Lateral fricative

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Phonological environment

This is a small survey of coronal and palatal fricative subsystems in languages of the world. Voicing distinctions are ignored.

7 coronals

The champion, Toda, wins by contrasts fricatives not only by POA but also by sibilancy:

  • dental /θ s̪/
  • alveolar /ɬ s/
  • retroflex /ɬ̠ ʂ/
  • postalveolar /ʃ/

Note that laterality appears here to be simply the surface realization of post-dental non-sibilants (which is natural, since retroflex spirants do not exist).

5 coronals

A number of Na-Dene languages such as Gwich'in and Hän have the following inventory:

  • dental /θ/
  • lateral /ɬ/
  • alveolar /s/
  • retroflex /ʂ/
  • postalveolar /ʃ/

A variation in Tahltan swaps /ʂ/ for a palatal /ç/.

Ubyx, from Caucasus, has a maximal sibilant inventory as /s ʂ ʃ ɕ/ but does not contain /θ/.

The African Dahalo has a variation with multiple laterals: /ɬ ɬʲ ɬʷ s ʃ/ (technically, that's a fully palatal lateral, but the symbol is unavailable).

4 coronals

Here, by far the most typical system is dental-lateral-alveolar-postalveolar /θ ɬ s ʃ/, found in as far apart languages as Welsh and Burmese, as well as numerous Na-Dene and Pacific Northwest languages including Halkomelem and Tanacross.

Numerous one-off systems exist as well.

  • Aleut: /θ ɬ s ʂ/ (no /ʃ/, tho there is /tʃ/)
  • Dunneza: /ɬ s̪ s ʃ/ (basically the immediate ancestor of the "typical" system)
  • Phula: /ɬ s ʂ ʃ/
    • Cocopah: /ɬʲ s ʂ ʃ/
  • Northern Qiang: /ɬ s ʂ ɕ/ (affricates include /tʃ/ as well)
  • Hmong: /ɬ s ʂ ç/
  • Secondary articulations:
    • Chilcotin: /ɫ s sˤ ʃ/
    • Mongolian: /ɮ ɮʲ s ʃ/ (where /ʃ/ is pretty much //sʲ//)

Note that all except Aleut and Hmong are basically /ɬ s ʃ/ plus one further fricative!

3 coronals

The /ɬ s ʃ/ system just noted is by a stretch the most common system here. It is particularly common in North America, for example Alsean, Chimakuan, Klallam, Muskogean, Seri, Takelma, Tera, Yuchi, Zuni. Elsewhere, examples include Caucasian languages such as Avar and African languages such as Xhosa.

Other variations do still exist.

  • Nahuatl: no /ɬ/, only /tɬ/
  • /ɬ s ç/: sporadically, eg. Kwak'wala, Sekani.
  • /ʟ̟̊ s ʃ/: sporadically: Archi, and with velar lateral affricate only, Laghuu

2 coronals

One might think /ɬ s/ is the only choice here. This turns out to not be the case, tho it is quite popular too (but not as popular as /ɬ s ʃ/). Examples seem to be more spred geographically, from Ge'ez to Chukchi to Haida. Affricate-only /tɬ s/ exists in Shuswap; /ɬ ʃ/ exists in at least St'at'imcets, Mikasuki and Wintu.