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A central or medial consonant is a consonant sound that is produced when air flows across the center of the mouth over the tongue. The class contrasts with lateral consonants, in which air flows over the sides of the tongue rather than down its center.
Examples of central consonants are the voiced alveolar fricative (the "z" in the English word "zoo") and the palatal approximant (the "y" in the English word "yes"). Others are the central fricatives [θ ð s z ʃ ʒ ʂ ʐ ɕ ʑ ç ʝ x ɣ χ ʁ], the central approximants [ɹ ɻ j ɥ ɰ w ʍ], the trills [r ʀ], and the central flaps [ɾ ɽ].
The term does not apply to nasal consonants such as [m n ŋ], as there is no possibility of lateral nasal airflow. No language releases oral stops such as [p b t d k ɡ] to the side, though non-labial stops such as [t d k ɡ] may have a secondary lateral release. However, stop consonants are lumped in as central consonants. The labial fricatives [f v] often—perhaps usually—have lateral airflow, as the lip blocks the airflow in the center, but nonetheless they are not considered lateral consonants because no language makes a distinction between the two.
- Ladefoged, Peter (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages, Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-19814-8.
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