Volume 2 Issue 2 (2004)
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A Crosslinguistic Lexicon of the Labial
We provide a large sample of the occurrences of the labial flap in
the world’s languages, including audio and video data from the Mono
dialect of Mid-Southern Banda. This sample provides the evidence for Olson and
Hajek’s (2003) crosslinguistic generalizations concerning the
articulation, the geographic distribution, the genetic distribution, and the
phonological status of the speech sound.
The labial flap has until recently been poorly documented and
consequently poorly understood. Olson and Hajek (2003) provide a crosslinguistic
study of the speech sound, discussing its geographic and genetic distributions,
and drawing generalizations concerning its articulation and phonological status.
The present paper provides most of the data on which Olson and Hajek’s
conclusions are drawn. These data represent a large sample of the occurrences of
the labial flap in the world’s languages. They come from an extensive
survey of the literature as well as previously unpublished data from both our
own field work and that of other researchers.
It is, in our view, important to document as fully as possible the
existence of the labial flap in the world’s languages for the following
(1) This demonstrates that the labial flap is not such
an unusual sound, a point confirmed by the large number of languages we find it
in, which are located across a number of language families and on two different
(2) Previous typological research on African phonology
has tended to focus on tone and other prosodic phenomena. The investigation
of segmental phenomena has tended to be hampered by a lack of easy access to
data. The collation of data for Olson and Hajek (2003) and for this paper has
taken considerable time over a number of years, and it seems beneficial to make
these data available in one place in order to assist other linguists.
Here is a summary of our findings in Olson and Hajek (2003).
First, we find the following generalizations regarding the articulation
of the sound. In terms of phonetic articulatory parameters, the labial flap is
most commonly produced as a voiced labiodental flap with egressive pulmonic
air. A bilabial variant is attested in 13 languages, and in some cases, such
as in the Mono dialect of Mid-Southern Banda, this variant is preferred. A
secondary articulation of velarization has been observed in Mangbetu and Mono.
Following the International Phonetic Association’s (IPA 1989: 70)
convention, we transcribe the labiodental and bilabial variants as
respectively. We transcribe the
data in this paper using the IPA.
Second, concerning the geographic distribution of the labial
flap, it is almost exclusively attested in Africa. We find 67 (possibly 69)
languages containing the sound in north central Africa and four (possibly five)
languages in southeastern Africa. The present understanding of the expansion of
the Bantu-speaking peoples allows for the possibility that the sound spread via
contact from north central Africa to the languages presently in southeastern
Africa, so we cannot assume that it arose independently in each of these
regions. The Austronesian language Sika spoken in Indonesia contains a sound
whose articulatory description is identical to that found in Africa, but more
research is necessary to verify that this is indeed the same sound. Of all the
features that have been proposed in the literature as possibly being uniquely
African areal features, the labial flap comes closest to actually being one
(see, e.g., Greenberg 1983; Heine 2003).
Third, concerning the genetic distribution of the labial flap, it
is found in three of the four major language families in Africa, but only in
restricted sets of sub-branches in each family. In Niger-Congo, it is found in
23 (possibly 25) Ubangian languages, twelve Adamawa languages, and eight
(possibly nine) Benue-Congo languages. In Nilo-Saharan, it is found in 14
Central Sudanic languages. In Afro-Asiatic, it is found in 14 Chadic languages.
As mentioned before, it is possibly attested in one Austronesian
Thus, the sound is most widely attested in Adamawa-Ubangi. If the sound
had a single source, it was most likely in this sub-group, with subsequent
spread via contact into languages of other families in close geographic
proximity (see Olson and Hajek 2003 for a further discussion). Whether the sound
emerged as a sound-symbolic element or from a regular sound change remains an
Fourth, concerning the phonological status of the labial flap, it
clearly can pattern as a phonological unit in language. Olson and Hajek (2003)
show that it has been incorporated into the general phonological system of the
following number of languages:
Phonological status is evaluated based on the following diagnostics:
contrast (minimal or near-minimal pairs), distribution across grammatical
categories (taking into account the special status of ideophones, taboo words,
and plant and animal names), frequency of occurrence, distribution within the
word, core vocabulary, borrowed words, co-occurrence with following vowels, and
researchers’ judgments. Because the sound is an active phonological
element in such a large number of languages, theories of phonological features
or phonetic parameters must take it into account.
Figure 1 maps the African languages in which the labial flap is
reported. Chadic languages are marked in grey, Benue-Congo in dark yellow,
Adamawa in green, Ubangi in teal, West Central Sudanic in red, and East Central
Sudanic in violet. Languages in which the labial flap is definitely
incorporated into the phonological system are surrounded by a double-box,
probably by a single box, and possibly by an oval. Parentheses
around a code indicate that evidence for the existence of the labial flap in
that language is questionable.
In this paper, we present each language in which we have evidence that
the sound is found. This comprehensive language listing not only documents the
data upon which our observations are made, it is also intended to serve as a
useful time-saving resource for future research on the labial
flap—bringing together as it does much published and unpublished data,
often extremely difficult to locate.
For each language, we provide the following information: the language
name as listed in the Ethnologue (Grimes 2000; each language listed is
considered a mutually unintelligible speech variety therein), its Ethnologue
code, the language code employed in Figure 1, the name used by a researcher if
it differs from the Ethnologue name (indicated in parentheses as alt.
