The voiceless velar fricative is a type of consonantal sound used in some spoken languages. It was part of the consonant inventory of Old English and can still be found in some dialects of English, most notably in Scottish English, e.g. in loch, broch or saugh (willow).

The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨x⟩, the Latin and English letter x. It is also used in broad transcription instead of the symbol ⟨χ⟩, the Greek chi, (or, more properly, ⟨⟩, the Latin chi) for the voiceless uvular fricative.

There is also a voiceless post-velar fricative (also called pre-uvular) in some languages. For voiceless pre-velar fricative (also called post-palatal), see voiceless palatal fricative.


Features of the voiceless velar fricative:

  • Its manner of articulation is fricative, which means it is produced by constricting air flow through a narrow channel at the place of articulation, causing turbulence.
  • Its place of articulation is velar, which means it is articulated with the back of the tongue (the dorsum) at the soft palate.
  • Its phonation is voiceless, which means it is produced without vibrations of the vocal cords. In some languages the vocal cords are actively separated, so it is always voiceless; in others the cords are lax, so that it may take on the voicing of adjacent sounds.
  • It is an oral consonant, which means air is allowed to escape through the mouth only.
  • It is a central consonant, which means it is produced by directing the airstream along the center of the tongue, rather than to the sides.
  • The airstream mechanism is pulmonic, which means it is articulated by pushing air solely with the lungs and diaphragm, as in most sounds.


IPA Description
x plain velar fricative
xʷʼ ejective labialised
x̜ʷ semi-labialised
x̹ʷ strongly labialised
xʲʼ ejective palatalised


The voiceless velar fricative and its labialized variety are traditionally postulated to have occurred in Proto-Germanic, the ancestor of the Germanic languages, as the reflex of the Proto-Indo-European voiceless palatal and velar stops and the labialized voiceless velar stop. Thus Proto-Indo-European *r̥nom "horn" and *ód "what" became Proto-Germanic *hurnan and *hwat, where *h and *hw were likely to be [x] and [xʷ]. This sound change is part of Grimm's law.

In Modern Greek, the voiceless velar fricative (with its allophone the voiceless palatal fricative [ç], occurring before front vowels) originated from the Ancient Greek voiceless aspirated stop /kʰ/ in a sound change that lenited Greek aspirated stops into fricatives.

