There are languages (English among them) that have a voiceless labialized velar approximant (ʍ in IPA), but that's not quite the sound I'm after. I'm also trying to distinguish this sound from aspiration as a phonemic attribute (e.g. "t" and "tʰ", like the "t" and "th" in Vietnamese). Spoken French has something a little like this, but ingressive, not egressive (the "fast gasp", meaning "Yep, uh-huh"). Has anyone bumped into anything like this?

  • 3
    How about [h]?
    – Draconis
    Jul 11, 2020 at 19:15

1 Answer 1


Many languages have sounds that could be called puffs of air, which may be transcribed as [ɸ w̥ ʍ h ɦ hʷ] People generally blow out candles with pursed lips, which could reduce the set of candidates to [ɸ w̥ ʍ hʷ]. "Puff", however, implies a higher rate of flow that encountered in [hʷ] or even [ɸ] -- perhaps the aspiration of [tʰ] is closer to a "puff". [ɸ] is not "like" the puff of air used to extinguish a candle (the rate of airflow is not high enough to actually do the job). To get a "puff", you need a substantial pressure buildup, which requiresnot only a supraglottal constriction, but extra expiratory force above the normal level of human speech. Of course, if you define "puff" suitably, then there might be a number of sounds that qualify. I just experimentally verified that it is possible to extinguish a candle with the ejective consonant [t'].

  • Given that ejective [t’] tends to have very short VOT, equivalent more to voiced than to aspirated consonants, if that’s enough to extinguish a candle, it seems more or less any oral consonant or vowel ought to be. This seems unlikely. An aspirated [tʰ] sounds reasonable, but ejective [t’]? Jul 11, 2020 at 22:44
  • @JanusBahsJacquet An ejective has a sharp release of air (just not coming from the lungs), so I wouldn't be surprised if [t’] is better at extinguishing a candle than [t] or [d]. I'll have to find a candle to test this later.
    – Draconis
    Jul 11, 2020 at 22:54
  • @Draconis An ejective produces no more air flow than a glottal stop; when you say ‘uh-oh’, you’re producing two ejectives, but if you put your hand to your mouth, you’ll notice the strongest puff of air comes during the vowel, not at the release. Jul 11, 2020 at 22:56
  • The high velocity is the key to success with an ejective. Also, [t'] because the burst is very concentrated (smaller cross-sectional area), compared to [p']. It may be that the type of ejective matters, i.e. Salishan vs. Bantu (my ejectives are Lushootseed based).
    – user6726
    Jul 11, 2020 at 23:11

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