For the phonetic transcription of fricatives, the phonetic notation system of the International Phonetic Association has 22 discrete phonetic symbols for fricatives at 11 places of articulation representing the whole range from labial (anterior) to glottal (posterior). 

In a practical phonetics perspective, most characteristic for the fricatives is their hissing sound quality. The alveolar and post-alveolar fricatives have the strongest hiss, while it is substantially weaker at the other places of articulation.

The voiceless alveolar fricative is the most frequent fricative in languages of the world. Voiceless fricatives are far more common than voiced fricatives: 92% of the languages have voiceless fricatives, only 51% have voiced fricatives. The relative frequency of the 8 most frequent fricatives is as follows:

Some fricatives have a lateral release of the air. In these fricatives, the tip of the tongue is placed on e.g. the alveolar ridge and the tongue is spread fairly widely so that there is a small gap between the side of the tongue and the cheek. This allows the air to escape sideways. Lateral fricatives occur in 11% of the world's languages. A well-known language with lateral fricatives is Gaelic.

It should also be mentioned that about 8% of the languages of the world have no fricatives. The absence of fricatives seems to be particularly characteristic for Australian aboriginal languages where the vast majority of languages have none. The language with the largest number of fricatives may well have been Ubykh (an extinct Caucasian language) : this language reportedly had a total of 29 fricatives.

Illustration of a few fricative articulations

Voiceless fricatives

The vocal folds do not vibrate

Voiceless
LABIO-DENTAL •
Fricative
Voiceless
ALVEOLAR •
Fricative
Voiceless
POST - ALVEOLAR •
Fricative
Voiceless
VELAR •
Fricative
Voiceless
GLOTTAL •
Fricative

Voiced fricatives

The vocal folds do vibrate

Voiced
• LABIO - DENTAL
Fricative
Voiced
• ALVEOLAR
Fricative
Voiced
• POST - ALVEOLAR
Fricative
Voiced
• VELAR
Fricative
LABIAL •
• LABIAL
Voiceless
Voiced
Voiceless
LINGUO-LABIAL •
Voiced
• LINGUO-LABIAL
Fricative
Fricative
Fricative
Fricative
Voiceless
DENTAL •
Fricative
Voiced
• DENTAL
Fricative
Voiceless
RETROFLEX •
Fricative
Voiced
• RETROFLEX
Fricative
Voiceless
PALATAL •
Fricative
Voiced
• PALATAL
Fricative
Voiceless
UVULAR •
Fricative
Voiced
• UVULAR
Fricative
Voiceless
PHARYNGEAL •
Fricative
Voiced
• PHARYNGEAL
Fricative
Voiced
• GLOTTAL
Fricative
Voiceless
ALVEOLAR LATERAL •
Fricative
Voiced
• ALVEOLAR LATERAL
Fricative
Voiceless
PALATO-ALVEOLAR •
Fricative
Voiced
• PALATO-ALVEOLAR
Fricative

Fricatives are speech sounds which are pronounced with a stricture of close approximation. This means that the active articulator (e.g. tongue) approaches the passive articulator (e.g. the alveolar ridge) so closely that only a very narrow gap remains for the airstream to escape. Forcing the air through this narrow gap creates a hissing sound quality which is characteristic for these sounds: perceptually the hiss is most outspoken in the voiceless fricatives. The articulation of fricatives is illustrated in the animations towards the bottom of this page.

Voiced
• Voiceless
LABIAL
LABIO DENTAL
ALVEOLAR
RETROFLEX
VELAR
PHARYNGEAL
PALATO ALVEOLAR

Symbols for the phonetic transcription of fricatives

LINGUO LABIAL
DENTAL
POST ALVEOLAR
PALATAL
UVULAR
GLOTTAL
ALVEOLAR LATERAL
Voiceless
• Voiced
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The phonetics of fricatives

 
Voiceless
LABIO-DENTAL •
Fricative
Voiced
• ALVEOLAR
Fricative
Voiceless
ALVEOLAR •
Fricative
Voiced
• LABIO - DENTAL
Fricative
Voiceless
POST - ALVEOLAR •
Fricative
Voiced
• POST - ALVEOLAR
Fricative
Voiceless
VELAR •
Fricative
Voiced
• VELAR
Fricative
Voiceless
GLOTTAL •
Fricative

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