“name”), the country or countries in which the language is spoken,
the reference that includes the first known mention of the labial flap in the
literature for the language, and additional sources which provide significant
data. We discuss briefly the articulation of the sound, particularly noting if
it is bilabial or labiodental. If the precise place of articulation is not
described, we simply refer to it as “labial”. We provide evidence
concerning the phonological status of the sound in the language, following the
diagnostics mentioned above. Finally, we provide all the words and glosses that
we have collected for the language. In the case of Mono, we also provide audio
and video recordings.
Figure 1: Geographic distribution of the labial flap in
In Figure 1, data concerning the location of languages is from
Grimes (2000) and Moseley and Asher (1994).
The labial flap is attested in fourteen Chadic languages. No evidence
for contrast is given by any of the sources. The sound is found almost
exclusively in ideophones, with most additional items being animal names.
Several sources report the sound as being rare, and this appears to be the case
in most of the languages cited, but an in-depth study of the sound in Kera
unearthed over 60 words. It is usually found in intervocalic position in these
2.1 Bana [BCW, c1]
Hofmann (1990) refers to the sound as “labiodental”, but she
notes that the lower lip may strike the upper teeth, the upper lip, or both. It
occurs only in intervocalic position. She considers it a marginal phoneme. She
attests it in the following items:
2.2 Daba [DAB, c2] (Cameroon,
Lienhard and Giger (1975), Tadadjeu and Sadembouo (1979:24),
and Hartell (1993:62-3, 70). Tadadjeu and Sadembouo refer to it as a
“vibrante labiodentale 1 bat.”
2.3 Gude [GDE, c3] (Nigeria,
Mo Perrin (p.c.) cites one rare ideophone:
2.4 Kamwe [HIG, c4]
Mohrlang (1972:23, 35, 42) reports a labiodental “flapped
fricative” in the Nkafa dialect of Kamwe. He includes the sound in his
phoneme chart, but he does not provide evidence of contrast. He considers it
rare. He attests it in two ideophones:
2.5 Marghi Central [MAR, c5]
Hoffmann (1963) and Ladefoged (1968:18; 1971:52; 1982:154-5). The first
two sources explicitly mention a flap against the upper teeth. Ladefoged
(1968:18) indicates that the flap is preceded by a stop component in which
“the lower lip is tensed against the upper lip and teeth.” Hoffmann
attests the flap in the following ideophones:
2.6 Mofu-Gudur [MIF, c6]
Barreteau (1988) considers the sound to be rare. He attests it in the
2.7 Tera [TER] (Nigeria, c7).
Paul Newman (p.c.) attests the sound in the word
‘the sound of
a hyena falling down from a palm tree’. He notes that it is found only in
2.8 Gabri [GAB] (Chad,
James Roberts and Kaïndi Etienne (p.c.). The sound is found only in
ideophones and exclamations.
2.9 Kera [KER, c9] (Chad,
Mary Pearce (p.c.) attests the sound in over 60 lexical items. She does
not provide evidence of contrast, but given the large number of lexical items,
it is likely that contrastive pairs can be found. However, since most of the
lexical items are ideophones, we cannot say definitively that the labial flap
has been fully incorporated into the phonological system of Kera.
‘poor quality soil’ (also an ideophone)
‘make hard (e.g. make the work hard, make your head hard, meaning
‘take your time’)’
‘(a) large; (b) too much water; (c) describing the action of
piercing something with a spear’
‘hot’ (also a noun)
‘(a) gulping down food; (b) way of jumping into water; (c) lots
‘(a) blood red; (b) lots of water in a well’
‘(a) fall like a sack; (b) making lots of work for
‘the noise of something thrown’
‘(a) the noise of something thrown (same as
(b) to lift something
‘move in or out of something containing water’
‘noise of rope or a whip turning in the air’
‘exhaustion through tiredness, famine or
‘a great explosion (e.g. water)’
‘pass easily through something such as water’
‘lining up people or animals’
‘exploding noise, e.g. gun, swarm of insects’
‘(a) a full container; (b) submerged in water’
‘(a) lining up little people; (b) stomach noises’
‘step or jump out of line’
‘long, the continuation of a time away’
‘noise of a flame, an argument that gets noisy, someone moving
hurriedly to do something requiring force’
‘(a) leave entirely (same as
‘clearing an area (of bushes, etc.) to make a
‘(a) clearing an area (same as
(b) the way the
skin peels after being whipped’
‘(a) big (e.g. eye), (b) removing something big’
‘unburying something (an object or a problem)’
‘falling on an arm, leg, or neck in a way that breaks
‘(a) fighting against something (fish in net, animal in trap);
(b) death of an important person’
‘big (hole) or deep (water)’
‘noise when you break a gourd’
‘(a) hitting the head with a stick or whip; (b) pulse
‘(a) hard; (b) describing an object that comes out of the fire
without being destroyed (e.g. a pot)’
‘(a) not timid; (b) red (as in ripe fruit, etc.)’
