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(Note that a reversed apostrophe represents aspiration, as in Armenian [p‘ t‘ k‘]; this usage is obsolete in the IPA.)
Ejectives are voiceless consonants that are pronounced with simultaneous closure of the glottis. The glottis is raised while the forward articulation (a [k] in the case of [k’]) is held, raising air pressure in the mouth, so when the [k] is released, there is a noticeable burst of air. The Adam's apple may be seen moving when the sound is pronounced. In the languages where they are more obvious, ejectives are often described as sounding like "spat" consonants; but ejectives are often quite weak and, in some contexts, and in some languages, are easy to mistake for unaspirated plosives.
In strict, technical terms, ejectives are glottalic egressive consonants. The most common ejective is [k’], as it is easy to raise the necessary pressure within the small oral cavity used to pronounce a [k]. [p’], on the other hand, is quite rare. This is the opposite pattern to what is found in the implosive consonants, in which the bilabial is common and the velar is rare. Ejective fricatives are rare for presumably the same reason: with the air escaping from the mouth while the pressure is being raised, like inflating a leaky bicycle tire, it's harder to make the resulting sound as salient as a [k’].
Ejectives that contrast with pulmonic consonants occur in about 15% of languages around the world. They are extremely common in northwest North America, and frequently occur throughout the western parts of both North and South America. They are also common in eastern and southern Africa. In Eurasia, the Caucasus form an island of ejective languages. Elsewhere they are rare.
Language families which distinguish ejective consonants include all three Caucasian families (Circassian, Dagestanian and Kartvelian (Georgian)); the Athabaskan and Salishan families of North America, along with the many diverse families of the Pacific Northwest from central California to British Columbia; the Mayan family and Aymara; the Afro-Asiatic family (notably Amharic and Hausa) and Nilo-Saharan languages; and the Khoisan family of southern Africa. Among the scattered languages with ejectives elsewhere are Itelmen of the Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages and Yapese of the Austronesian family.
The vast majority of ejective consonants noted in the world's languages consists of plosives or affricates, and all ejective consonants are obstruents. Among affricates, [ts’, tʃ’, tɬ’] are all quite common, and [kx’] is not unusual (at least among the Khoisan languages). A few languages utilise ejective fricatives: in some dialects of Hausa, the standard affricate [ts’] is a fricative [s’]; Ubykh (Northwest Caucasian) has an ejective lateral fricative; the Upper Necaxa dialect of the Totonac language has an ejective labiodental fricative; and Kabardian uses both of these in addition to ejective alveolopalatal and postalveolar fricatives. Tlingit is another extreme case, with ejective alveolar, lateral, velar, and uvular fricatives; it may be the only language with the latter.
Strangely, although an ejective retroflex stop is easy to make and quite distinctive in its sound, it is quite rare. Retroflex ejective plosives and affricates, [ʈ’, ʈʂ’], are reported from Yawelmani and other Yokuts languages, however.
Ejective sonorants do not occur. When sonorants are written as if they were ejective, they actually involve a different airstream mechanism: they are glottalized consonants and vowels, where glottalization interrupts an otherwise normal pulmonic airstream, somewhat like English uh-uh (either vocalic or nasal) pronounced as a single sound.
Sample list of ejective consonants:
- Glottalic consonant
- List of phonetics topics
- Tlingit language
- Bilabial ejective
- Alveolar ejective
- Velar ejective
- Uvular ejective
- Alveolar ejective fricative
- Alveolar lateral ejective affricate
- Postalveolar ejective affricatede:Ejektiv
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