The voiceless dental non-sibilant fricative is a type of consonantal sound used in some spoken languages. It is familiar to English speakers as the 'th' in think. Though rather rare as a phoneme in the world's inventory of languages, it is encountered in some of the most widespread and influential (see below). The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨θ⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is
T. The IPA symbol is the Greek letter theta, which is used for this sound in post-classical Greek, and the sound is thus often referred to as "theta".
|Voiceless dental fricative|
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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 or lower teeth, as they are with other dental consonants.
This sound and its voiced counterpart are rare phonemes occurring in 4% of languages in a phonological analysis of 2,155 languages. Among the more than 60 languages with over 10 million speakers, only English, northern varieties of the Berber language of North Africa, Standard Peninsular Spanish, various dialects of Arabic, Swahili (in words derived from Arabic), and Greek have the voiceless dental non-sibilant fricative. Speakers of languages and dialects without the sound sometimes have difficulty producing or distinguishing it from similar sounds, especially if they have had no chance to acquire it in childhood, and typically replace it with a voiceless alveolar fricative (/s/) (as in Indonesian), voiceless dental stop (/t/), or a voiceless labiodental fricative (/f/); known respectively as th-alveolarization, th-stopping, and th-fronting.
The sound is known to have disappeared from a number of languages, e.g. from most of the Germanic languages or dialects, where it is retained only in Scots, English, and Icelandic, but it is alveolar in the last of these. Among non-Germanic Indo-European languages as a whole, the sound was also once much more widespread, but is today preserved in a few languages including the Brythonic languages, Peninsular Spanish, Galician, Venetian, Albanian, some Occitan dialects and Greek. It has likewise disappeared from many Semitic languages, such as Hebrew (excluding Yemenite Hebrew) and many modern varieties of Arabic (excluding Tunisian, Mesopotamian Arabic and various dialects in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Modern Standard Arabic).
Features of the voiceless dental non-sibilant fricative:
|Arabic||Modern Standard||ثَوْب||[θawb] (help·info)||'a dress'||Represented by ⟨ث⟩. See Arabic phonology.|
|Sanaa, Yemen||يِثَمَّن||[jɪˈθæmːæn]||'it is priced'|
|Khuzestan, Iran||الثانْية||[ɪθˈθæːnjæ]||'the second one'|
|Assyrian||ܒܝܬܐ bèṭa||[beːθa]||'house'||Mostly used in the Western, Barwari, Tel Keppe, Batnaya and Alqosh dialects; realized as [t] in other varieties.|
|Avestan||𐬑𐬱𐬀𐬚𐬭𐬀 xšaθra||[xʃaθra]||'kingdom'||Ancient dead sacred language.|
|Bashkir||дуҫ / duθ||[duθ] (help·info)||'friend'|
|Berber||Ṯmaziɣṯ||[θmæzɪɣθ]||'Berber (language)'(noun)||This pronunciation is common in northern Morocco, central Morocco, and northern Algeria.|
|Burmese||သုံး / thon:||[θòʊ̯̃]||'three'||Commonly realized as an affricate [t̪͡θ].|
|Western American English||[θ̪͆ɪn]||Interdental.|
|Galician||Most dialects||cero||[ˈθɛɾo]||'zero'||Merges with /s/ into [s] in Western dialects. See Galician phonology|
|Greek||θάλασσα||[ˈθalasa]||'sea'||See Modern Greek phonology|
|Hebrew||Iraqi||עברית||[ʕibˈriːθ]||'Hebrew language'||See Modern Hebrew phonology|
|Italian||Tuscan||i capitani||[iˌhäɸiˈθäːni]||'the captains'||Intervocalic allophone of /t/. See Italian phonology and Tuscan gorgia|
|Malay||Selasa||[θəlaθa]||'Tuesday'||Mostly occurs in Arabic loanwords originally containing this sound, but the writing is not distinguished from the Arabic loanwords with the [s] sound and this sound must be learned separately by the speakers. See Malay phonology.|
|Occitan||Gascon||macipon||[maθiˈpu]||'(male) child'||Limited the sub-dialects of the region of Castillonais, in the Ariège department.|
|Vivaro-Alpine||chin||[θĩ]||'dog'||Limited to Vénosc, in the Isère department.|
|Early Old French||améṭ||[aˈmeːθ]||'loved, beloved (masculine)'||Disappeared by the 12th century. Word-final allophone of /ð/; this example also alternates with feminine améḍe [aˈmeːðə].|
|Old Persian||𐏋 XŠ / xšāyaθiya||[xʃaːjaθija]||'Shah'||Ancient extinct language.|
|Spanish||European Spanish||cazar||[käˈθ̪͆äɾ]||'to hunt'||Interdental. See Spanish phonology and Seseo. This sound is not contrastive in the Americas, southern Andalusia or the Canary Islands..|
|Swahili||thamini||[θɑˈmini]||'value'||Mostly occurs in Arabic loanwords originally containing this sound.|
|Venetian||Eastern dialects||çinque||[ˈθiŋkwe]||'five'||Corresponds to /s/ in other dialects.|
|Zotung||Standard dialect of Lungngo||kacciade||[kəˈθʲaːðɛ]||'I go'||Realized as [sʲ] and [t] in Aikap and other Northern dialects. It can also be voiced depending on the preceding consonant.|
|Voiceless denti-alveolar sibilant|
The voiceless denti-alveolar sibilant is the only sibilant fricative in some dialects of Andalusian Spanish. It has no official symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet, though its features would be transcribed ⟨s̻̪⟩ or ⟨s̪̻⟩ (using the ⟨◌̻⟩, the diacritic marking a laminal consonant, and ⟨◌̪⟩, the diacritic marking a dental consonant). It is usually represented by an ad-hoc symbol such as ⟨s̄⟩, ⟨θˢ̣⟩, or ⟨s̟⟩ (advanced diacritic).
Dalbor (1980) describes this sound as follows: "[s̄] is a voiceless, corono-dentoalveolar groove fricative, the so-called s coronal or s plana because of the relatively flat shape of the tongue body.... To this writer, the coronal [s̄], heard throughout Andalusia, should be characterized by such terms as "soft," "fuzzy," or "imprecise," which, as we shall see, brings it quite close to one variety of /θ/ ... Canfield has referred, quite correctly, in our opinion, to this [s̄] as "the lisping coronal-dental," and Amado Alonso remarks how close it is to the post-dental [θ̦], suggesting a combined symbol [θˢ̣] to represent it".
Features of the voiceless denti-alveolar sibilant:
|Spanish||Andalusian||casa||[ˈkäs̻̪ä]||'house'||Present in dialects with ceceo. See Spanish phonology|