What are approximants?

Approximants - Their Phonetics and Phonology - Martin J. Ball

Martin J. Ball [+-]
Bangor University
Martin J. Ball is Honorary Professor in the School of Linguistics and English Language at Bangor University, Wales.

Until recently he was Professor of Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics at Linköping University, Sweden, having formerly held the position of Hawthorne-BoRSF Endowed Professor in the Department of Communicative Disorders, at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He received his bachelor’s degree with honours in Linguistics and English from the University of Wales (Bangor); his Master’s degree in phonetics and linguistics from the University of Essex; his Ph.D. from the University of Wales (Cardiff), and a DLitt degree from Bangor University.

Dr Ball has authored and edited over 35 books, 50 contributions to collections and 100 refereed articles in academic journals. He has also presented at conferences around the world. He is co-editor of the journal Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics (Taylor & Francis); and of the book series Studies in Phonetics and Phonology (Equinox), Communication Disorders across Languages (Multilingual Matters), and Language and Speech Disorders (Psychology Press). His main research interests include sociolinguistics, clinical phonetics and phonology, and the linguistics of Welsh. He has been President of the International Clinical Phonetics and Linguistics Association; he is an honorary Fellow of the UK Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, and a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales. His most recent books are Principles of Clinical Phonology (Routledge, 2016) and Challenging Sonority (co-edited with N. Müller, Equinox, 2016).


Approximants are an especially interesting group of consonants. They consist of four separate types, traditionally termed lateral approximants, rhotic (or central) approximants, semi-vowels, and frictionless continuants. This book brings together an international team of scholars to examine the phonetics and phonology of this diverse group of sounds, and also looks at the question of whether they should, in fact, be grouped together. The volume is divided into four parts. Part 1 contains 7 chapters dealing with general characteristics of approximants: their articulatory features, acoustics, and perception, together with phonological and sociolinguistic aspects, concluding with surveys of approximant systems in the languages of the world, and means of transcribing them phonetically. Part 2 has five chapters examining the acquisition of approximants (in Maltese, Spanish, Portuguese, and English) and the effects of speech disorders of different types on the production of these sounds. Part 3 describes approximant systems in a variety of the languages of the world, including several Indo-European languages but also examples of Dravidian, Semitic, Uralic, and Sinitic languages, and languages from Africa, South America and Australia. The final part contains a single chapter that examines the approximant category phonetically and phonologically, asking whether the approximant consonant group is justified. This collection will appeal to a readership at the level of advanced undergraduate and graduate students, and to researchers in the field who may know of the concept of approximants but be unaware of its application to the range of languages (many of them under-reported languages) in this book.

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Ball, Martin. What are approximants?. Approximants - Their Phonetics and Phonology. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Mar 2025. ISBN 9781000000000. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=44509. Date accessed: 24 Feb 2024 doi: 10.1558/equinox.44509. Mar 2025

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