‘(a) making a noise like a rooster instead of speaking in normal
‘push your head out of a hole or out of water’
‘way of disappearing or taking your time’
‘breaking in two after a fall (e.g. calabash)’
‘soil that gives no produce’
‘peel or slide off easily (e.g. injured skin,
‘(a) sound of thunder; (b) a way of jumping in
‘deformity of bone structure in large people’
‘small stomach noises’
‘long (masculine object)’
‘way of making white, clean, or clear’
‘(a) completely remove or leave (a person or object); (b) clean
(e.g. wash a bowl clean)’
‘long (for a well)’
‘a child’s way of falling’
‘the sound of metal’
‘big (e.g. big stick)’
‘a tree that gives lots of fruit’
‘fall from weakness (for a child)’
‘(a) a big person falling; (b) big/large (e.g. work,
‘(a) a confirmation; said when someone sneezes while someone else
is saying something true; (b) fall freely and with force to the ground; (c)
height of a goat’
‘sound of many things falling on an object or
‘(a) submerged in water; (b) sound of arrow when it
‘big (e.g. a ball)’
‘noise of a projectile passing through the leaves of
‘to catch fire, to lift oneself up’
2.10 Migaama [MMY, c10] (Chad).
Jungraithmayr and Adams (1992), Semur (1997, cited by Bill Chesley,
p.c.). The sound occurs only in ideophones and in word-medial position.
2.11 Mukulu [MOZ, c11] (Chad).
Jungraithmayr (1990:196) (Mokilko dialect). He describes it as a
“coup fricatif dentilabial”. This is most likely a labiodental flap,
but the description is unclear.
2.12 Pevé [LME, c12]
Venberg (1975) includes it in his phoneme inventory, but he
does not provide clear evidence of contrast. It does not occur in intervocalic
‘once upon a time’
2.13 Ron [CLA, c13]
Phil Davison (p.c.) reports a labiodental flap during the playing of the
game awali (popularly known as Mancala in the U.S.). At the point where
the last stone is put in a hole so that a player succeeds in getting the
opponent’s stones, the player exclaims
2.14 Yiwom [GEK, c14]
Jungraithmayr (1965:172) (alt. “Gerka”), Greenberg
(1983:12) (alt. “Gerka”). Jungraithmayr uses the symbol
<f> to refer to the sound, which may indicate a voiceless articulation.
However, Greenberg uses a <v> with left loop to represent the sound in the
same lexical item. Both Jungraithmayr and Greenberg attest it in the word
The labial flap is found in three Northern Bantoid languages (Kwanja,
Samba Daka, and Tep) in Cameroon and Nigeria and four Narrow Bantu languages in
southeastern Africa. No evidence for contrast is given by any of the sources. It
is found almost exclusively in ideophones. Except for Shona, most sources give
only one or two examples. None of the sources consider the sound to be
3.1.1 Kwanja [KNP, t1]
Weber and Weber (1987), Blench (1993). Weber and Weber state that it is
pronounced with some nasalization. They note that it only occurs in ideophones
and is very rare. They give the following example:
3.1.2 Samba Daka [CCG, t2]
Boyd (1994:47, 64, 154, 162), Cloarec-Heiss (1998). Boyd attests it in
the following words:
3.1.3 Tep [MZK, t3]
Bruce Connell (p.c.). Grimes (1996) considers Tep to be a dialect of
Mambila, but Connell considers Tep to be a separate language. He attests it in
the lexical item
used specifically to tap palm wine’.
3.1.4 Manyika [MXC, t4; Guthrie
zone S] (Zimbabwe, Mozambique)
Hannan (1974:728) cites one ideophone:
‘of disappearing into
thick grass or forest’.
3.1.5 Ndau [NDC, t5; Guthrie
zone S] (Zimbabwe)
Doke (1931:224) describes the sound as either “infra-labial”
(i.e. bilabial) or “denti-labial” (i.e. labiodental). He attests it
in the ideophone
3.1.6 Nyanja [NYJ, t6; Guthrie
zone N] (Malawi, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe).
Scott (1929:590, 598) attests the sound in the words
into’, which both appear to be ideophones.
3.1.7 Shona [SHD, t7; Guthrie
zone S] (Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia)
Doke (1931:224) (Karanga, Zezuru, and Korekore dialects). The sound has
the same articulation as in Ndau. It is attested only in ideophones. In one
ideophone in the Zezuru dialect, the sound is voiceless, but in fact, the entire
word is voiceless:
‘of report of a gun’. See also Fortune (1962:30).
3.1.8 Kalanga [KCK, (t8);
Guthrie zone S] (Zimbabwe, Botswana)
Doke (1931:224) reports a labial flap in the Rozi dialect of Kalanga
(the <z> in “Rozi” is an “alveolar labialized voiced
fricative”). The articulation is the same as in Ndau. He attests the sound
in the ideophone ‘of
cattle covering the veld’.
He notes (p. 14) that the Rozi people were scattered and that in many
places they spoke the local language instead of Rozi (Doke did his field work in
1929). It is possible that this dialect is now extinct. Grimes (1996:460)
states, “Rozvi (Rozwi, Ruzwi, Chirozwi) speak Karanga dialect and do not
have their own language. They are dispersed over many areas of the
The labial flap is attested in one Platoid language.
