Languages can have plosives at a wide range of places of articulation ranging from labial (anterior) to glottal (posterior). Most languages of the world have voiced and voiceless plosives at three places of articulation, i.e. labial, alveolar and velar. Overall, voiceless plosives are substantially more frequent in languages than voiced plosives.

In terms of the phonetic transcription of plosives, the phonetic notation system of the International Phonetic Association distinguishes between 14 discrete main phonetic symbols for plosives. Symbols for other plosives can be derived from these by using diacritics. Most phonetic symbols and some of the diacritics are illustrated in the videos above which you may find useful as ear training exercises in practical phonetics.

Some plosives have a stricture of complete closure at two different places of articulation: these are double articulations. In theory various combinations are possible but the labial-velar stop is particularly frequent. Although these sounds are referred to as "labial-velar" they are conventionally transcribed phonetically by a combination of the phonetic symbol for the velar plosive followed by the symbol for the labial plosive. Labial-velar plosives are particularly frequent in West and Central African languages.

The videos below illustrate the processes involved in the production of the voiceless and voiced plosives in Dutch. In all cases you can observe a full obstruction in the vocal tract, the raising of the velum, the increase in air pressure behind the obstruction and the plosive release of air after the release of the active articulator.

Visual illustration of a few plosive articulations

Voiceless plosives

The vocal folds do not vibrate

Voiceless
LABIAL •
Plosive
Voiceless
ALVEOLAR •
Plosive
Voiceless
VELAR •
Plosive

Voiced plosives

The vocal folds do vibrate

Voiced
• LABIAL
Plosive
Voiced
• ALVEOLAR
Plosive
LABIAL •
• LABIAL
Voiceless
Voiced
Voiceless
LINGUO-LABIAL •
Voiced
• LINGUO-LABIAL
Plosive
Plosive
Voiceless
LABIO-DENTAL •
Voiced
• LABIO - DENTAL
Voiceless
DENTAL •
Voiced
• DENTAL
Voiceless
ALVEOLAR •
Voiced
• ALVEOLAR
Voiceless
RETROFLEX •
Voiced
• RETROFLEX
Voiceless
PALATAL •
Voiced
• PALATAL
Voiceless
VELAR •
Voiced
• VELAR
Voiceless
UVULAR •
Voiced
• UVULAR
Voiceless
GLOTTAL •
Plosive
Plosive
Plosive
Plosive
Plosive
Plosive
Plosive
Plosive
Plosive
Plosive
Plosive
Plosive
Plosive
Plosive
Plosive
Plosive
Plosive
Voiceless
LABIAL - VELAR •
Plosive
Voiced
• LABIAL - VELAR
Plosive

Symbols for the phonetic transcription of plosives

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
UVULAR
LABIAL-VELAR
GLOTTAL
 

In phonetics, plosives (or stops) are speech sounds which are produced with a constriction of complete closure. This means that an active articulator (e.g. the tongue) touches a passive articulator (e.g. the roof of the mouth). This prevents the air from escaping via the mouth. At the same time the velum is raised so that the air cannot escape via the nose either and air pressure keeps building up behind the obstruction in the mouth. Upon release of the active articulator the air escapes with a audible plosion: this is the perceptual essence of these sounds. At the bottom of this page, there are several videos illustrating this type of articulation.

• VOICED
• VOICELESS
VOICED •
VOICELESS •
LABIAL
LINGUO LABIAL
LABIO
DENTAL
DENTAL
ALVEOLAR
RETROFLEX
PALATAL
VELAR

Nutshell Phonetics of Plosives

 
Voiceless

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