So there are voiced/voiceless stops and fricatives in many languages, but I'm wondering if there are the same sort of voiced/voiceless distinctions for nasals / approximants / trills / flaps / affricates / vowels / etc.

So like:

  • [l̥]
  • [r̥]
  • [n̥]
  • [m̥]
  • [w̥]
  • [ȷ̊]
  • [ẙ]
  • [ɥ̊]
  • [ɻ̊]
  • [ɹ̥]
  • [ʁ̥]
  • [ʎ̥]
  • [ʟ̥]
  • [ʋ̥]
  • [ɰ̊]
  • [ɳ̊]
  • [ɲ̊]
  • [ŋ̊]
  • [ɴ̥]
  • [ḁ]
  • [e̥]
  • [i̥]
  • [o̥]
  • [u̥]

Then I am wondering what they sound like. A voiceless "r" sounds still like an "r", while a voiceless "z" sounds like an "s", a different letter. Maybe that is just because of my background. So wondering if other languages have the feature of the above letters being contrasted with their voiced equivalents (and what some of the languages are for more info). I have seen just a few languages with perhaps [w̥], but I don't think I've seen any with voiceless vowels, while many seem to have nasal vowels.

So to summarize, I am looking for:

  • Languages that have any of the above as voiceless versions. Primarily [l̥], [ɹ̥], [n̥], [m̥], [ʁ̥], [ŋ̊], or any of the vowels. To me these just sound like whispered versions of the sounds, as opposed to s/z which sound like different sounds.
  • Languages which contrast any of the above listed voiceless sounds with their related voiced sound. By contrast I just mean they use both in constructing their words. This is the bigger part of the question.
  • Voiceless resonants and vowels mostly occur as allophones in contexts that support voicelessness, like between other voiceless sounds. Japanese devoices high vowels between voiceless consonants and after a voiceless consonant at the end of the word, for instance. Both of these environments surround the vowel with lack of voicing, and they assimilate to it. – jlawler Oct 10 at 13:46
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Certainly!

Ancient Greek /r/ had an unvoiced allophone [r̥], which was written as rh in Latin transcriptions (see "rhino", "diarrhea").

Old Norse had phonemic /l̥ r̥ n̥/, which contrasted with /l r n/ in initial position.

English used to have phonemic /w̥/, and some dialects still do: it's written "wh". A minimal pair is "wine" vs "whine". Mostly because it shows up in English, this one even gets its own IPA symbol: ʍ.

Standard Japanese has allophonic voiceless high vowels: they're voiceless between two voiceless consonants, or a voiceless consonant and a word boundary, and voiced elsewhere.

In General American English, /h/ is usually realized as a voiceless vowel.

I'm not sure if any languages actually have phonemic voiceless vowels, but the fact that I haven't heard of any might be some indication.

but I'm wondering if there are the same sort of voiced/voiceless distinctions for nasals / approximants / trills / flaps / affricates / vowels / etc.

These exist, but they are rare because they're hard to distinguish audially or something.

  • Languages that have any of the above as voiceless versions. Primarily [l̥], [ɹ̥], [n̥], [m̥], [ʁ̥], [ŋ̊], or any of the vowels. To me these just sound like whispered versions of the sounds, as opposed to s/z which sound like different sounds.

Welsh has [ɹ̥], [m̥], [n̥], [ŋ̊].

Cheyenne and Okinawan both have unvoiced vowels. But as far as I know, in neither of these languages does voicedness on vowels form a phonemic contrast.

There is a language spoken in California, possibly Yokuts which has voiceless vowels.

Okinawan devoices a vowel if it is high, short, word-final and follows a voiceless consonant. IIRC, Cheyenne devoices a vowel depending on syncope and if it's a certain number of syllables from the beginning or end of the word.

  • Languages which contrast any of the above listed voiceless sounds with their related voiced sound. By contrast I just mean they use both in constructing their words. This is the bigger part of the question.

Welsh has voiceless continuants, as I mentioned earlier, and it contrasts these phonemically with the voiced counterparts. This is is part due to its consonant mutation scheme. Here's (almost) a minimal pair:

  • fy ngalon /ə'ŋa:lɔn/ - my song (mutated form of calon, a song)

  • fy nghalon /ə'ŋ̊alɔn/ - my gallon (mutated form of galon, a gallon)

  • Right you are, I have edited the answer – Wilson Oct 10 at 21:51

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