3.2.1 Nungu [RIN, p1]
In the Linguist List posting 8.45 [http://www.linguistlist.org/issues/8/8-45.html],
Carten Peust states, “According to M[ary] Ward, a language in Nigeria
called Rindre, Nungu, Wamba and a few other names possesses a labiodental
flap.” No articulatory description or data are given.
The labial flap is attested in twelve Adamawa languages. It is most
common in the Mbum-Day subgroup. Sources provide evidence for contrast in Karang
and Mbum. In most languages, it occurs either in all grammatical categories or
in more than one. It is well-attested in several languages. It is usually only
found in word-initial position. Researchers consider it to be phonemic in
Karang, Kare, Kuo, and Mbum.
4.1 South Fali [FAL, a1]
Ennulat and Ennulat (1971) (alt. “Fali de
Ram” ; this is likely the “Fali” referred to by Cloarec-Heiss
1998). Ennulat and Ennulat report the flap in the words
‘clench the teeth’ and
4.2 Dii [DUR, a2]
Boyd (1974:83) (alt. “Dourou”), Bohnhoff (1982)
(alt. “Yag Dii” or “Duru”), Segerer (1995, cited
by France Cloarec-Heiss, p.c.) (alt. “Duru”), Cloarec-Heiss
(1998) (alt. “Duru”). Boyd (1974) considers the articulation
either bilabial or labiodental. Bohnhoff (1982) considers it to be labiodental.
He notes that it can occur in different grammatical categories. Boyd attests it
in the word
‘to throw’. Bohnhoff attests it in the words
‘sound of a
horse galloping’. This last word is the only example in our data of the
flap in word-final position.
4.3 Gula Iro [GLJ, a3]
Pairault (1969) (Pongaal dialect of alt. “Kulaal”),
Cloarec-Heiss (1998) (alt. “Kulaal”). Pairault considers the
articulation to be bilabial. He notes that the sound is voiceless in
word-initial position and voiced in intervocalic position. He attests the sound
in two ideophones and
mean ‘bang/boom’. He does not consider the sound to be
4.4 Niellim [NIE, a4] (Chad).
Diane Vanderkooi (p.c.) attests the sound in the ideophone
4.5 Karang [KZR, a5] (Cameroon,
Boyd (1974:82-3) (alt. “Ndó Mbàli”),
Ubels and Ubels (1980), Bob Ulfers (p.c.). Boyd considers the sound either
bilabial or labiodental, whereas Ubels and Ubels consider the sound to be
labiodental. They note that the articulation of the sound is the same as in
Shona, but different from Margi (cf. Ladefoged 1971:52).
Ubels and Ubels and Ulfers present contrast between the labial flap and
other labial sounds (reproduced in Olson and Hajek 2003). The sound is
well-attested in Karang, occurring in over a dozen words (see below). It occurs
in all major grammatical categories in Karang, including nouns, verbs, and
ideophones. It usually occurs in word-initial position, but is also attested in
word-medial position in two words. Of particular interest is its occurrence
following a consonant (presumably across a syllable boundary) in
This is the only case in our data of the sound occurring adjacent to a stop. It
is attested before all vowels in Karang except
4.6 Kare [KBN, a6] (Central
African Republic, Cameroon)
Boyd (1974:63, 67, 82-3) (alt. “Kali”), Lim (1997),
Cloarec-Heiss (1998). Boyd considers the sound bilabial or labiodental. Lim
considers it labiodental. Boyd attests the sound in the words
‘to hit’, and
‘to throw’. Lim
attests the sound in the items listed below. This includes several words that
could be considered taboo.
4.7 Kuo [KHO, a7] (Chad,
Boyd (1974:71) (alt. “Ko”), James Roberts (p.c.),
Marcia Bleeker (p.c.). Boyd and Bleeker consider the sound to be either bilabial
or labiodental. Bleeker considers the sound to be a phoneme. She notes that it
occurs in nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and ideophones, and that it occurs
only in word-initial position. The data below are from Bleeker except where
4.8 Mambai [MCS, a8] (Cameroon,
Eguchi (1971:141-7, 186, 192-3) reports a “labio-dentale
in Mambai. Stefan Elders (p.c.) confirms that it is actually a labiodental flap.
It is rarer than w. It is found in word-initial and word-medial positions, but
in the latter it is always stem-initial. Eguchi attests the sound in the following
4.9 Mbum [MDD, a9] (Cameroon,
Central African Republic). labiodental
Richardson (1957) (alt. “Kapere” dialect),
Hagège (1968; 1970) (West Mbum dialect, town of Nganha), Fløttum
(1974, cited by Stefan Elders, p.c.), Hino (1978) (in the town of Mbang-Mboum).
Hagège refers to the sound as a stop, but later he refers to it as a
vibrant (Hagège 1981).
Hagège (1970) provides contrasts with most other labial
sounds (except p, kp, gb, and ngb). It occurs in
nouns, verbs, pronouns, and ideophones. It is common, occurring in over twenty
words, including the core vocabulary words
‘to ask’, and ‘to
throw’ The sound occurs most often in word-initial position, but it is
attested in word-medial position in words which can be derived from other lexical
‘yourselves’). The following items are from Hagège (1968),
Fløttum (1974) and Hino (1978).
