Voiced velar approximant

Voiced velar approximant
IPA Number 154
Entity (decimal) ɰ
Unicode (hex) U+0270
Braille ⠦ (braille pattern dots-236)⠍ (braille pattern dots-134)
Audio sample
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The voiced velar approximant is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ɰ⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is M\.

The consonant is not present in English, but approximates to the sound of a 'g' with the throat kept open, or like making a 'w' sound without the lips touching. The voiced velar approximant can in many cases be considered the semivocalic counterpart of the close back unrounded vowel [ɯ]. ⟨ɰ⟩ and ⟨ɯ̯⟩ with the non-syllabic diacritic are used in different transcription systems to represent the same sound.

In some languages, such as Spanish, the voiced velar approximant appears as an allophone of /ɡ/ – see below.

The symbol for the velar approximant originates from ⟨ɯ⟩, but with a vertical line. Compare ⟨u⟩ and ⟨ɥ⟩ for the labio-palatal approximant.


Features of the voiced velar approximant:

  • Its manner of articulation is approximant, which means it is produced by narrowing the vocal tract at the place of articulation, but not enough to produce a turbulent airstream. The most common type of this approximant is glide or semivowel. The term glide emphasizes the characteristic of movement (or 'glide') of [ɰ] from the [ɯ] vowel position to a following vowel position. The term semivowel emphasizes that, although the sound is vocalic in nature, it is not 'syllabic' (it does not form the nucleus of a syllable). For a description of the approximant consonant variant used e.g. in Spanish, see below.
  • Its place of articulation is velar, which means it is articulated with the back of the tongue (the dorsum) at the soft palate.
  • Its phonation is voiced, which means the vocal cords vibrate during the articulation.
  • 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.
  • The airstream mechanism is pulmonic, which means it is articulated by pushing air solely with the lungs and diaphragm, as in most sounds.


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Aragonese[1] caixigo [kajˈʃiɣ̞o̞] 'oak tree' Approximant consonant unspecified for rounding; allophone of /ɡ/.
Astur-Leonese Asturian [example needed] Approximant consonant unspecified for rounding; allophone of /ɡ/.
Extremaduran [example needed]
Leonese [example needed]
Mirandese [example needed]
Catalan[2][3] aigua [ˈajɣ̞wə] 'water' Approximant consonant unspecified for rounding; allophone of /ɡ/.[2][3] See Catalan phonology
Cherokee wa-tsi [ɰad͡ʒi] 'watch' Found only in the Western dialect. Its equivalent in other dialects is [w]. Also represented by Ꮺ, Ꮻ, Ꮼ, Ꮽ, and Ꮾ
Danish Older speakers[4] talg [ˈtsʰalˀɣ̞] 'tallow' Approximant consonant unspecified for rounding. Still used by some older speakers in high register, much more commonly than a fricative [ɣ].[4] Depending on the environment, it corresponds to [w] or [j] in young speakers of contemporary Standard Danish.[5] See Danish phonology
Dutch Western East Flemish[6] Approximant consonant unspecified for rounding. Corresponds to a fricative [ɣ] in other dialects.[6]
French Belgian[7] ara [aɰa] 'macaw' Intervocalic allophone of /ʀ/ for some speakers, unless /ʀ/ is realized as a liaison consonant – then, most often, it is realized as a trill [ʀ].[7] See French phonology
Galician[8] auga [ˈɑwɣ̞ɑ] 'water' Approximant consonant unspecified for rounding; allophone of /ɡ/.[8] See Galician phonology
Greek Cypriot[9] μαγαζί [maɰaˈzi] 'shop' Allophone of /ɣ/.
Guarani gotyo [ɰoˈtɨo] 'near, close to' Contrasts with [w]
Hiw ter̄og [təɡ͡ʟɔɰ] 'peace' Phoneme realised [ɣ̞] in onsets, [ɰ] in codas. Contrasts with /w/ and with /ɡ͡ʟ/.[10]
Ibibio[11] ufok [úfʌ̟̀ɰɔ̞] [translation needed] Intervocalic allophone of /k/; may be a uvular tap [ɢ̆] instead.[11]
Icelandic saga [ˈsäːɣ̞ä] 'saga' Approximant consonant unspecified for rounding. See Icelandic phonology
Irish naoi [n̪ˠɰiː] 'nine' Occurs only between broad consonants and front vowels. See Irish phonology
Korean 의사 / uisa [ɰisɐ] 'doctor' Occurs only before /i/. See Korean phonology
Mwotlap haghag [haɰhaɰ] 'sit' Realised [ɰ] or [ɣ̞]. Contrasts with [w].[12]
Shipibo[13] igi [i̞ɣ̞i̞] [translation needed] Continuant consonant with variable frication and unspecified rounding; allophone of /k/ in certain high-frequency morphemes.[13]
Spanish[14] pagar About this sound[päˈɣ̞äɾ] 'to pay' Approximant consonant unspecified for rounding; allophone of /ɡ/.[14] See Spanish phonology
Swedish Central Standard[15] agronom [äɣ̞ɾʊˈn̪oːm] 'agronomist' Approximant consonant unspecified for rounding; allophone of /ɡ/ in casual speech. See Swedish phonology
Tagalog igriega [iːɡɾɪˈje̞ɣ̞ɐ] 'y (letter)' Approximant consonant unspecified for rounding; intervocalic allophone of /ɡ/. See Tagalog phonology
Tiwi ngaga [ˈŋaɰa] 'we (inclusive)'
Venetian góndoƚa [ˈɡoŋdoɰa] 'gondola' See Venetian language
Vietnamese Southern gà [ɣ̞a:˨˩] 'chicken' Typical realization of /ɡɣ/ or /ɣ/ in other dialects. Variant is in complementary distribution before open vowels.

