I've heard [w] and [j] are glides and that glides are not considered to be consonants.

I've also seen voiced labiovelar approximant [w] and palatal approximant [j] on the IPA consonant chart.

What's the latest consensus in the linguistic community on whether [w] and [j] should be classified as consonants?

  • 3
    I think you mean [w] and [j]? Using slashes indicates that you're referring to these as phonemes, which means you're talking about a particular language. Square brackets would mean you're talking about them as phones. May 5 '12 at 9:31
  • OK I've replaced your slashes with square brackets to indicate you're talking about the phones. If you are intending the question to be about the phonemes in a particular language, please change them back and clarify the question (but even then the second sentence really has to use square brackets). May 9 '12 at 14:58
  • Your correction is right on, Gaston. May 11 '12 at 0:05

There is a sonority hierarchy of phonemes and phones, in which [w] and [j] are certainly closest to the vowels.

Where exactly in this hierarchy you draw the line between vowels and consonants, or whether you distinguish approximants from consonants, depends on the language you are observing and/or the phenomena you are describing.


As for /j/ you could look at its behaviour in the decision made between the selection of the indefinite article or . Where is chosen before a word beginning in a vowel sound and is chosen if the following word begins with a consonantal sound. In a variety like standard British English a word like would have a preceding because begins with a /j/ in this variety. But in a variety like Welsh English where the /j/ is frequently dropped (yod-dropping) the word would be preceded by because the following word begins with a vowel sound. So with this reasoning, you could consider /j/ to be a consonant.

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