4.10 Mundang [MUA, a10] (Chad,
Elders (2000), James Roberts (p.c.). Elders considers the sound to be
labiodental. He notes that it can occur in nouns, verbs, and adverbs, but he
considers all examples to be ideophonic. He attests the sound in the following
4.11 Nzakmbay [NZY, a11] (Chad,
Boyd (1974) (“Nják Mbái”) and James Roberts
(p.c.) (“Nzakambay”). Boyd considers the sound to be bilabial or
labiodental. He attests the sound in the lexical items for
‘to hit’ and
4.12 Tupuri [TUI, a12]
Ruelland (1988:106) reports the sound in the ideophone
The labial flap is found in ten of the eleven Banda subgroups. The
subgroup in which it is not attested is South Central Banda, which includes
Langbashe (Cloarec-Heiss 1978:17). Grimes (2000) generally treats each of these
subgroups as a single language, and we have followed that convention here.
Sources give evidence for contrast in Banda-Bambari, Banda-Ndélé,
Mid-Southern Banda, and Mbandja. In most languages it is considered common, and
it is attested in over twenty-five lexical items in Banda-Bambari, Banda-Banda,
Banda-Mbrès, Mid-Southern Banda, Togbo-Vara Banda, West Central Banda,
and Mbandja. Tisserant (1931) considers the flap a “fundamental
sound” in Banda. In most languages it is attested in both word-initial and
Tisserant (1931) provides numerous examples of the labial flap. He
reports no less than 33 examples of the sound which occur in the “ensemble
des dialectes, ou la majeure partie d’entre eux” (p. 10). Of these
examples, the flap is in word-initial position in 15 of them and in word-medial
position in 18. These examples are comprised of nouns, verbs, adverbs, and one
adjective. He does not explicitly mention dialects in the
Banda-Ndélé, Banda-Yangere, or Southwestern (Ngbundu) groups, so
it is not clear if these 33 words are found in those subgroups. In addition to
these 33 items, numerous additional items containing the flap are cited for
individual dialects. We have not included his data here, due to the large amount
5.1.1 Banda-Bambari [LIY, b1]
(Central African Republic). labiodental
Tisserant (1930; 1931) (Linda, Gbwende, Djyoeto, Ngapu, and Ndokpwa
dialects), Cloarec-Heiss (1967; 1978; 1986) (Linda dialect), Moñino
(1988) (Linda dialect). Marcel Diki-Kidiri (p.c.) notes that a bilabial variant
Cloarec-Heiss (1967) provides contrasts between the labiodental flap and
other labial consonants. She reports the following words:
5.1.2 Banda-Banda [BPD, b2]
(Central African Republic, Sudan). labiodental
Tisserant (1931) (Banda-Banda, Belingo, Ndi, Gbaga, Mbi, and Buru
5.1.3 Banda-Mbrès [BQK,
b3] (Central African Republic, Sudan). labiodental
Tisserant (1931) (Moruba, Wada, Mbele, and Sabanga dialects).
[BFL, b4]. (Central African Republic, Sudan). labiodental
Sampson (1985) (Tangbago dialect). Moñino (1988) (Ngao dialect).
Sampson provides contrast with other labial sounds in both word-initial and
intervocalic positions. He provides examples of both nouns and verbs containing
5.1.5 Banda-Yangere [YAJ, b5]
(Central African Republic). labiodental
Richardson (1957), Moñino (1988). Moñino attests it in the
5.1.6 Banda, Mid-Southern [BJO,
b6] (Central African Republic, D.R. Congo)
Tisserant (1931) (Bongo, Wasa, Yakpwa, Mono, and Ngobu dialects),
Cloarec-Heiss (1978) (Ngundu, Gobu, Kpagua, and Yakpa dialects), Olson (1996)
(Mono and Gobu dialects), Kamanda (1998), Olson and Hajek (1999), Olson and
Schrag (2000), and Olson (2001) (all Mono dialect). Olson and Schrag (2000)
consider the sound to be bilabial with a labiodental variant. There is a backing
movement of the tongue during the articulation of the sound.
Olson and Schrag give evidence for constrast with other labial sounds
(reproduced in Olson and Hajek 2003). The sound is well-attested, occurring in
over 45 words. It occurs in the core vocabulary words
‘to send’. It occurs in all major grammatical categories in
Mono, including nouns, verbs, and adverbs. It occurs in both word-initial and
word-medial positions. It occurs before most vowels in the language, including
front, back, high, and low vowels.
The following data are from Olson (2001) except where noted.
The audio samples were recorded by Brian and Barbara Schrag at the SIL recording
studio in Yaoundé on March 16-18, 1998. Mike Fox was the recording engineer.
The recordings were made with a Nakamichi 550 analog tape recorder and an AKG
D330DT microphone. The two subjects, Speakers A and B, were both adult male
native speakers of Mono, about 30 years old. A digital audio tape (DAT) copy
was made in December 1999 at the University of Chicago Language Laboratories
and Archives at a sampling rate of 48,000 Hz and then converted to WAV files
using SoundDesigner II, version 2.8. The video of Speaker A was recorded by
Brian Schrag and Ken Olson at SIL in Yaoundé in January 1998 and digitized
at the University of Chicago Language Laboratories and Archives in December
1999. The individual frames are 30 ms apart.
here for a video of a labial flap--(9.5 MB)
Click on highlighted forms below for the corresponding sound
5.1.7 Banda, Togbo-Vara [TOR,
b7] (D. R. Congo, Central African Republic)
Cotel (1907:x) (Togbo dialect), Tisserant (1931) (Togbo and Vora
dialects), Olson (1996) (Togbo dialect), Moñino (1988) (Vara dialect).
