I am trying to learn how to palatalize the consonants. As far as I understand, one must bring the tongue closer to the position of where the vowel [i] is produced while still performing the consonant. I read that the middle of the tongue must be positioned closer to the hard palate. As I only have control over the 3D position of my entire tongue and if it is curled or flat, I assume that means to leave the tongue flat, bring the tip of the tongue up and put it close to the teeth (alveolar ridge). As a consequence, the middle of the tongue will be close to the hard palate.

However, plosive consonants (eg [b], [p], [t], [d], [k], [g]) are only heard when they are released and they are released together with the following vowel (if there is one) in all languages I know. So, I cannot understand the difference between, for instance, [bʲa] and [bia]. Could someone clarify?

  • the airflow is restricted enough by the palatalization that no clear vowel comes out, it's noisy turbulence with a color or texture. The plosion is noise anyway; so that doesn't stop it. the vowel only comes out once the palat is released. Try to whisper "Pia", whispering is very noisy anyway. I think there was a threat with discussion of the matter before, from @hippietrail, so no answer from me, though I am not sure
    – vectory
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 17:24
  • I don't find that I do anything with the tongue-tip when palatalising a consonant. It is the blade that approaches the palate; the tip stays more or less where it would otherwise be.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 23:54
  • @ColinFine What is "where it would otherwise be"? Usually, I'm only able to move my tongue to somewhere as a whole (tip + blade), so if the blade is next to the palate, the tip is touching the upper teeth. I am not able to raise the blade next to the palate and keep the tip below. Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 22:45

1 Answer 1


First, it is not true that plosives are only heard when they are released. VC formant transitions also exist, and can be used to identify consonants. In fact, when you encounter rounding or palatalizing coarticulation at the right edge of a vowel before a consonant, you have good grounds for claiming that you "heard" that the consonant is palatalized (or rounded).

However, the question of whether there is a difference between [bia], [bja] or [bʲa] is not at all obvious, and unless a language has a contrast between two or three of these representations, the claim is usually based on a theory of phonological behavior. For example, if a language also has coda "bj", people feel more comfortable saying that this is a palatalized consonant, rather than a sonority-challenged cluster [bj]. The distinction between [bia] and [bja] may be based on durational facts, where a longer palatal segment is more likely to be part of a diphthong and a shorter one is more likely to be a glide. This "sounds like" test is not entirely reliable since in Ibibio, what "sounds" like a diphthong [io] is phonologically a glide+vowel sequence [jo], as established by the prefixal vowel harmony rule (the assimilating prefix assimilates [o]-features not [i]-features),

A classic example of indeterminacy is Mandarin Chinese post-consonantal glides. There is not any compelling phonetic or phonological argument that decides between [CiV], [CjV] or [CʲV] as the correct representation. I've seen people tilt the scales in favor of one analysis vs. another but only based on some a priori principle that isn't clearly right (such as: increasing the number of segments by having [Cʲ] as well as [C] is worse than allowing complex onsets).

  • I know only the basics of linguistics. Can "bi" be a coda? Isn't a coda always a single consonant ? Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 19:04
  • What exactly is a "sonority-challenged" cluster? I'm trying to learn Russian, so an extra analysis specific to that language could help me further. Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 19:05
  • A coda is any number of consonants at the end of a syllable. Sonority refers to a tendency for vowel-like sounds to be in the middle of the syllable, hence glides should be more towards the middle of a syllable, never at the very end after a plosive.
    – user6726
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 20:29

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