Dental approximant

Voiced dental non-sibilant fricative

The voiced dental non-sibilant fricative is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. It is familiar to English speakers as the th sound in father. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is eth, or [ð]. This was taken from the Old English letter eth, which could stand for either a voiced or unvoiced interdental non-sibilant fricative. This symbol is also sometimes used to represent the dental approximant, a similar sound not known to contrast with a dental non-sibilant fricative in any language,[1] though that is more clearly written with the lowering diacritic, ⟨ð̞⟩. The dental non-sibilant fricatives are often called "interdental" because they are often produced with the tongue between the upper and lower teeth, and not just against the back of the upper teeth, as they are with other dental consonants.

This sound, and its unvoiced counterpart, are rare phonemes. The great majority of European and Asian languages, such as German, French, Persian, Japanese, and Chinese, lack this sound. Native speakers of those languages in which the sound is not present often have difficulty enunciating or distinguishing it, and replace it with a voiced alveolar sibilant [z], a voiced dental stop or voiced alveolar stop [d], or a voiced labiodental fricative [v]; known respectively as th-alveolarization, th-stopping, and th-fronting. As for Europe, there seems to be a great arc where this sound (and or the unvoiced variant) is present. Most of mainland Europe lacks the sound; however, some "periphery" languages as Gascon, Welsh, English, Danish, Icelandic, Elfdalian, Northern Sami, Mari, Greek, Albanian, Sardinian, some dialects of Basque and most speakers of Spanish have this sound in their consonant inventories, as phonemes or allophones.

Within Turkic languages, Bashkir and Turkmen have both voiced and voiceless dental non-sibilant fricatives among their consonants. Among Semitic languages, they are used in Standard Arabic.


Features of the voiced dental non-sibilant fricative:

  • Its manner of articulation is fricative, which means it is produced by constricting air flow through a narrow channel at the place of articulation, causing turbulence. It does not have the grooved tongue and directed airflow, or the high frequencies, of a sibilant.
  • Its place of articulation is dental, which means it is articulated with the tongue at either the upper or lower teeth, or both. (Most stops and liquids described as dental are actually denti-alveolar.)
  • 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.


In the following transcriptions, the undertack diacritic may be used to indicate an approximant [ð̞].

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Albanian idhull [iðuɫ] 'idol'
Aleut Atkan dialect dax̂ [ðɑχ] 'eye'
Arabic Standard[2] ذهب [ˈðahab] 'gold' See Arabic phonology
Bashkir ҡаҙ ) 'goose' .
Basque[3] adar [að̞ar] 'horn' Allophone of /d/
Berber Kabyle uḇ [ðuβ] 'to be exhausted'
Berta [fɛ̀ːðɑ̀nɑ́] 'to sweep'
Catalan[4] fada [ˈfað̞ə] 'fairy' Allophone of /d/. See Catalan phonology
Danish hvid [ˈʋið̞ˀ] 'white' Allophone of /d/ in the syllable coda. See Danish phonology
Elfdalian baiða [ˈbaɪða] 'wait'
English this [ðɪs] 'this' See English phonology
Fijian ciwa [ðiwa] 'nine'
German Austrian[5] leider [ˈlaɛ̯ða] 'unfortunately' Intervocalic allophone of /d/ in casual speech. See German phonology
Greek δάφνη dáfni [ˈðafni] 'laurel' See Modern Greek phonology
Gwich’in niidhàn [niːðân] 'you want'
Harsusi [ðebeːr] 'bee'
Hän ë̀dhä̀ [ə̂ðɑ̂] 'hide'
Hebrew Iraqi אדוני ) 'my lord' Commonly pronounced ]. See Modern Hebrew phonology
Icelandic bróðir [ˈproːðir] 'brother' Often closer to an approximant. See Icelandic phonology
Kagayanen[6] ? [kað̞aɡ] 'spirit'
Mari Eastern dialect шодо [ʃoðo] 'lung'
Northern Sami dieđa [d̥ieðɑ] 'science'
Occitan Gascon que divi [ke ˈð̞iwi] 'what I should' Allophone of /d/. See Occitan phonology
Portuguese European[7] nada [ˈnaðɐ] 'nothing' Northern and central dialects. Allophone of /d/, mainly after an oral vowel.[8] See Portuguese phonology
compadre [kũˈpaðɾi] 'compadre', 'buddy' Allophone of postvocalic /d/ in consonant clusters with //, in relaxed speech
Sioux Nakota ? [ˈðaptã] 'five'
Sardinian nidu [ˈnið̞u] 'nest' Allophone of /d/
Spanish Most dialects[9] dedo [ˈd̪e̞ð̞o̞] 'finger' Allophone of /d/. See Spanish phonology
Peninsular[10] jazmín [xäðˈmĩn] 'Jasmine' Allophone of /θ/ before voiced consonants, often in free variation with /θ/.
Swahili dhambi [ðɑmbi] 'sin'
Syriac Western Neo-Aramaic ܐܚܕ [aħːeð] 'to take'
Tamil ஒன்பது [onbʌðɯ] 'nine' See Tamil phonology
Tanacross dhet [ðet] 'liver'
Turkmen gaz [ɡäːð] 'goose'
Tutchone Northern edhó [eðǒ] 'hide'
Southern adhǜ [aðɨ̂]
Welsh bardd [barð] 'bard' See Welsh phonology
Zapotec Tilquiapan[11] [example needed] Allophone of /d/

See also



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