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Summary Details


Query:   labiodental consonants
Author:  Carol L Tenny
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Phonetics

Summary:   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 is 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.''

LL Issue: 12.1496
Date Posted: 06-Jun-2001
Original Query: Read original query


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