The voiceless dental non-sibilant fricative is a type of consonantal sound used in some spoken languages. It is familiar to English speakers as the 'th' in thing. Though rather rare as a phoneme in the world's inventory of languages, it is encountered in some of the most widespread and influential (see below). The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨θ⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is
T. The IPA symbol is the Greek letter theta, which is used for this sound in post-classical Greek, and the sound is thus often referred to as "theta".
The dental non-sibilant fricatives are often called "interdental" because they are often produced with the tongue between the upper and lower teeth, and not just against the back of the upper or lower teeth, as they are with other dental consonants.
This sound and its voiced counterpart are rare phonemes. Among the more than 60 languages with over 10 million speakers, only English, Modern Standard Arabic, Standard European Spanish, Swahili, Burmese, and Greek have the voiceless dental non-sibilant fricative. Speakers of languages and dialects without the sound sometimes have difficulty producing or distinguishing it from similar sounds, especially if they have had no chance to acquire it in childhood, and typically replace it with a voiceless alveolar fricative (/s/) (as in Indonesian), voiceless dental stop (/t/), or a voiceless labiodental fricative (/f/); known respectively as th-alveolarization, th-stopping, and th-fronting.
The sound is known to have disappeared from a number of languages, e.g. from most of the Germanic languages or dialects, where it is retained only in Scots, English, Elfdalian, and Icelandic, but it is alveolar in the latter. Among non-Germanic Indo-European languages as a whole, the sound was once much more widespread, but is today preserved in a few languages including the Brythonic languages, Castilian Spanish, Venetian, Albanian and Greek. It has likewise disappeared from many Semitic languages, such as Hebrew and many modern varieties of Arabic.
Features of the voiceless dental non-sibilant fricative:
|Arabic||Standard||ثَانِيَة||[ˈθaːnija] (help·info)||'second time/place'||Represented by ⟨ث⟩. See Arabic phonology.|
|Assyrian Neo-Aramaic||[beθa]||'house'||Mostly used in the Tyari, Barwari, Tel Keppe, Batnaya and Alqosh dialects; realized as [t] in other varieties.|
|Burmese||သုံး / thon:||[θòʊ̯̃]||'three'||Commonly realized as an affricate [t̪͡θ].|
|English||thin||[θɪn]||'thin'||See English phonology|
|Galician||Most dialects||cero||[ˈθɛɾʊ]||'zero'||Merges with /s/ into [s] in Western dialects. See Galician phonology|
|Greek||θάλασσα||[ˈθalasa]||'sea'||See Modern Greek phonology|
|Hebrew||Iraqi||עברית||[ʕibˈriːθ]||'Hebrew language'||See Modern Hebrew phonology|
|Italian||Tuscan||i capitani||[iˌhäɸiˈθäːni]||'the captains'||Intervocalic allophone of /t/. See Italian phonology and Tuscan gorgia|
|Malay||Selasa||[θəlaθa]||'Tuesday'||Mostly occurs in Arabic loanwords originally containing this sound, but the writing is not distinguished from the Arabic loanwords with the [s] sound and this sound must be learned separately by the speakers. See Malay phonology.|
|Spanish||Castilian||cazar||[käˈθär]||'to hunt'||Interdental. See Spanish phonology and Ceceo|
|Swahili||thamini||[θɑmini]||'value'||Mostly occurs in Arabic loanwords originally containing this sound.|
|Venetian||Eastern dialects||çinque||[ˈθiŋkwe]||'five'||Corresponds to /s/ in other dialects.|
|Voiceless denti-alveolar sibilant|
The voiceless denti-alveolar sibilant is the only sibilant fricative in some dialects of Andalusian Spanish. It has no official symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet, though its features would be transcribed ⟨s̻̪⟩ or ⟨s̪̻⟩ (using the ⟨◌̻⟩, the diacritic marking a laminal consonant, and ⟨◌̪⟩, the diacritic marking a dental consonant). It is usually represented by an ad-hoc symbol such as ⟨s̄⟩, ⟨θˢ̣⟩, or ⟨s̟⟩ (advanced diacritic).
Dalbor (1980) describes this sound as follows: "[s̄] is a voiceless, corono-dentoalveolar groove fricative, the so-called s coronal or s plana because of the relatively flat shape of the tongue body.... To this writer, the coronal [s̄], heard throughout Andalusia, should be characterized by such terms as "soft," "fuzzy," or "imprecise," which, as we shall see, brings it quite close to one variety of /θ/ … Canfield has referred, quite correctly, in our opinion, to this [s̄] as "the lisping coronal-dental," and Amado Alonso remarks how close it is to the post-dental [θ̦], suggesting a combined symbol [θˢ̣] to represent it."
Features of the voiceless denti-alveolar sibilant:
|Spanish||Andalusian||casa||[ˈkäs̻̪ä]||'house'||Present in dialects with ceceo. See Spanish phonology|