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Postalveolar consonants are consonants articulated with the tongue near or touching the back of the alveolar ridge, further back in the mouth than the alveolar consonants, which are at the ridge itself, but not as far back as the hard palate (the place of articulation for palatal consonants).
Among the fricatives and affricates, a subtype called palato-alveolar consonants (see below) have IPA symbols as shown in the table. The alveolo-palatal and retroflex consonants are also postalveolar in their point of articulation, but they are given separate columns in the IPA chart, and illustrated with examples in their own articles.
|Voiceless palato-alveolar fricative||English||ship||[ʃɪp]||ship|
|Voiced palato-alveolar fricative||English||vision||[vɪʒən]||vision|
|Voiceless palato-alveolar affricate||English||chip||[tʃɪp]||chip|
|Voiced palato-alveolar affricate||English||jug||[dʒʌɡ]||jug|
|Apical (post)alveolar click release||Nama||!oas||[k͡!oas]||hollow|
|Laminal postalveolar click release||!Kung||ǂua||[k͡ǂwa]||to imitate|
The difference between palato-alveolar, alveolo-palatal, retroflex, and several other articulations is in the shape of the tongue rather than the location of the contact with the roof of the mouth, which is postalveolar for all of these.
One variable in tongue shape is whether the contact occurs with the very tip of the tongue (an "apical" articulation [ʃ̺]); with the surface just above the tip, called the blade of the tongue (a "laminal" articulation [ʃ̻]); or with the underside of the tip (a "sub-apical" articulation). Laminal articulations may be made at palatal as well as postalveolar positions, and both may occur in some languages as allophones.
A second variable is the amount of raising of the 'front' of the tongue behind the point of contact, which amounts to a degree of palatalization. From least to most palatalized, the attested possibilities are flat (unpalatalized) [s̠], bunched-up or domed (weakly palatalized) palato-alveolar [ʃ], and (strongly palatalized) alveolo-palatal [ɕ]. These voiceless possibilities all have their voiced equivalents as well: [z̠, ʒ, ʑ]. Note that upward curvature of the tongue tip to make apical or subapical contact renders palatalization more difficult, so domed consonants are not attested with subapical articulation, and fully palatalized ones only with laminar articulation.
There is an additional type of postalveolar articulation found in Circassian languages such as Ubyx: the tip of the tongue rests against the lower teeth so that there is no sublingual cavity. Ladefoged has called this a "closed laminal postalveolar" articulation; Catford describes the fricatives as "hissing-hushing" sounds, and transcribes them as [ŝ, ẑ] (note: this is not IPA notation). This "closed" articulation appears to be an additional alternative to the subapical-apical-laminal spectrum, but can presumably be combined with various degrees of palatalisation, although this is not attested.
The attested possibilities, with exemplar languages, are as follows. Note that the IPA diacritics are simplified; some articulations would require two diacritics to be fully specified, but only one is used in order to keep the results legible without the need for OpenType IPA fonts. Also, Ladefoged has resurrected an obsolete IPA symbol, the under dot, to indicate apical postalveolar (normally included in the category of retroflex consonants), and that notation is used here. (Note that the notation s̠, ṣ is sometimes reversed; either may also be called 'retroflex' and written ʂ.)
|IPA||Place of articulation||Exemplifying languages|
|[s̠ z̠]||laminal flat postalveolar (laminal retroflex)||Mandarin sh, zh, ch, Polish sz, rz, cz, ż|
|[ṣ ẓ]||apical postalveolar (apical retroflex)||Ubyx, Toda|
|[ʃ ʒ]||domed postalveolar (palato-alveolar)||English sh, zh (may be either laminal or apical)|
|[ʃ̻ ʒ̻]||laminal domed postalveolar||Toda|
|[ɕ ʑ]||laminal palatalized postalveolar (alveolo-palatal)||Mandarin q, j, x, Polish ć, ś, ź, dź, Ubyx|
|[ŝ ẑ]||laminal closed postalveolar||Ubyx|
|[ʂ ʐ]||sub-apical postalveolar or palatal (sub-apical retroflex)||Toda|
Some languages which distinguish "dental" vs. "alveolar" stops actually articulate these closer to prealveolar and postalveolar respectively. Such is the case for Malayalam speakers who trill both of that language's rhotics: [r̟] vs. [r̠]. These are trills and therefore both apical; because of the unpalatalised postalveolar articulation, the latter is usually termed retroflex.
However, in some non-standard forms of Malayalam, there is a laminal postalveolar nasal that contrasts with apical alveolar, palatal, and subapical retroflex nasals: m n̟ n͇ n̠ ɳ ɲ ŋ.