Cotel and Olson attest it in the words
5.1.8 Banda, West Central [BBP,
b8] (Central African Republic, Sudan). labiodental
Tisserant (1931) (Dakpwa dialect), Santandrea (1965:28) (Golo
dialect), Cloarec-Heiss (1978) (Gbi dialect), Moñino (1988) (Dakpa and
Wojo dialects). Santandrea attests it in the word
‘swim’. Moñino attests it in the words
5.1.9 Ngbundu [NUU, b9] (D. R.
Cloarec-Heiss (1978). No data are given.
5.1.10 Mbandja [ZMZ, b10] (D.
R. Congo, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo)
Tisserant (1931), Tingbo (1978) (Balawo dialect), Cloarec-Heiss
(1978), Moñino (1988), Jim Fultz and Paul Noren (p.c.). Tingbo notes
that the articulation is bilabial rather than labiodental. He provides some
evidence of contrast. The sound occurs in all major grammatical categories;
it is common, occurring in over 30 lexical items; and it can appear in both
word-initial and word-medial positions. Noren attests the sound in the following
‘type of fruit’, and ‘type
of hornbill that follows monkeys around’. Fultz attests it in the following
The labial flap is attested in one Ngbandi language.
5.2.1 Kpatili [KYM, n1]
(Central African Republic)
Boyd (1988:38, 107, 119) (alt. “Kpatiri”)
attests the sound in the words
‘to throw’, ‘calf
(anat.)’, and ‘right’.
Grimes (2000) considers Kpatili to be part of the Zande sub-group of Ubangi,
but Boyd considers it to be closely related to Ngbandi.
The labial flap is attested in four Gbaya-Manza-Ngbaka languages.
Grand’Eury (1991) provides evidence for contrast in Ngbaka-Minagende, but
she does not consider the sound to be phonemic since it occurs predominantly in
ideophones. In the four languages of this language group, the sound occurs in
ideophones and animal names. It is considered rare.
5.3.1 Gbaya-Bossangoa [GBP, g1]
(Central African Republic). labiodental
Samarin (1966:26), Moñino (1995:162-3). Samarin reports the sound
in the following words:
5.3.2 Gbaya, Northwest [GYA,
g2] (Central African Republic, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Nigeria).
Moñino and Roulon (1972:65) (Gbaya Kara 'Bodoe dialect), Noss
(1981:9) (Yaayuwee dialect), Moñino (1995:58). Noss considers the sound a
phoneme, but does not provide evidence of contrast. He attests the sound in two
‘abrupt movement’, and
‘sound produced by tapping
something soft’. Moñino reports the following words, all
‘noise of the fall of an object’,
noise of breaking water’. It is rare.
5.3.3 Manza [MZV, g3] (Central
African Republic). labiodental
Moñino (1995:216) (“Manza de Mala”), Cloarec-Heiss
(1998) (“Manja”). Moñino attests the sound in the lexical
‘bird (sp.)’ and
‘agama lizard’. It occurs in intervocalic position. It is
5.3.4 Ngbaka [NGA, g4] (D. R.
Congo, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo)
Grand’Eury (1991:99); Henrix (2000); Margaret Hill, Elaine Thomas,
Timothy Assama Mambo, and Paul Noren (p.c.) (alt.
“Ngbaka-Minagende”). Grand’Eury considers the sound
labiodental, but Mambo considers it bilabial. Grand’Eury provides evidence
of contrast but claims that the sound is only found in ideophones. In contrast,
Henrix does list nouns and verbs which contain the sound. Data are from Henrix
except where noted.
Grand’Eury reports the sound in the words
‘swallow like a pig’,
‘enlarging a circle’. Noren attests the sound in the word
hornbill’. Mambo attests the sound in the ideophone
‘sound of an
animal disappearing into the forest’.
The labial flap is found in at least seven Sere-Ngbaka-Mba languages.
Sources provide evidence for contrast in Ndogo, and further research will likely
show contrast in most if not all of the rest of the seven languages. It occurs
in both nouns and verbs in all of the languages, in adjectives as well in Sere
and Tagbu, and in all grammatical categories in Ndogo. It is attested in over 40
lexical items in Ndogo, in eight lexical items in Sere, and in four or five
lexical items in Bai, Feroge, Mangayat, and Tagbu. It occurs in both
word-initial and word-medial position in Ndogo.
