The /k/ in the word "cool" is often labialized i.e. round lips and is transcribed as [kʷ]. How do linguists say its name in phonetics?

  • Voiceless labialized velar plosive


  • labialized voiceless velar plosive


Are both interchangeable or there is a difference?

  • 3
    They both mean the same thing and you'll be understood either way, but intuitively I'd usually prefer the second to the first because voice feels like a more "fundamental" feature than labialization so you'd normally want it closer to the noun. That's just a feeling, though.
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 15:15
  • 1
    I agree with @Cairnarvon, but my reason is that "voiceless velar plosive" is a meaningful phoneme description in English -- you can substitute "/k/" without changing anything -- whereas "labialized velar plosive" isn't. So I'd go with the general term plus a particular modification added at the beginning: labialized voiceless velar plosive, aka labialized /k/, aka [kʷ].
    – jlawler
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 18:12

1 Answer 1


It's traditional in phonetics to give a ᴠᴏɪᴄᴇ, ᴘʟᴀᴄᴇ ᴍᴀɴɴᴇʀ (VPM) label in the description of consonants. This kind of label corresponds to the entry that such a consonant would have according to the International Phonetic Association IPA chart. So you can think of the VPM label as a kind of name for that type of consonant. Any further phonetic detail, for example devoicing, labialisation, nasalisation, usually comes before the VPM label. In other words, it functions as a modifier (think descriptor) of the more general three part name for that consonant. (I am not implying that the VPM label constitutes a compound noun.)

So we would normally expect to see:

  • labialised voiceless velar plosive
  • retracted voiceless velar plosive

and so forth.

Notice that non-pulmonic consonants, for example ejectives, can be considered to indicate different manners than would be denoted by the same symbol without the diacritic. So the ejective [t'] is often described as a voiceless alveolar ejective, instead of as an ejective voiceless alveolar plosive.

There are doubtless other anomalies that I haven't considered.

  • Fascinating answer!! Thanks ;-)
    – user30668
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 11:04

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