While searching labialization on the Wikipedia, it is easy to find these statements: 'Labialized sounds involve the lips <...> When vowels involve the lips, they are called rounded.'

In Russian, as in many other languages, there is a rounded vowel [u]. It is very typical of Russian people, who learn English, to pronounce English labialised (~rounded) [w] with the same state of the lips, look at the picture:

enter image description here

But when these Russian speakers come to a teacher who tells them not to use their lips at all and pronounce [w] in a 'smiling' manner, a question arises: if both sounds are labialised, why cannot one use his/her lips in the same way as in pronouncing [u]?

Well, what is the difference between the state of the lips while producing [u] and [w]? Why both sounds are 'labialised/rounded', but do not really resemble one another in terms of the lips' state? Is there a more useful recommendation on how to hear/see the difference between [w] and [u]?

  • 3
    I think the concept you are looking for is not labialization, but roundedness
    – b a
    Jan 28, 2019 at 19:02
  • @ba maybe, but, as I said, roundedness is likely to be used only while talking about the vowels.
    – Aer
    Jan 28, 2019 at 19:04
  • 2
    Since you are asking about vowels and semivowels rather than labialization of consonants, I think the latter is more relevant. Particularly "types of rounding" seems very relevant to your question
    – b a
    Jan 28, 2019 at 19:12
  • I think the Russian idiosyncracy you describe is actually due to a glottal stop or preglottalization in the vowel segment. This would be especially notable in aspirated labials (noticeable in some Brittish accents and underlying e.g. what, OE hwat, real aspiration seen in who where there is however only a vowel in place of the labial) because Russian does not know Aspiration (Harry > Garry, Charry).
    – vectory
    Feb 8, 2021 at 5:51
  • 1
    I'm impressed nobody commented UwU here yet.
    – msb
    Feb 8, 2021 at 20:41

2 Answers 2


The sounds [u] and [w] really do resemble each other, just as [u] and [o] resemble each other: resemblance is weaker than identity. I don't know what the actual problem is that Russian language teachers are addressing, but given that Russian does not have [w], I assume it's sometimes challenging for speakers to produce appropriate English outputs; perhaps [wi] is produced more like [ŭi]. Both [w] and [u] involve protruded lips (rounding, a form of labialization), and [v] is labial, but is not labialized and not rounded.

The lip difference between [u] and [w] is primarily one of timing and secondarily one of degree. That is, [w] involves a more ballistic (rapid) gesture that gives a greater construction, and [u] is slower and less constricted (depending on dialect it is also fronted and/or diphthongized).


To whom it may concern, /u/ is a cardinal vowel which is sonorant while /w/ is a semivowel or approximant in the sense that the articulators approach each other but do not touch and do not form an obstruction.However, the two sounds have got commonalities one of which is lip-rounding or both are back. References Roach, P.(2009). English Phonetics and Phonology. Jensen, J.T. (2004). Principles of Generative Phonology. Gussman,E. (2001). Phonology, Analysis and Theory.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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