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Sibilant consonant: Wikis


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A sibilant is a type of fricative or affricate consonant, made by directing a jet of air through a narrow channel in the vocal tract towards the sharp edge of the teeth. Strident refers to the perceptual intensity of the sound of a sibilant consonant. A strident sound could be described as harsh, insistent, and discordant. In phonetics and acoustics the term sibilant is also used to describe the articulatory or aerodynamic mechanisms that produce strident noise. By analogy, the terms shibilant and thibilant are used to refer to specifically postalveolar sibilants and non-strident analogues, respectively.



Sibilants are louder than their non-sibilant counterparts, and most of their acoustic energy occurs at higher frequencies than non-sibilant fricatives. [s] has the most acoustic strength at around 8,000 Hz, but can reach as high as 10,000 Hz. [ʃ] has the bulk of its acoustic energy at around 4,000 Hz, but can extend up to around 8,000 Hz.

Whistled sibilants

Whistled sibilants occur in speech pathology and may be caused by dental prostheses or orthodontics. However, they also occur phonemically in several southern Bantu languages, the best known being Shona. These have been variously described—as labialized but not velarized, retroflex, etc., but none of these articulations are required for the sounds.[1] Using the Extended IPA, Shona sv and zv may be transcribed [s͎] and [z͎]. Other transcriptions seen include purely labial [s̫] and [z̫] (Ladefoged and Maddieson 1996) and labially co-articulated [s͡ɸ] and [z͡β].


Only the alveolar and palato-alveolar sibilants are distinguished in English; the former may be either apical or laminal, while the latter are usually apical, slightly labialized and generally called simply "postalveolar": [s̺ z̺] or [s̻ z̻] and [ʃʷ̜ ʒʷ̜]), as in sin [s̻ɪn] and shin [ʃʷ̜ɪn]. Although laminal and apical sibilants are not distinguished in English, Basque does distinguish these two phonemically, as well as having true postalveolars ([s̺] [s̻] [ʃ]). Polish and Russian have laminal denti-alveolars, palatalized denti-alveolars, flat postalveolars, and alveolo-palatals ([s̪ z̪] [s̪ʲ z̪ʲ] [s̠ z̠] [ɕ ʑ]), whereas Mandarin has apical alveolars, flat postalveolars, and alveolo-palatals ([s̺ z̺] [s̠ z̠] [ɕ ʑ]).

Few languages distinguish more than three series of sibilants without secondary articulation, but Ubykh has four series of plain sibilants, [s z], [ŝ ẑ ŝʷ ẑʷ], [ɕ ʑ ɕʷ ʑʷ], [ʂ ʐ], as does the Bzyp dialect of the related Abkhaz, and the Chinese dialect of Qinan, in Shandong province, is said to have five. Toda has a laminal alveolar, an apical postalveolar, laminal domed postalveolars, and sub-apical palatals. Since two of these could be called 'retroflex', Ladefoged & Maddieson 1996 have resurrected the old IPA diacritic for retroflex, the underdot, for apical retroflexes, and reserve the letters ‹ʂ, ʐ› for sub-apical retroflexes. Thus the Toda sibilants can be transcribed [s̪] [ṣ] [ʃ̻ ʒ̻] [ʂ ʐ], although the official IPA symbols [s̪] [s̠] [ʃ̻ ʒ̻] [ʂ ʐ] are also sufficient. (In some publications the underdot and underbar are interchanged.)

Contested definitions

Authors including Chomsky and Halle group [⁠f] and [⁠v] as sibilants. However, they do not have the grooved articulation and high frequencies of other sibilants, and most phoneticians[2] continue to group them together with the bilabial fricatives [⁠ɸ, β] as non-sibilant anterior fricatives. For a grouping of sibilants and [f, v], the term strident is more common. Some researchers judge [⁠f] to be strident in one language, e.g. the African language Ewe, as determined by experimental measurements of amplitude, but as non-strident in English.

The nature of sibilants as so-called 'obstacle fricatives' is complicated - there is a continuum of possibilities relating to the angle at which the jet of air may strike an obstacle. The grooving often considered necessary for classification as a sibilant has been observed in ultrasound studies of the tongue for supposedly non-sibilant [θ] voiceless alveolar non-sibilant fricative.[3]


The following sibilants are in the International Phonetic Alphabet:

  • [ʃ], [ʒ] (Palato-alveolar: that is, "domed" (partially palatalized) postalveolar, either laminal or apical)
  • [ʂ], [ʐ]: (Retroflex, which can mean one of three things: (a) non-palatalized apical postalveolar, (b) sub-apical postalveolar or pre-palatal, or (c) non-palatalized laminal ("flat") postalveolar, sometimes transcribed [s̠ z̠] or [ʂ̻ ʐ̻].

Diacritics can be used for finer detail. For example, apical and laminal alveolars can be specified as [s̺] vs [s̻]; a dental (or more likely denti-alveolar) sibilant as [s̪]; a palatalized alveolar as [sʲ]; and a generic postalveolar as [s̠], a transcription frequently used when none of the above apply (that is, for a laminal but non-palatalized, or "flat", postalveolar). Some of the Northwest Caucasian languages also have a closed laminal postalveolar, without IPA symbols but provisionally transcribed as [ŝ ẑ].

See also




  1. ^ Shosted 2006
  2. ^ Ladefoged & Maddieson 1996
  3. ^ Stone and Lundberg, 1996, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, vol. 99: 3728-3737


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