AskDefine | Define consonants

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English

Noun

consonants
  1. Plural of consonant

Extensive Definition

In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the upper vocal tract, the upper vocal tract being defined as that part of the vocal tract that lies above the larynx.
Since the number of consonants in the world's languages is much greater than the number of consonant letters in any one alphabet, linguists have devised systems such as the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to assign a unique symbol to each attested consonant. In fact, the Latin alphabet, which is used to write English, has fewer consonant letters than English has consonant sounds, so digraphs like "ch", "sh", "th", and "zh" are used to extend the alphabet, and some letters and digraphs represent more than one consonant. For example, many speakers are not aware that the sound spelled "th" in "this" is a different consonant than the "th" sound in "thing". (In the IPA they are transcribed ð and θ, respectively.)

Origin of the term

The word consonant comes from Latin oblique stem cōnsonant-, from cōnsonāns (littera) "sounding-together (letter)", a loan translation of Greek σύμφωνον sýmphōnon. As originally conceived by Plato, sýmphōna were specifically the stop consonants, described as "not being pronounceable without an adjacent vowel sound". Thus the term did not cover continuant consonants, which occur without vowels in a minority of languages, for example at the ends of the English words bottle and button. (The final vowel letters e and o in these words are only a product of orthography; Plato was concerned with pronunciation.)
However, even Plato's original conception of consonant is inadequate for the universal description of human language, since in some languages, such as the Salishan languages, stop consonants may also occur without vowels (see Nuxálk), and the modern conception of consonant does not require cooccurrence with vowels.

Consonantal features

Each consonant can be distinguished by several features: call these "fricative vowels" and say that "they can usually be thought of as syllabic fricatives that are allophones of vowels." That is, phonetically they are consonants, but phonemically they behave as vowels.
Many Slavic languages allow the trill [r̩] and the lateral [l̩] as syllabic nuclei (see Words without vowels), and in languages like Nuxalk, it is difficult to know what the nucleus of a syllable is (it may be that not all syllables have nuclei), though if the concept of 'syllable' applies, there are syllabic consonants in words like /sx̩s/ 'seal fat'.

References

Ian Maddieson, Patterns of Sounds, Cambridge University Press, 1984. ISBN 0-521-26536-3
consonants in Tosk Albanian: Konsonant
consonants in Franco-Provençal: Consona
consonants in Asturian: Consonante
consonants in Bengali: ব্যঞ্জনধ্বনি
consonants in Breton: Kensonenn
consonants in Catalan: Consonant
consonants in Chuvash: Хупă сасăсем
consonants in Czech: Souhláska
consonants in Welsh: Cytsain
consonants in Danish: Konsonant
consonants in German: Konsonant
consonants in Modern Greek (1453-): Σύμφωνο
consonants in Spanish: Consonante
consonants in Esperanto: Konsonanto
consonants in Persian: صامت
consonants in French: Consonne
consonants in Galician: Consoante
consonants in Kazakh: Дауыссыз дыбыстар
consonants in Korean: 닿소리
consonants in Croatian: Suglasnik
consonants in Ido: Konsonanto
consonants in Indonesian: Konsonan
consonants in Icelandic: Samhljóð
consonants in Italian: Consonante
consonants in Hebrew: עיצור
consonants in Javanese: Konsonan
consonants in Georgian: თანხმოვანი
consonants in Cornish: Kessonenn
consonants in Swahili (macrolanguage): Konsonanti
consonants in Haitian: Konsòn
consonants in Latvian: Līdzskanis
consonants in Lingala: Molelisi
consonants in Hungarian: Mássalhangzó
consonants in Dutch: Medeklinker
consonants in Japanese: 子音
consonants in Norwegian: Konsonant
consonants in Norwegian Nynorsk: Konsonant
consonants in Polish: Spółgłoska
consonants in Portuguese: Consoante
consonants in Romanian: Consoană
consonants in Quechua: Kunkawaki
consonants in Russian: Согласные
consonants in Simple English: Consonant
consonants in Slovak: Spoluhláska
consonants in Slovenian: Soglasnik
consonants in Finnish: Konsonantti
consonants in Swedish: Konsonant
consonants in Thai: พยัญชนะ
consonants in Ukrainian: Приголосний звук
consonants in Walloon: Cossoune
consonants in Chinese: 辅音
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