I noticed that IE languages often derive /v/ from /w/. It is a bit of a rare sound (predominantly IE?). I wonder how /v/ came about in various languages?

In general, labiodentals seem to be a more "advanced" sound (that is, languages develop these sounds at later times than others...) I can only wonder why would it feel so much of an "advanced sound"?

(sorry if it is too vague)


2 Answers 2


This has more to do with /v/ being a voiced fricative than it being labiodental: note that the bilabial counterpart of /v/ is not /w/, but /β/, which is probably even rarer than /v/. Voiced fricatives as a group are a somewhat localized feature, as you can see on WALS. Even in languages that are listed as having /v/, it's not always clear that phonologically it should be analyzed as a voiced fricative, since it can pattern with approximants instead (or indeed, be realized as [ʋ]). This is the situation in Croatian, where /v/ is phonologically better seen as an approximant, and a voiced fricative only in dialects. Similarly, [v] or [ʋ] and [w] can be allophones of the same phoneme, which was probably the situation in Sanskrit, as it is in eg. Hindi.

Edit: as for how languages get to have /v/, a very reasonable development is b > β > v. This is what happened eg. in Modern Greek. Another possibility is allophonic intervocalic voicing of /f/, which later becomes phonemic. This happened in English, where the distinction was reinforced by a large number of borrowings.


I don't think that v is particularly rare, though it is less common than, say, t, so it depends on what you're comparing it with. I would be especially skeptical about claims regarding [v] versus [ʋ] or [β], because in reality there is a continuum of segments in that region, and claims about choice of phonetic symbol are rarely made based on systematic measurements and a theory of what the acoustic properties of [v, ʋ, β] should be.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.