This article is about the linguistics concept.
For other uses, see Voiceless (disambiguation).
Voiceless vowels and other sonorants
However, in some languages sonorants may be voiceless, usually allophonically.
Something similar happens in English words like peculiar [pʰə̥ˈkj̊uːliɚ] and potato [pʰə̥ˈtʰeɪtoʊ].
Voiceless vowels are also an areal feature in languages of the American Southwest (like Hopi and Keres), the Great Basin (including all Numic languages), and the Great Plains, where they are present in Numic Comanche but also in Algonquian Cheyenne, and the Caddoan language Arikara.
Sonorants may also be contrastively, not just environmentally, voiceless.
Welsh contrasts several voiceless sonorants: /m, m̥/, /n, n̥/, /ŋ, ŋ̊/, and /r, r̥/, the last represented by "rh".
The last two have palatalized counterparts /l̥ʲ/ and /r̥ʲ/ (⟨льх⟩ and ⟨рьх⟩).
Contrastively voiceless vowels have been reported several times without ever being verified (L&M 1996:315).
Lack of voicing contrast in obstruents
Many languages lack a distinction between voiced and voiceless obstruents (stops, affricates, and fricatives).
In many such languages, obstruents are realized as voiced in voiced environments, such as between vowels or between a vowel and a nasal, and voiceless elsewhere, such as at the beginning or end of the word or next to another obstruent.
That is the case in Dravidian and Australian languages and in Korean but not in Mandarin or Polynesian.
Usually, the variable sounds are transcribed with the voiceless IPA letters, but for Australian languages, the letters for voiced consonants are often used.
It appears that voicelessness is not a single phenomenon in such languages.
In some, such as the Polynesian languages, the vocal folds are required to actively open to allow an unimpeded (silent) airstream, which is sometimes called a breathed phonation (not to be confused with breathy voice).
In others, such as many Australian languages, voicing ceases during the hold of a stop (few Australian languages have any other kind of obstruent) because airflow is insufficient to sustain it, and if the vocal folds open, that is only from passive relaxation.
Thus, Polynesian stops are reported to be held for longer than Australian stops and are seldom voiced, but Australian stops are prone to having voiced variants (L&M 1996:53), and the languages are often represented as having no phonemically voiceless consonants at all.
In Southeast Asia, when stops occur at the end of a word they are voiceless because the glottis is closed, not open, so they are said to be unphonated (have no phonation) by some phoneticians, who considered "breathed" voicelessness to be a phonation.
Yidiny consonants, with no underlyingly voiceless consonants, are posited.
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voicelessness.