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Abaza хьзы [xʲzə] 'name'
Adyghe хы About this sound [xəː]  'six'
Afrikaans Some speakers[1] goed [xut] 'good' Usually uvular [χ] instead.[1] See Afrikaans phonology
Aleut Atkan dialect alax [ɑlɑx] 'two'
Arabic Modern Standard خضراء [xadˤraːʔ] 'green' (f.) May be velar, post-velar or uvular, depending on dialect.[2] See Arabic phonology
Assamese মীয়া / Ôxômiya [ɔxɔmija] 'Assamese'
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic kha [xaː] 'one'
Avar чeхь / ҫeẋ [tʃex] 'belly'
Azerbaijani x / хош/خوش [xoʃ] 'pleasant'
Basque Some speakers[3] jan [xän] 'to eat' Either velar or post-velar.[3] For other speakers it's [j ~ ʝ ~ ɟ].[4]
Breton hor c'hi [or xiː] 'our dog'
Bulgarian тихо / tiho About this sound [ˈt̪ixo]  'quietly' Described as having "only slight friction" ([x̞]).[5]
Chinese Mandarin / hé [xɤ˧˥] 'river' See Standard Chinese phonology
Czech chlap [xlap] 'guy' See Czech phonology
Danish Southern Jutlandic kage [ˈkʰæːx] 'cake' See Sønderjysk dialect
Dutch Standard Belgian[6][7] acht [ɑxt] 'eight' May be post-palatal [ç̠] instead.[7] See Dutch phonology
Southern accents[7][8]
Standard Northern[8] [ɑx̠t] Post-velar; may be uvular [χ] instead.[8] Also described as a post-velar trill fricative [ʀ̝̊˖].[9] See Dutch phonology
English Scottish loch [ɫɔx] 'loch' Younger speakers may merge this sound with /k/.[10][11] See Scottish English phonology
Scouse[12] book [bʉːx] 'book' A syllable-final allophone of /k/ (lenition).
Some American speakers yech [jɛx] 'yech' See English phonology
Esperanto monaĥo [monaxo] 'monk' See Esperanto phonology
Eyak duxł [tʊxɬ] 'traps'
French jota [xɔta] 'jota' Occurs only in loanwords (from Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, etc.). See French phonology
Georgian[13] ჯო / joxi [ˈdʒɔxi] 'stick'
German Buch About this sound [buːx]  'book' See Standard German phonology
Greek τέχνη / ch [ˈte̞xni] 'art' See Modern Greek phonology
Hebrew מִיכָאֵל [mixaʔel] 'Michael' See Ancient Hebrew phonology
Hindustani ख़ुशी / خوشی [xʊʃiː] 'happiness' See Hindustani phonology
Hungarian sahhal [ʃɒxːɒl] 'with a shah' See Hungarian phonology
Irish deoch [dʲɔ̝̈x] 'drink' See Irish phonology
Kabardian хы About this sound [xəː]  'sea'
Korean 흔들바위 / heundeulbawi [xɯndɯlbɐy] 'logan stone' Allophone of /h/ before /ɯ/. See Korean phonology
Limburgish[14][15] loch [lɔx] 'air' The example word is from the Maastrichtian dialect.
Lithuanian choras [ˈxɔrɐs̪] 'choir' Occurs only in loanwords (usually international words)
Lojban xatra [xatra] 'letter'
Macedonian Охрид / Ohrid About this sound [ˈɔxrit]  'Ohrid' See Macedonian phonology
Malay akhir [a:xir] 'last', 'end' Often mispronounced as [h] by some Indonesians.
Manx aashagh [ˈɛːʒax] 'easy'
Norwegian Urban East[16] hat [xɑːt] 'hate' Possible allophone of /h/ near back vowels; can be voiced [ɣ] between two voiced sounds.[16] See Norwegian phonology
Persian خواهر [xɒːhær] 'sister' See Persian phonology
Polish[17] chleb [xlɛp] 'bread' Also (in great majority of dialects) represented by ⟨h⟩. See Polish phonology
Portuguese Fluminense arte [ˈaxtɕi] 'art' In free variation with [χ], [ʁ], [ħ] and [h] before voiceless consonants
General Brazilian[18] arrasto [ɐ̞ˈxastu] 'I drag' Some dialects, corresponds to rhotic consonant /ʁ/. See Portuguese phonology
Punjabi ਖ਼ਬਰ [xəbəɾ] 'news'
Romanian hram [xräm] 'patronal feast of a church' Allophone of /h/. See Romanian phonology
Russian[19] хороший / khorošij About this sound [xɐˈr̠ʷo̞ʂɨ̞j]  'good' See Russian phonology
Scottish Gaelic[20] drochaid [ˈt̪ɾɔxɪtʲ] 'bridge' See Scottish Gaelic phonology
Serbo-Croatian храст / hrast [xrâːst] 'oak' See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Slovak chlap [xlap] 'guy'
Somali khad [xad] 'ink' See Somali phonology
Spanish[21] Latin American[22] ojo [ˈo̞xo̞] 'eye' May be glottal instead;[22] in northern and central Spain it is often post-velar[22][23][24] or uvular.[24][25] See Spanish phonology
Southern Spain[22]
Sylheti ꠛꠞ [xɔbɔr] 'news'
Tagalog bakit [baxit] 'why' Allophone of /k/ in intervocalic positions. See Tagalog phonology
Turkish[26] ıhlamur [ɯxlamuɾ] 'linden' Allophone of /h/.[26] See Turkish phonology
Xhosa rhoxisa [xɔkǁiːsa] 'to cancel'
Ukrainian хлопець / chlopeć [ˈxɫɔ̝pɛt͡sʲ] 'boy' See Ukrainian phonology
Uzbek[27] xoma [xɔma] 'date palm' Post-velar.[27] Occurs in environments different than word-initially and pre-consonantally, otherwise it's pre-velar.[27]
Vietnamese[28] không [xəwŋ͡m˧] 'no', 'not', 'zero' See Vietnamese phonology
West Frisian ch [tyx] 'dust' Allophone of /χ/, only occurring after close vowels ([i], [y] and [u])
Yaghan xan [xan] 'here'
Yi / he [xɤ˧] 'good'
Yiddish איך / ikh [ix] 'I' See Yiddish phonology
Zapotec Tilquiapan[29] mejor [mɘxoɾ] 'better' Used primarily in loanwords from Spanish

See also


  1. ^ a b "John Wells's phonetic blog: velar or uvular?". 5 December 2011. Retrieved 30 April 2015. 
  2. ^ Watson (2002), pp. 17, 19–20, 35–36 and 38.
  3. ^ a b Hualde & Ortiz de Urbina (2003), pp. 16 and 26.
  4. ^ Hualde & Ortiz de Urbina (2003), p. 16.
  5. ^ Ternes, Elmer; Vladimirova-Buhtz, Tatjana (1999). "Bulgarian". Handbook of the International Phonetic Association. Cambridge University Press. p. 55. ISBN 0-521-63751-1. 
  6. ^ Verhoeven (2005:243)
  7. ^ a b c Collins & Mees (2003:191)
  8. ^ a b c Gussenhoven (1999:74)
  9. ^ Collins & Mees (2003:191). The source says that it is a fricative with a "very energetic articulation with considerable scrapiness", i.e. a trill fricative.
  10. ^ Annexe 4: Linguistic Variables
  11. ^ "University of Essex :: Department of Language and Linguistics :: Welcome". Essex.ac.uk. Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  12. ^ Wells (1982:373)
  13. ^ Shosted & Chikovani (2006), p. 255.
  14. ^ Gussenhoven & Aarts (1999:159)
  15. ^ Peters (2006:119)
  16. ^ a b Vanvik (1979), p. 40.
  17. ^ Jassem (2003), p. 103.
  18. ^ Barbosa & Albano (2004), pp. 5–6.
  19. ^ Padgett (2003), p. 42.
  20. ^ Oftedal, M. (1956) The Gaelic of Leurbost. Oslo. Norsk Tidskrift for Sprogvidenskap.
  21. ^ Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003), p. 255.
  22. ^ a b c d Chen (2007), p. 13.
  23. ^ Hamond (2001:?), cited in Scipione & Sayahi (2005:128)
  24. ^ a b Lyons (1981), p. 76.
  25. ^ Harris & Vincent (1988), p. 83.
  26. ^ a b Göksel & Kerslake (2005:6)
  27. ^ a b c Sjoberg (1963), pp. 11–12.
  28. ^ Thompson (1959), pp. 458–461.
  29. ^ Merrill (2008), p. 109.