5.4.1 Bai [BDJ, s1] (Sudan).
Santandrea (1961:13, 148ff), Tucker and Bryan (1966:92). Santandrea
reports it in five words, including both nouns and verbs:
5.4.2 Feroge [FER, s2]
Santandrea (1950:21-30, 43-46):
5.4.3 Mangayat [MYJ, s3]
Santandrea (1950:21-30, 43-46; 1961:171):
5.4.4 Ndogo [NDZ, s4] (Sudan).
Tucker (1940:65), Santandrea (1961:13, 87, 148ff), Tucker and
Bryan (1966:90-107), Thelwall (1980:80-81), Pozzati (1987), Constance Kutsch
Lojenga (p.c.), Peter Rebigo and Wanda Pace (p.c.). Ndogo has a five vowel system
in which the vowels transcribed as <e> and <o> are pronounced
respectively. Rebigo and Pace provide evidence for contrast with other labial
sounds before a (reproduced in Olson and Hajek 2003). They report that
contrast between the labial flap and other labial sounds in Ndogo is also attested
before the other vowels (i, e, u, and o). The sound
occurs in nouns (including animal names), verbs, and adjectives. Pozzati attests
the sound in over 40 words. The sound occurs in the core vocabulary words
‘to greet, to ask’, and
‘must, may (auxiliary verb)’. While the sound normally appears
in word-initial position, it can also occur in word-medial position. The data
below are from Rebigo and Pace and Kutsch Lojenga.
5.4.5 Sere [SWF, s5] (D. R.
Congo, Central African Republic). labiodental
Santandrea (1961:13, 148ff); Tucker and Bryan (1966:86-107); Thomas et
al. (1976:166). Santandrea notes the following data:
5.4.6 Tagbu [TBM, s6] (D. R.
Santandrea (1961:13, 91, 148ff):
5.4.7 Bangba [BBE, s7] (D. R.
Boone (1995:52) reports the sound in the lexical item
5.4.8 Dongo [DOO, (s8)] (D. R.
Pasch (1986:179-180, 389) reports the phoneme
in Dongo and attests it in the word
‘to cut with a
knife’. Unfortunately, she does not describe the sound represented by this
symbol, but given the geographical location, it is likely a labial
5.4.9 Ngbaka-Ma’bo [NBM,
(s9)] (Central African Republic, D. R. Congo, Republic of Congo)
Richardson (1957:91) reports a “flapped v” in
Ngbaka-Ma’bo and attests it in the word for ‘nine’. However,
Cloarec-Heiss (1998) states that this is erroneous.
The labial flap is attested in one Zande language.
5.5.1 Nzakara [NZK, z1]
(Central African Republic, D.R. Congo)
Santandrea (1965:28) reports the sound in the word
6. Central Sudanic
The labial flap is found in seven West Central Sudanic languages.
Evidence for contrast is only given for Baka. The sound occurs mostly in nouns,
and to a lesser extent in verbs. It is attested in five lexical items in Sar and
Yulu, and in fewer lexical items in the remaining languages. Sources consider it
to be phonemic in Gbaya and Baka, but the evidence for this is limited.
6.1 Aja [AJA, w1]
Cloarec-Heiss (1998). No data are given.
6.2 Gbaya [KRS, w2] (Sudan).
Westermann and Ward (1933), Tucker (1940), Tucker and Bryan (1966:63),
Brown (1991:54, 63) (“Kreish”). Westermann and Ward consider it
rare, but Tucker and Bryan claim that it is “very common.”
Westermann and Ward attest it in the words
‘to shoot with a
bow’. Brown attests it in the word
‘honey badger’. He considers it to be phonemic, but does not
provide evidence of contrast.
6.3 Baka [BDH, w3] (Sudan,
Tucker and Bryan (1966:63, 78), Parker (1985:65-6). Parker gives
contrasts with other labial sounds, and he considers it to be a phoneme. He
attests it in the word
‘August’. Tucker and Bryan attest it in the word
‘break’. The sound is rare.
6.4 Gula [KCM, w4] (Central
African Republic, Sudan)
Santandrea (1970) (“Kara”) and Nougayrol (1999:47) report a
labiodental flap in Gula. Nougayrol includes it in his consonant chart, but does
not provide contrasts. He reports that the sound is rare. Santandrea attests it
in the words ‘ox’
Nougayrol reports it in the following words (Méré dialect except
6.5 Morokodo [MGC, w5]
Tucker and Bryan (1966:63). No data are given. It is rare.
6.6 Sar [MWM, w6]
Palayer (1970; 1992), Fournier (1977:39). Both authors call it
labiodental, but Fournier notes that the lower lip flaps against the upper lip.
The sound is rare. Palayer (1970) attests it in the following words:
6.7 Yulu [YUL, w7] (Sudan,
Central African Republic, D.R. Congo). labiodental
Santandrea (1970) (Yulu and Binga dialects) considers the sound to be
less common than in Ndogo. The following data are from the Yulu dialect except
7. Central Sudanic
The labial flap is found in seven East Central Sudanic Languages.
Evidence for contrast is given for Mangbetu. It occurs in nouns, verbs, and
numerals in Mangbetu, in nouns and verbs in Lese, and in nouns in Asoa, Lombi,
and Mamvu. It is most common in Mangbetu, but appears to be rare in the rest of
the languages. It is usually found in word-medial position.
7.1 Asoa [ASV, e1] (D. R.
Tucker and Bryan (1966:29) and Demolin (1988:68) report the sound in the
‘tail’ (Demolin’s transcription).
7.2 Lombi [LMI, e2] (D. R.
Demolin (1988:81, 83) reports the sound in the following lexical
7.3 Mangbetu [MDJ, e3] (D. R.
Tucker and Bryan (1966:29), Larochette (1958) (Mangbetu and Meje
dialects), Demolin (1988:69, 81, 83) (Mangbetu and Makere dialects), McKee
(1991) (Meje dialect), Demolin (1992)(Mangetu, Medzhe, Malele and Nabulu
dialects), Demolin and Teston (1996).
