In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a sound in spoken language that is characterized by a closure or stricture of the vocal tract sufficient to cause audible turbulence. The word consonant comes from Latin and means "sounding with" or "sounding together," the idea being that consonants don't sound on their own, but occur only with a nearby vowel, which is the case in Latin. This conception of consonants, however, does not reflect the modern linguistic understanding which defines consonants in terms of vocal tract constriction.
Since the number of consonants in the world's languages is much greater than the number of consonant letters in any one alphabet, linguists have devised systems such as the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to assign a unique symbol to each possible consonant. In fact, the Latin alphabet, which is used to write English, has fewer consonant letters than English has consonant sounds, so some letters represent more than one consonant, and digraphs like "sh" and "th" are used to represent some sounds. Many speakers aren't even aware that the "th" sound in "this" is a different sound from the "th" sound in "thing" (in the IPA they're [ð] and [θ], respectively).
Each consonant can be distinguished by several features:
All English consonants can be classified by a combination of these features, such as "voiceless alveolar stop consonant" [t]. In this case the air stream mechanism is omitted.
Some pairs of consonants like p::b, t::d are sometimes called fortis and lenis, but this is a phonological rather than phonetic distinction. Template:Manner of articulation
The language of Ubykh has 84 distinct consonantal sounds - the language of Rotokas has only 6.
The word consonant is also used to refer to a letter of an alphabet that denotes a consonant sound. Consonant letters in the English alphabet are B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, X, Z, and usually Y: The letter Y stands for the consonant [j] in "yoke," and for the vowel [ɪ] in "myth," for example.
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