Why do plain voiceless stops i.e [p t k] sound like ejective [pʼ tʼ kʼ]?

am a native speaker of a language which has phonemic distinction between voiced, voiceless and aspirated stops and affricates (the language is Georgian, a Kartvelian Language) and to my ears plain voiceless stops just like ejective stops, what is the reason for this?

2 Answers 2


One explanation is that Georgian does not have plain voiceless stops, it has ejectives. Consonants like პ ტ კ are reported as being ejective in many sources. Since there is no contrast and the degree of ejection is light (compared to e.g. Lushootseed), it is unsurprising that you cannot distinguish the two (just as English speakers don't hear a difference between [t] and [tʰ]). Voice onset time is short in both [t] and [t'], compared to [tʰ]. Navaho and Tigrinya are classical examples of strong ejectives, so you might try comparing [t, t'] and [k, k'] in Tigrinya versus Georgian (if you can locate a speaker of Tigrinya).

  • Strangely, when Pronouncing Georgian voiced stops to the speakers of French, They hear my /b d ɡ/ as voiceless [p t k] for some reason. Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 11:40
  • @LinguisticsFanatic French has very strongly voiced stops (very negative VOT), more so than most other languages. It's entirely possible Georgian voiced and ejective stops both end up on the same side of that dividing line.
    – Draconis
    Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 16:49

To add on to user6726's answer, there's quite a lot of historical evidence of voiceless stops being perceived as ejectives and vice versa. Egyptian ejectives, for example, are often transcribed as voiceless stops in Greek, and the voiceless stop letters were used for them in Coptic. The Greek and Latin letters for voiceless stops were similarly used for Hebrew, Aramaic, and Punic emphatics, which were likely some variety of glottalized. On the flipside, transcriptions of Greek names into Egyptian used ejective letters for voiceless stops.

(In particular, Egyptian d /t'/ is transcribed as in Akkadian and Hebrew but as t in Greek and Coptic: šbd > Heb. šebheṭ, Akk. šabbiṭum, sdmt > Greek stímmi, Coptic stēm. Vice versa: Kleopatra is transcribed with q and d.)

The reason for this is straightforward: because of their different airstream mechanism, ejective stops tend not to have much voicing or aspiration. So they have very similar VOT cues to tenuis (voiceless unaspirated) stops in other languages.

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