I know you’ll all be as excited as I am to learn that the International Phonetic Association has approved the adoption of the first new symbol in twelve years into the International Phonetic Alphabet:

The symbol proposed by SIL represents the labiodental flap, a speech sound found in central and southeastern Africa. The IPA is the organization that sets the standards for the transcription of speech sounds in the world’s languages.
Dr. Kenneth Olson, SIL’s Associate International Linguistics Coordinator, proposed the new labiodental flap symbol, which is technically referred to as “a right hook ‘v’.” After review of Dr Olson’s proposal for the addition of the labiodental flap symbol, the IPA Council voted in favor of the addition. Linguists now have an agreed-upon standard for writing this sound when doing phonetic transcription—a very practical outcome of Olson’s research.
Dr. Olson encountered this speech sound when he was living among the Mono people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo… The labiodental flap sound is produced by drawing the lower lip back into the mouth well behind the upper teeth and then bringing it forward rapidly, striking the upper teeth briefly in passing. A few languages have an alternative pronunciation, called a “bilabial flap”, in which the lower lip strikes the upper lip rather than the upper teeth.

You can see an image of the new symbol on the left side of the linked page. Note, by the way, that the Wikipedia page on Mono refers to a “bilabial flap.” Tsk, tsk. (Via Tenser, said the Tensor.)


  1. Too bad one will have to wait until Unicode 5.0 and updated fonts to use it easily.

  2. You can also find audio and video of native speakers pronouncing this sound at (about halfway down the page).

  3. Mark Dingemanse says

    Interestingly, the short Wikipedia article was based on an overview of the phonology of Mono by Olson and Schrag (2000[1997], in Wolff and Gensler (eds.) Proceedings of the 2nd WoCAL Leipzig 1997, Köppe, pp 393-409). By that time, Olson apparently was still convinced that this phoneme wasn’t a labio-dental flap:

    The bilabial flap is a sound very similar to what is elsewhere called the labiodental flap, but the articulation is slightly different. For the labiodental flap, several authors state explicitly that the lower lip flaps against the upper teeth (see, e.g., Westermann & Ward 1933, Ladefoged 1982). For the bilabial flap in Mono, however, the lower lip flaps against the upper lip. (2000:395)

    At the same time, Olson and Schrag note that ‘the labiodental articulation is an acceptable variant’, and they go on to sample some occurences of labial flaps in other African languages (Mangbetu, Linda, Mundang). We’re probably looking here at the beginning of Olson’s preoccupation with the labiodental flap.
    Anyway, Mono has been updated. Thanks for posting!

  4. Is the recording in stereo?

  5. Sorry, Patrick, my husband made that joke nearly 12 hours ago!
    I bet a Mono translation of the Beatles’ Revolver would sell well.

  6. This symbol will be useful in transcribing a Philadelphia variant of one of the words in the next post (the other two letters are -ək).

  7. David Costa says

    ‘Mono’ is also a Uto-Aztecan language of California. Someone should make a list of other pairs of accidentally-similar language names. Like Yokuts and Yakut, Chumash and Chuvash, etc.

  8. Mark Dingemanse says

    In fact, there is also an Austronesian (Northwest Solomonic) language called Mono , spoken on the Solomon Islands.

  9. Jarawa of Nigeria and Jarawa of the Andaman Islands (India) are a good pair. Also Kota of Gabon and Kota of Tamil Nadu (India).
    Then there’s (Toba) Batak and (Palawan) Batak, an especially annoying coincidence because they’re both Malayo-Polynesian languages.

  10. This makes me proud to me affiliated with SIL!
    🙂 Vera, Grad. student in Canada

  11. This makes me proud to be affiliated with SIL!
    🙂 Vera, Grad. student in Canada
    (sorry about the typo in the previous post)

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