I was thinking about how Spanish has a /t̠ʃ/ but (in most dialects) no /ʃ/, and how many native Spanish speakers have trouble producing the sound ʃ by itself. I don't see why this couldn't apply to other affricate-fricative pairs (ex: /ts/ with no /s/), but I'm interested in looking at some other real-world examples. Warning: I have no formal education in linguistics so please correct me if I use the wrong terminology or notation. That said, these are my questions:

  1. What are some other examples where a language has an affricate but no corresponding fricative?
  2. Are there any languages with affricates that lack the corresponding plosives? (ex: /ts/ but no /t/)
  3. Is it possible for a language to have an affricate with no corresponding plosive or fricative?

I tried searching phoible for instances of /ts/ with no /s/ but the few obscure languages I found there had conflicting information on their Wikipedia page.

It makes sense to me for an affricate to exist without the corresponding fricative because to produce an affricate a speaker starts at the plosive and releases into the fricative. Producing the fricative by itself is effectively "starting in the middle", so a speaker might not have the muscle memory to start directly from the fricative (this would be why Spanish speakers have trouble pronouncing ʃ).

I'm not sure if the reverse logic applies - a speaker might not have the muscle memory to not release a plosive into a fricative? So, to my mind 2 & 3 seem improbable. I would think that if a language somehow had an affricate with no corresponding plosive, the affricate would split and then merge to the plosive over time. The plosive would then take the affricate's place phonemically, being the "simpler" sound (or is that my own bias?), with the affricate maybe maintained as an allophone (ex: over time /ts/ becomes /t/). That's just a theory though, and I can't pull from any examples because I have virtually no knowledge of historical linguistics. I'd love to find some examples of this type of evolution happening or maybe a different evolution happening that challenges this theory.

  • My subjective experience if it sheds any light: as an Italian speaker having /ts/ and /dz/ (or /t:s/ and /d:z/, all represented graphically as <z> anyway), when I became interested in phonetics, I had a formant speech synthesizer in my computer as a child, designed for English but allowing phonetic input. As I tried to write a program to make it support Italian, I struggled a lot on figuring out how to handle <z>, and tried things like /tθ/ for example. I only realized it was /ts/ or /dz/ upon explicitly reading so. To little-me, the affricate was entirely distinct from its components.
    – LjL
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 21:24

2 Answers 2


A likely place to start, I think, would be to find an affricate that’s relatively common, but whose corresponding fricative is not all that common. The most obvious candidate to me is /(d)ʒ/.

The most well-known example of this is probably Modern Standard Italian, which has /dʒ/ (written ⟨g(i)⟩ as in giorno), but does not have /ʒ/.

Wikipedia shows /ʒ/ in brackets as a marginal phoneme, based on the fact that [ʒ] is a common allophone of short (non-geminate) intervocalic /dʒ/ in some Tuscan, Central and Southern dialects. This does admittedly make it possible to say there’s a phonemic distinction between /dʒ/ and /ʒ/ in those dialects – but it’s still equally possible to say that the distinction is between /dːʒ/ and /dʒ/ as in other dialects.

The tool linked to in Arcaeca’s answer gives an immense list of several hundred languages that have /dʒ/ (or /d̠ʒ/ as they write it) without /ʒ/, but many of these should be taken with a grain of salt.

Some of the less obscure ones that do seem to truly match are Zulu (which has slack-voiced /dʒ̈/, but no /ʒ/ or /ʒ̈/), Burmese (which has /dʒ/, but no /ʒ/), and Lushootseed (which has both /dz/ and /dʒ/, but neither /z/ nor /ʒ/).


According to the PHOIBLE search tool PSmith:

  • 0 languages have /pf/, but no /f/

  • 1 language has /pɸ/, but no /ɸ/: Banjun (GM)

  • 44 languages have /ts/, but no /s/: Garo, Lakkia, Chukchi, Chamorro, Huasteco, Javanese, Mazatec, Pomo, Russian, Sui, Tarascan, Yagua, Guajajara, Huichol, Kanoe, Nankina, Bambalang (Círàmbɔ́), Mwali, Aghem, Anfillo, Karbi (Mikir), Mao-Naga, Baniwa (Central), Baniwa (Rio Negro), Curripaco, Mehináku, Paresí, Warekena, Yawalapití, Dení, Kulina, Bora, Miraña, Kokama-Kokamilla, Krahô, Awetí, Gavião do Jiparaná, Guajajára, Kamayurá, Aikanã, Kanoé, Karirí-Xocó (Dzubukuá dialect), Nonuya, Nhandeva

  • 420 languages have /t̠ʃ/, but no /ʃ/ (I'm not typing all of them out myself, but yes, Spanish is in the list)

  • 2 languages have /t̪θ/, but no /θ/: Luo and Banjun (GM)

  • 4 languages have /tɬ/, but no /ɬ/: Chipewyan, Squamish, Nahuatl and Wintu

  • 3 languages have /kx/, but no /x/: Nganasan, Weh, and Ndebele

  • 1 language has /qχ/, but no /χ/: Nez Perce

Several things about this immediately strike me as wrong, like that Russian apparently doesn't have /s/ (???) - and many of these results contradict the phonemic inventories recorded elsewhere for these languages; e.g. Wikipedia's inventory chart for Nez Perce does not include /qχ/ but instead includes /χ/ (which is more typical), Wikipedia's Nganasan chart does not include /kx/, Wikipedia's Chukchi chart includes /s/ and /t͡ʃ/ but not /t͡s/ (implying one of these is probably allophonic), etc. I believe this is a general problem with PHOIBLE, that many of the recorded inventories are just kind of.. goofy, and in general contradicted by other sources.

  • Great to know there's a better search tool! My reaction was the same for the ones I did find that contradicted other sources. It's very interesting that the example of /t̠ʃ/ and /ʃ/ is so much more common than anything other pair. I wonder if there's any kind of explanation for why that would be.
    – pigi5
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 22:14
  • 3
    I wonder if they say Russian has no /s/, only /sʲ sˠ/.
    – Draconis
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 23:32
  • 1
    It's a bit difficult to search for with this tool because search for "no /s/" will still give you languages that have "s-like" sounds (explaining the Russian hit - it's recorded there as s̪). However, I did find one interesting example that agrees with its associated wiki; Babanki apparently has a /pf/ but not /p/. Although it's not a "true" affricate, it's still interesting that the p sound is only realized in /pf/.
    – pigi5
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 23:39
  • I would trust Phoible over Wikipedia, which however is not saying much. The Luo claim is dubious. Neither of their sources traces back to Tucker's grammar. Kuipers notes that in Squamish, there is a phoneme "λ" which phonetically ranges from ɬ to ɬ with a bit of preceding closure, that is, they do not actually have an affricate tɬ.
    – user6726
    Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 2:00
  • 1
    Chukchi, Javanese, and Russian do have /s/!
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 11:22

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