under the influence of the nearby Caucasian language families.

It had once been predicted that both ejectives and implosives would not be found in the same language, but this is now shown to be incorrect, both being found phonemically at plural points of articulation in at least the Nilo-Saharan languages Gumuz, Me'en, and Twampa. In addition, a number of East Cushitic languages have a series of ejective consonants and a single voiced retroflex implosive.

Types of Ejectives

The vast majority of ejective consonants noted in the world's languages consists of stops or affricates, and all ejective consonants are obstruents. [kʼ] is the most common ejective, and [qʼ] is common among languages which have uvulars, [tʼ] less so, and [pʼ] is uncommon. Among affricates, [tsʼ], [tʃʼ], [tɬʼ] are all quite common, and [kxʼ] is not unusual (and is particularly common among the Khoisan languages), which is surprising since non-ejective [kx] is not a common sound.

A few languages utilise ejective fricatives: in some dialects of Hausa, the standard affricate [tsʼ] is a fricative [sʼ]; Ubykh (Northwest Caucasian) has an ejective lateral fricative [ɬʼ]; and the related Kabardian also has ejective labiodental and alveolopalatal fricatives, [fʼ], [ʃʼ], and [ɬʼ]. Tlingit is an extreme case, with ejective alveolar, lateral, velar, and uvular fricatives, [sʼ], [ɬʼ], [xʼ], [xʷʼ], [χʼ], [χʷʼ]; it may be the only language with the latter. Upper Necaxa Totonac is unusual and perhaps unique in that it has ejective fricatives (alveolar, lateral, and postalveolar [sʼ], [ʃʼ], [ɬʼ]) but completely lacks ejective stops or affricates (Beck 2006). Other languages with ejective fricatives are Yuchi, which in some sources is analyzed as having [ɸʼ], [sʼ], [ʃʼ], and [ɬʼ] (note this is not the analysis of the Wikipedia article), Keres dialects, with [sʼ], [ʂʼ] and [ɕʼ], and Lakota, with [sʼ], [ʃʼ], and [xʼ]. Amharic is interpreted by many as having an ejective fricative [sʼ], at least historically, but it has been also analyzed as now being a sociolinguistic variant (Takkele Taddese 1992).

Strangely, although an ejective retroflex stop is easy to make and quite distinctive in sound, it is very rare. Retroflex ejective stops and affricates, [ʈʼ, ʈʂʼ], are reported from Yawelmani and other Yokuts languages, as well as Tolowa and Keresan (with only retroflex affricates); however, and the retroflex ejective affricate is also found in most Northwest Caucasian languages.

Ejective sonorants do not occur. When sonorants are written with an apostrophe, as if they were ejective, they actually involve a different airstream mechanism: they are glottalized consonants and vowels, where glottalization interrupts an otherwise normal pulmonic airstream, somewhat like English uh-uh (either vocalic or nasal) pronounced as a single sound.

IPA transcription

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, ejectives are indicated by writing a stop consonant with a "modifier letter apostrophe" (ʼ). Note that a reversed apostrophe is sometimes used to represent aspiration, as in Armenian linguistics [p‘ t‘ k‘]; this usage is obsolete in the IPA. In other transcription traditions, the apostrophe represents palatalization, e.g., [pʼ] = IPA [pʲ].



  • Beck, David. 2006. The emergence of ejective fricatives in Upper Necaxa Totonac. University of Alberta Working Papers in Linguistics 1, 1-18.
  • Campbell, Lyle. 1973. On Glottalic Consonants. International Journal of American Linguistics 39, 44-46.
  • Fallon, Paul. 2002. The Synchronic and Diachronic Phonology of Ejectives. Routledge. ISBN 0415938007, 9780415938006.
  • Hogan, J. T. (1976). "An analysis of the temporal features of ejective consonants." Phonetica 33: 275-284.
  • Greenberg, Joseph H. (1970), "Some generalizations concerning glottalic consonants, especially implosives.", International Journal of American Linguistics 36: 123–145  
  • Ladefoged, Peter (2005). Vowels and Consonants (Second ed.). Blackwell.  
  • Ladefoged, Peter; Ian Maddieson (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-19814-8.  
  • Lindau, M. (1984). "Phonetic differences in glottalic consonants." Journal of Phonetics, 12: 147-155.
  • Lindsey, Geoffrey, Katrina Hayward, Andrew Haruna. 1992. "Hausa Glottalic Consonants: A Laryngographic Study." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 55, 511-527.
  • Takkele Taddese. 1992. Are sʼ and tʼ variants of an Amharic variable? A sociolinguistic analysis. Journal of Ethiopian Languages and Literature 2:104-21.
  • Wright, Richard, Sharon Hargus, and Katharine Davis. 2002. On the categorization of ejectives: data from Witsuwit'en. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 32: 43-77.

Sample list of ejective consonants

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See also



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