Demolin and Teston (1996:103) state that the articulation of the sound
is “a labiodental flap with a bilabial variant”. The bilabial
variant can occur before a and o. The articulation of the sound is
the same in “all the languages of the Moru-Mangbetu group...where this
sound is encountered (Efe, Lese, Mamvu, and most of the languages of the
Mangbetu group)”. They provide instrumental evidence to demonstrate that
the sound is not an implosive, contra Larochette (1958), and not a fricative,
contra McKee (1991). In addition, they note that there is a backing movement of
the tongue (p. 110).
Demolin (1992) gives evidence for contrast with other labial sounds
(reproduced in Olson and Hajek 2003). The sound is well-attested, occurring in
over twenty words. It occurs in nouns, verbs, and numerals. Although it is found
before all vowels, it only occurs in word-medial position. The following are
sample lexical items from Demolin (1992):
7.4 Efe [EFE, e4] (D. R.
Demolin and Teston (1996:103). No data are given.
7.5 Lese [LES, e5] (D. R.
Tucker and Bryan (1966:35), Demolin and Teston (1996:103), Constance
Kutsch Lojenga (p.c.). In comparing the labial flaps in Ndogo and Lese, Kutsch
Lojenga observed that the flap in Lese is “weaker” in that there is
no actual contact between the articulators. The following words are from Kutsch
Lojenga except where noted.
7.6 Mamvu [MDI, e6] (D. R.
Tucker and Bryan (1966:29, 46).
7.7 Mvuba [MXH, e7] (D. R.
Demolin (1988:68). No data are given.
The labial flap is attested in one Austronesian language.
8.1 Sika [SKI, m1]
Donohue (forthc.) describes the articulation as a voiced labio-dental
flap. (He employs a dental diacritic to mark a flapped sound,
Donohue states that this sound is
produced as for a but with labial
contact with the inner surface of the upper teeth; this sound is flapped forward
from the start to create a sound that is at times affricated
and sometimes simply a voiced
labio-dental stop/flap In careful
speech, however, is produced.
He provides constrast with and
He attests it in four verbs, all in the 1SG form:
A non-phonemic process of consonant gemination results in
as the phonetic
form for this last item.
There are other possible references to the labial flap in the
linguistics literature, but more research is necessary to determine if the sound
is in fact found in these languages.
Greenberg (1983) cites Tucker and Bryan (1966) as attesting a labial
flap in Mundu [MUH] (Sudan, D. R. Congo), but we could not verify this
Boyd (1974:82-3) lists the Adamawa languages Ngoumi, Touboro, and
Pandjama as containing the labial flap. These are all listed as dialects of
Karang in Grimes (2000).
Santandrea (1965:28) reports a labiodental flap in the Gäbu dialect
of Banda. It is unclear what the classification of this language is. He also
mentions its existence in the Ngala dialect of Banda (p. 16). Again, it is
unclear what the classification of this language is. The language is
Cook (1969:39) notes that in Efik, /b/ is pronounced as a “voiced
bilabial flap” in ambisyllabic position. He describes the articulation as
“made by touching the upper and lower lips together once lightly and
releasingly [sic] them rapidly. The lips are touched together only very weakly
and are not held closed for any length of time” (p. 39).
No tangengial movement of the lower lip with respect to the upper lip or
teeth is mentioned. In addition, Welmers (1973:75) notes that the sound patterns
in a similar fashion to alveolar and velar “flaps”, which are
allophones of /d/ and /g/, respectively. These observations suggest that this
sound is likely a tap rather than a flap (Ladefoged and Maddieson 1996:231) and
is thus distinct from the labial flap.
Ladefoged (1971:52) reports a “voiced bilabial trill or
flap” in Ngwe [NWE] (see also Gregersen 1977:31), but more recent accounts
(Maddieson 1989; Njika 1991) clarify that the sound in question is a bilabial
In this paper, we have presented a large sample of the occurrences of
the labial flap in the world’s languages, in order to support the
generalizations discussed in Olson and Hajek (2003). We have tried to present as
complete a sample as possible, given the present status of linguistic field work
in Africa and Asia. Detailed samples aid in drawing typologically meaningful
generalizations concerning geographically limited linguistic phenomena.
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 We wish to thank
everyone who shared data with us (see personal communications within the text).
This paper could not have been written without their contributions. Thanks to
Bruce Connell for technical assistance in making the audio and video recordings
of the Mono data; to Ama Geangozo Mbanza and Kilio Tembenekuzu for providing the
Mono language data; and to Mark Karan for helpful comments on the
 Barreteau says that
these are adjectives or adverbs, but semantically they are clearly
 This word is inflected
in the same way that verbs are, indicating that it is a verb.
 Richardson (1957)
glosses this as second person plural.
 The grave accent in
this word indicates a lower mid tone.
 Santandrea employs
an umlaut to mark centralization of a vowel (Santandrea 1961:7)
 Boone (1995) refers to
the flap as an “unusual sound”, which he writes as <vh>. We
clarified via personal communication that it is indeed a labial