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Approximants are an especially interesting group of consonants. They consist of four separate types, traditionally termed lateral approximants, rhotic (or central) approximants, semi-vowels, and frictionless continuants. This book brings together an international team of scholars to examine the phonetics and phonology of this diverse group of sounds, and also looks at the question of whether they should, in fact, be grouped together.

The volume is divided into four parts. Part 1 contains 7 chapters dealing with general characteristics of approximants: their articulatory features, acoustics, and perception, together with phonological and sociolinguistic aspects, concluding with surveys of approximant systems in the languages of the world, and means of transcribing them phonetically. Part 2 has five chapters examining the acquisition of approximants (in Maltese, Spanish, Portuguese, and English) and the effects of speech disorders of different types on the production of these sounds. Part 3 describes approximant systems in a variety of the languages of the world, including several Indo-European languages but also examples of Dravidian, Semitic, Uralic, and Sinitic languages, and languages from Africa, South America and Australia. The final part contains a single chapter that examines the approximant category phonetically and phonologically, asking whether the approximant consonant group is justified.

This collection will appeal to a readership at the level of advanced undergraduate and graduate students, and to researchers in the field who may know of the concept of approximants but be unaware of its application to the range of languages (many of them under-reported languages) in this book.

Published: Mar 1, 2025

Book Contributors


Section Chapter Authors
What are approximants? Martin Ball
26. Is a Category Approximant Justified Phonetically and/or Phonologically? Eugenio Martínez Celdrán , Lourdes Romera Barrios, Wendy Elvira-Garcia
Part I: General Aspects
1. Articulatory Aspects of Approximants Eleanor Lawson, James Scobbie
2. Acoustic Aspects of Approximants Sherman Charles
3. Perceptual Aspects of Approximants Grant McGuire
4. Phonological Aspects of Approximants Harry van der Hulst, Jeroen van de Weijer
5. Sociolinguistics Aspects of Approximants Claire Nance
6. Approximant Systems in the Languages of the World Ian Maddieson
7. Transcription of Approximants Martin Ball
Part II: Approximants in Acquisition and in Atypical Speech
8. Acquisition of Maltese Approximants Helen Grech
9. Acquisition of Spanish Approximants Jessica A. Barlow, Philip Combiths
10. Acquisition of Laterals in Portuguese Marcia Keske-Soares, Marizete Ilha Ceron
11. Acquisition of English Rhotic Approximants Rachael Knight, Peter Flipsen
12. Approximants in Atypical Speech Tom Starr-Marshal
Part III: Approximants in Specific Languages and Language Groups
13. Hungarian Mária Gósy, Ruth Bahr
14. Greek Ioannis Papakyritsis
15. Italian Chiara Meluzzi
16. Spanish Mauricio Figueroa, Brandon Rogers
17. Celtic Languages Pavel Iosad
18. Tamil Hemalatha Nagarajan, Meena Debashish, Nivedha Narayanaswamy
19. The Perception of Dense Approximant Inventories in Hindi and Malayalam Philip Howson, Irfana Madathodiyil
20. Sinitic Languages Peggy Mok
21. Australian Languages Marija Tabain, Brett Baker
22. Maasai Didier Demolin, Michael Karani
23. Tupi-Guarani Languages Fernando O. de Carvalho
24. Irish English /r/ Nicola Bessell, Alice Lee, Aoife Trang Hennessy
25. Pharyngeals in Hebrew and Arabic Asher Laufer