LINGUIST List 12.1496

Wed Jun 6 2001

Sum: Labiodental Consonants

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Carol L. Tenny, labiodental consonants

Message 1: labiodental consonants

Date: Wed, 6 Jun 2001 09:07:09 -0400 (EDT)
From: Carol L. Tenny <>
Subject: labiodental consonants

On January 21, 2001 (Linguist 12.145) I asked:

A student of mine asked during a phonetics lecture, whether there were
any languages with labiodental fricatives where the speaker used the
bottom teeth on the top lips. Does anyone know of such a thing?

Thank you to all who responded, and apologies for this belated summary.

The consensus was clear that there are no such fricatives. I include the
comments sent to me below (with delightful informal comments). To all who
requested that I let them know if I heard of any such consonant, I didn't.

Lynn Burley, University of Central Arkansas: 

 I just finished giving this lecture today in my Intro class. When
I was a student, I was told that no language uses the bottom teeth
and upper lip. If you ask me, I think it's because we look so
ridiculous when doing it!

Stefan Frisch, University of Michigan:

One of the videos in the Human Language Series (#3, I think) contains the
claim that no language uses the upper lip and lower teeth. I don't
remember who says it, off the top of my head. But that might be a place
to start.

Marc Picard:

John Laver's Principles of Phonetics makes no mention of such an
articulation which is probably a good indication that it's never been
found to operate in any language.

Mohamed Guerssel:

Re: labiodentals. Apparently, there is no such language. Lower
teeth-uper lip articulation is not part of UG. The inexistence of
such a sound is usually put forth as an argument for the absence of a
necessary link between physical properties of the vocal tract and the
actual inventory of possible sounds. True, articulatory constraints
do exist. A sound may exist only if it can be physically executed.
But the condition is not bidirectional. If a sound may in principle
be produced by the human vocal apparatus does not mean that it will
necessarily be part of natural language.

Pete Unseth:

I worked with an Arabic speaker who spoke with labiodentals, upper lip on
lower teeth. Drove our field methods students crazy, till I pointed out
that he had a pronounced underbite. Not what you're looking for, I know.

Laurie Bauer
Victoria University of Wellington
New Zealand

dento-labial fricatives. Apparently not: see Ladefoged and Maddieson The
sounds of the World's Languages.

Henry Rogers 
University of Toronto 

I have always called these dentilabials, using the terminology that the
lower articulator comes first. I don't think they occur in normal speech,
but they are known in pathological speech.

John Davis 

 Please let me know if anyone tells you of
 any languages with labiodental fricatives
 involving the bottom teeth with the upper
 lip. My own impression is that such an
 articulation would be awkward to the point
 of not occuring, either in fricatives or
 in glides.

Hemananda B P:

I hope your students query is not such a theoreticaly valid one. Reasons
are as follows.

1) In case of labiodental fricatives like f,v active articulator is lower
lip moving towards upper teeth line . It is not that upper teeth line
moves towards lower lips. Upper teeth line is a passive articulator.

2) Flaw in the query of your student is that he/she is thinking that
lower/bottom teeth line is an active articulator. Both the teeth lines are
passive articulators.

3) Not only that even upper lip is a passive articulator and if the upper
lip is used as active articulator oral cavity will be totaly closed and
sound cannot be audible one. There are certain languages in which some
sounds are articulated while inhaling (I hope you know well about such
languages; but I am not). Only in such languages there may be a bleek
possibility of existence of such sounds.

Miguel Rodrguez Mondoedo
The University of Arizona

It is impossible. That feature is suposed to be in disordered speech, it
the "dentolabial" feature.
See Handbook of the IPA (1999) , p. 193.

Earl Herrick:

Just from the mechanics of the articulation, I would suspect that there's
aren't any. I remember once when I was a graduate student that someone
cruelly referred to someone else (who wasn't present) and who had an
extremely undershot lower jaw as "the guy who pronounces his labiodentals
the hard way."

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