The sound in Japanese often denoted by ⟨w⟩ in IPA notation and described as unrounded is actually pronounced with lip compression and is therefore labio-velar, albeit with acoustic differences from other labio-velar consonants.

Relation with [ɡ] and [ɣ]

Some languages have a voiced velar approximant that is unspecified for rounding, and therefore cannot be considered the semivocalic equivalent of either [ɯ] or its rounded counterpart [u]. Examples of such languages are Catalan, Galician and Spanish, in which the approximant consonant (not semivowel) unspecified for rounding appears as an allophone of /ɡ/.[8]

Eugenio Martínez Celdrán describes the voiced velar approximant consonant as follows:[16]

As for the symbol [ɰ], it is quite evidently inappropriate for representing the Spanish voiced velar approximant consonant. Many authors have pointed out the fact that [ɰ] is not rounded; for example, Pullum & Ladusaw (1986:98) state that 'the sound in question can be described as a semi-vowel (glide) with the properties "high", "back", and "unrounded"'. They even establish an interesting parallelism: 'the sound can be regarded as an unrounded [w]'. It is evident, then, that [ɰ] is not an adequate symbol for Spanish. First of all, because it has never been taken into consideration that there is a diphthong in words like paga 'pay', vago 'lazy', lego 'lay', etc., and, secondly, because this sound is rounded when it precedes rounded vowels. Besides, it would be utterly wrong to transcribe the word jugo 'juice' with [ɰ] *[ˈχuɰo], because the pronunciation of that consonant between two rounded vowels is completely rounded whereas [ɰ] is not. (...) The symbol I have always proposed is [ɣ̞], the correlate to the other central approximants in Spanish, [β̞ ð̞] (Martínez Celdrán 1991, 1996:47). This coincides with Ball & Rahilly (1999:90), whose example for the three approximants is the Spanish word abogado 'lawyer' (see figure 1). Ball & Rahilly too criticise in a footnote the confusion between these symbols: 'The difference between an approximant version of the voiced velar fricative [ɣ], and the velar semi-vowel [ɰ] is that the latter requires spread lips, and must have a slightly more open articulatory channel so that it becomes [ɯ] if prolonged' (p. 189, fn. 1).

There is a parallel problem with transcribing the palatal approximant.

The symbol ⟨ɣ̞⟩ may not display properly in all browsers. In that case, ⟨ɣ˕⟩ should be substituted. In broader transcriptions,[17] the lowering diacritic may be omitted altogether, so that the symbol is rendered ⟨ɣ⟩, i.e. as if it represented the corresponding fricative.

See also