I know there is 'voiced & unaspirated' and 'aspirated & unvoiced' categories of speech. I have heard there is a 3rd category. What is it?


Aspiration and voicing are not mutually exclusive phenomenon. You can certainly have a plosive that is voiceless (the more usual term for what you give as "unvoiced") and unaspirated (the one you are missing above), like [p] in English spin [spɪn], one that is voiceless and aspirated, like [pʰ] in English pin [pʰɪn], one that is voiced and unaspirated, like [b] in English bin [bɪn], and you can even have voiced and aspirated consonants, like [bʰ].

This last category is debated. Ladefoged (1971: 9) claims that such a sound "has yet to be observed", while Blust (2006) has shown that Kelabit, an Austronesian language, contrasts a series of voiceless unaspirated stops, voiced unaspirated stops, and voiced aspirated stops. For instance:

  • /tutuʔ/ 'fall from a height'
  • /tuduʔ/ 'seven'
  • /tudʰuʔ/ 'salt' (all from Blust 2006: 314)
  • 2
    Voiced and Aspirated are independent phonetic categories. They can describe consonants or vowels (though most vowels are voiced and unaspirated, all combinations do occur), and they both refer to co-articulation of the larynx and pharynx with the mouth. English speakers can observe aspiration in the puff of air that accompanies the /p/ in pin, but is absent from the /p/ in spin; every voiceless stop in English is aspirated when it begins a stressed syllable. Voicing is even simpler: /b/ versus /p/. Hold both stops as long as you can, and observe differences. /b/ is the voiced one.
    – jlawler
    Jun 28 '14 at 15:06

Vedic Sanskrit, Classical Sanskrit and accordingly a lot of middle Indian and new Indian languages have for each of five positions of plosive-articulation all combinations of voiced/non-voiced and aspirated/non-aspirated stops. The alphabet is structured accordingly, for each of the positions (from back to front: velar, palatal, retroflex, dental, labial) there are five sounds (examples from the labial varga):

  1. non-aspirated voiceless: [p]
  2. aspirated voiceless: [pʰ]
  3. non-aspirated voiced: [b]
  4. aspirated voiced: [bʰ]
  5. nasal: [m]

Regarding this, I don't really get Ladefoged's claim cited in @limetom's answer.

  • 1
    Whether or not those languages have "aspirated voiced" stops is a terminological issue. From a phonetic perspective, the stops in question are not truly aspirated, but rather "murmured". Accordingly, they are transcribed as [bʱ], [dʱ], etc. instead of [bʰ], [dʰ], etc. See the intro paragraphs of the Wikipedia article on Breathy Voice. Jun 30 '14 at 14:56
  • I agree that the question of whether these phonemes are "aspirated","breathy" or "murmured" is a terminological issue about which there is no consensus among phoneticians.
    – fdb
    Jul 5 '14 at 15:12

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