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Voicelessness or voiceless is a term from the linguistic sub- discipline phonetics and means that the vocal folds are not involved in the articulation of a sound . In the case of voiceless articulated sounds, these are so far apart that the air flow from the lungs can flow unhindered through the glottis and thus no sound is generated. In contrast, with voiced sounds, the vocal folds create a tone with a specific timbre. Voiced sounds, especially sonorants , are characterized by this sound , while unvoiced sounds are dominated by noises .

Voiceless sounds are usually just consonants . In German these are

  • the unvoiced fricatives series of ( fricatives ), which are [⁠ f ⁠] , [⁠ s ⁠] , [⁠ ʃ ⁠] , [⁠ ç ⁠] , [⁠ x ⁠] , [⁠ χ ⁠] and [⁠ h ⁠]
  • and the unvoiced number of plosives (plosives), which are [⁠ p ⁠] , [⁠ t ⁠] [⁠ k ⁠] and [⁠ ʔ ⁠] .

Even without words or syllables auslautende vowels may lose their voicing z. B. in Latvian , in Japanese or in European Portuguese .

In the International Phonetic Alphabet , the voicelessness is a sound through the IPA numeral 402 displayed when the respective sound not like [⁠ f ⁠] has its own character. The glyph used is a fixing under ring (IPA number 402A, Unicode COMBINING RING BELOW U + 0325 ), for example [⁠ N ⁠] ( unvoiced alveolar nasal ) or a patch ring (IPA number 402B, Unicode COMBINING RING ABOVE U + 030A ), if the basic character descender has, for example, [⁠ N ⁠] ( unvoiced velar Nasal ).

In the pictorial representation of sounds ( spectrogram ), as it is common in acoustics and phonetics, the absence of a periodic component indicates an unvoiced sound. The so-called Voice Onset Time (abbreviated VOT) is important here. The VOT is the time interval between the onset of the noise (due to the release of the lock in the case of locking and fricative sounds) and the beginning of the vocal fold oscillation, i.e. the onset of a tone. If the vocal tone sets in after the sound has started, it is a positive VOT value and the sound is assessed as unvoiced.


  1. The cause of voicelessness of glottal closure texts, [⁠ ʔ ⁠] the other consonants, where as described above the vocal cords apart and let the air flow pass is different from the. In the case of [⁠ ʔ ⁠] the vocal cords are contrary to each other so they that the airflow completely block. Hence it is that Phoneticians as Ian Catford the term voiceless use in the articulatory description only sounds with air flow passage to the vocal cords, but not to [⁠ ʔ ⁠] , although on phonological level / ⁠ ʔ ⁠ / the feature [-voice] has.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Maria Helena Mateus: The Phonology of Portuguese. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press 2002.