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I'm trying to find a natural instance of both the alveolar approximant and the alveolar tap existing in a natural language's phonology. Could this naturally happen or do languages converge to one of them and the other dies?

I also don't quite know how to search for this information on google, so I apologize in advance if this is something one could find with some choice queries. Presently, I'm just checking individual languages one by one and I figured asking experts would be more enlightening.

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  • Exactly which alveolar approximant do you mean? The apical [ɹ] and the laminal [ð̱] are acoustically very different beasts – there are plenty of languages that have both [ɾ] and [ð̱] (such as Icelandic, for instance), perhaps because the laminal [ð̱] is such a frequent allophone of dental [ð]; but fewer that have both [ɾ] and [ɹ], perhaps because [ɹ] is a fairly common lazy allophone of [ɾ]. Aug 30 '19 at 13:35
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Phonetically, absolutely. My particular variety of American English does, for example: batter [bæɾɹ̩].

Phonologically, also absolutely; it just depends how you name your phonemes. An Italian linguist freshly discovering and documenting my English might decide that batter has an /ɾ/ in the middle, for instance. That phoneme is traditionally called /t/ in analyses of English, but there's no quantitative reason why that has to be the case (it's just traditional).

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    Can you give an example of an alveolar approximant too?
    – OmarL
    Aug 30 '19 at 11:18
  • Is your /r/ really an alveolar approximant, though? The vast majority of AmE dialects use a postalveolar or even retroflex, usually labialised, approximant for /r/, which is acoustically quite different from the plain alveolar approximant found in languages like Faroese. Aug 30 '19 at 13:21
  • @Wilson The rhotic in GA is usually transcribed as an alveolar approximant, plus some other features that are never quite satisfying (such as "bunched").
    – Draconis
    Aug 30 '19 at 16:14
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I've heard it described as a "bunched alveolar approximant", which isn't a very satisfying description but I haven't been able to come up with a better one, articulatorially. The tip of my tongue is in about the same place as for /l/, but there's also something going on with the tongue against the back molars that I don't know how to describe in the IPA.
    – Draconis
    Aug 30 '19 at 16:15
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Hawrami, a dialect of Kurdish, has both: aða "mother" vs. hæræ "donkey", where ð represents the alveolar approximant which is phonetically identical to Danish lenited d (that is, it is not a fricative, but it is also not a rhotic so we wouldn't write it with ɹ).

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  • Note that while Danish /ð/ is often labelled a laminal alveolar approximant, it isn’t really – firstly because the (very weak) alveolar constriction is accompanied by a more or less identical interdental constriction, but also because it’s velarised. The interdental constriction means that the alveolar constriction is almost dorsal, rather than laminal. It would really be more accurate to call it an interdental-alveolar-velar approximant. Aug 30 '19 at 13:30

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