[j] (the semivowel of [i]) is palatal.

[w] (the semivowel of [u]) is labial–velar.

[ɥ] (the semivowel of [y]) is labio-palatal.

Does the position of the vowel in the mouth play a part in determining its semivowel’s place of articulation?

If so, how does the height, backness, and roundness of a vowel play a part in determining the place of articulation?

  • 3
    It’s not that vowel features “play a part” in determining the place of articulation, it’s that they literally ARE the place of articulation expressed with slightly different feature names.
    – Graham H.
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 2:28

2 Answers 2


Yes, fundamentally and inextricably.

One of the weaknesses of the International Phonetic Alphabet is that it has entirely separate and unrelated ways of describing the articulation of consonants and vowels. This is because, for some kinds of consonants, places of articulation are quantized—you can have a bilabial stop, or a labiodental stop, but there's no way to make a half-and-half stop—and for vowels they're continuous.

But when you're talking about vowels versus semivowels, this categorization system starts to break down. There's nothing fundamentally different about the articulation of [j] versus [i] that makes one of them "palatal" and the other "high front"—it's exactly the same articulation, just described in two different systems.

  • Why is high front equivalent to palatal and high back to velar? Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 20:47
  • 2
    @QuinaliSolaji The palate and the velum are approximately the frontmost and backmost places the blade of the tongue can reach. (Consonants articulated further forward or backward than that involve other parts of the tongue.)
    – Draconis
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 21:06

This is true by definition, although there is a terminological shift in some usages. The official IPA term for [i] is "close front unrounded vowel". Semivowels are non-syllabic "close" (high) vowels, and you can translate between "round" and "labial", "front" and "palatal" in shifting between vowel terminology and consonant terminology.

  • Does this mean that ʕ isn't a semivowel, since ɑ isn't high/close?
    – Draconis
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 2:33
  • Correct, it never enters into the "semivowel" relation with [a] as high vowels do.
    – user6726
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 5:16
  • but see linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/47949/… where it is claimed that ɑ does have a semivowel equivalent Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 15:43

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