In phonetics (IPA) terminology, what is the difference between an Articulatory Target and an Articulator. I used to think that the former is just another name for the Passive Articulator or the Place of Articulation (e.g. the alveolar ridge in case of alveolar consonants). I am now confused after actually reading the Handbook.

  • IPA is not the same as "phonetics", it's a special phonetically-oriented set of phonological terms. So your question is not about the IPA, it's about either phonological jargon or phonetic jargon. POA is a standard phonological term; passive articulator and articulatory target are not. But they are used in phonetics. You would have to provide examples of actual use of the latter terms.
    – user6726
    Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 15:41
  • @user6726: I do understand IPA is not same as phonetics. Did parenthesizing it not make that clear enough that I am seeking information relevant to IPA? Thanks for pointing out the distinction in usage of POA and AT/PA. I am not much of a purist though. IMO, although, all this information was good-to-know,; it wasn't, however, relevant to my question? thx anyway.
    – puwlah
    Commented Mar 18, 2021 at 9:42

1 Answer 1


An articulatory target is the position at which an active articulator aims to produce a certain sound. As the Handbook itself elucidates with [ɹ] as an example (p. 6), in central fricatives and approximants, the articulators must not make a contact with each other, so an articulatory target does not always coincide with the passive articulator. A passive articulator is simply the part of an organ where constriction is made, which may or may not be in contact with the active articulator.

The Handbook is talking about how the organization of the IPA letters and most descriptions of phonetic inventories are based on the assumption that each sound can be categorized according to the general—not precise—area where the constriction takes place, which is known as a passive place of articulation, or simply a place of articulation. So, in a sense, a place of articulation is more abstract than a passive articulator, which is more abstract than an articulatory target. The assumption has been regarded as robust, or at least useful, for over a century in that languages rarely contrast sounds at the same intersection of voicing, place, and manner. The practice of dissecting the vocal tract into places of articulation based on sound patterns found in languages is sometimes called phonetic taxonomy (Roach 1987).

I said "in a sense" because an articulatory target is not always distinct or easy to ascertain. Not only do the articulators make continuous movements during speech (as the Handbook points out), but in plosives, for example, the tongue not just makes contact with but squishes against the palate in order to sustain the compressed air behind the occlusion. So the articulatory target of a plosive is arguably somewhere above the surface of the palate (Gick, Wilson & Derrick 2013).

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