Tongue Retraction in Arabic: An Ultrasound Study


  • Hamed Altairi The University of Auckland
  • Jason Brown The University of Auckland
  • Catherine Watson The University of Auckland
  • Bryan Gick The University of British Columbia



Tongue Retraction, Emphatics, Pharyngeals, Uvulars, Ultrasound


A common analysis for Arabic emphatics and pharyngeals posits that their commonalities are due to the shared feature [RTR]. This, however, does not account for some phonological processes, and does not reflect their phonetic representation. This study provides ultrasound evidence that emphatics and pharyngeals do not exhibit a similar retraction of the tongue. Results indicate that while tongue retraction for the emphatics is characterized with simultaneous tongue dorsum and root retraction, the pharyngeals lower the tongue dorsum. Unlike the pharyngeals, the tongue root retraction of the emphatics and uvulars is always posterior to the tongue root position of the inter-speech posture. Such a consistent and significant displacement confirms that [RTR] is an active feature for the emphatics and uvulars. This is also evident from the retraction of following low vowels triggered by the emphatics and uvulars. These phonetic findings suggest that the pharyngeals and emphatics have different phonological representations.

Author Biographies

  • Hamed Altairi, The University of Auckland

    Applied Language Studies and Linguistics

    Rank: PhD Student

  • Jason Brown, The University of Auckland

    Applied Language Studies and Linguistics

     Rank: Senior Lecturer

  • Catherine Watson, The University of Auckland

    Electrical and Computer Engineering

    Rank: Associate Professor 

  • Bryan Gick, The University of British Columbia

    Department of Linguistics

    Rank: Professor


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