The voiced velar fricative is a type of consonantal sound, used in various spoken languages.

Wikipedia says that it is not found in English today, but did exist in Old English.1

Why did this sound disappear? What happened in the history?

Some other Germanic languages still have that. Might it still exist in some dialects or casual speech in English?

Some relevant details1:

The symbol ɣ is also sometimes used to represent the velar approximant, though that is more accurately written with the lowering diacritic: [ɣ̞] or [ɣ˕]. The IPA also provides a dedicated symbol for a velar approximant, [ɰ], though there can be stylistic reasons to not use it in phonetic transcription

Examples from other languages1:

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voiced_velar_fricative

  • 2
    According to an electronic equivalent of Introduction to Old English, 3rd edition, the sound became /w/ in Middle English. They provide no more information than that, however. – Matt Gutting Dec 26 '14 at 21:25
  • Can't edit the comment any more. But see section 2.1.2, list item 7, on that page. – Matt Gutting Dec 26 '14 at 21:33
  • 3
    What happened to it? It died out during the shifts from Old to Early Modern English; it was never more than an allophone of /h/, and it now appears (but does not sound) only in some places where (or wear) a GH appears in spelling. As in, for instance, the words through or enough. Sort of a ghost. – John Lawler Dec 26 '14 at 21:57
  • @JohnLawler would that explain why an archaic spelling of enough is enow? – Matt Gutting Dec 26 '14 at 22:08
  • 2
    @Matt: Simplifying greatly, the OED says that the plural forms in Old English ended with a vowel after the 'g/h', and because of the phonetics of the sound change, this meant that the singular forms in Old English eventually became enough, while the plural forms in Old English eventually became enow. This distinction between enough in the singular and enow in the plural persisted into Early Modern English. (I never realized that enow and enough were different.) – Peter Shor Dec 27 '14 at 14:26

In Old English, /ɣ/ is a phoneme, but the [ɣ] allophone occurred only in a rather specific condition: when word-medially, though not when in gemination, directly after nasals, or directly before a front unrounded vowel or palatal glide.

The word dagas ‘days’ (nom./acc. plural), for example, would have been pronounced something like [dɑɣɑs]. fugol ‘bird’ (nom. singular) would have been something like [fuɣol].

OE [ɣ] descends from Proto-Germanic /ɣ/, which had a much more widespread distribution. See Richard Hogg's (1992) Grammar of Old English, volume 1, §2.56, for more detail and references.

In Middle English, [ɣ] became vocalized. If it followed a front vowel, it became an instance of /j/, and if it followed a back vowel, it became an instance of /w/. In both cases it went on to form new diphthongs, as in fowl, from fugol. See p117 of this book. At that point there is no longer a /ɣ/ phoneme, or even any allophones (though some do develop later in varieties of English, as David Garner points out).


The voiced velar fricative /ɣ/ does exist in Liverpool speech, but I'm fairly sure it's a more recent development of intervocalic /g/. I haven't managed to figure out exactly when /g/ does and doesn't change to /ɣ/, but here are two examples. 1. The town-name Maghull [stressed on the second syllable] is pronounced /məˈɣʊɫ/. 2. If you watch just about any episode of Red Dwarf [UK version], you'll hear Dave Lister call Arnold Rimmer a smeghead /ˈsmɛɣɛd/.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.