Murmured voice

"Voiced aspirate" redirects here. For true voiced aspirates, see Aspirated consonant § Voiced stop.
Entity (decimal) ̤
Unicode (hex) U+0324

Murmur (also called breathy voice, whispery voice, soughing and susurration) is a phonation in which the vocal cords vibrate, as they do in normal (modal) voicing, but are adjusted so that a larger volume of air escapes,[1] producing a sighing sound. A simple murmured phonation, [ɦ] (not actually a fricative, as a literal reading of the IPA chart would suggest), can sometimes be heard as an allophone of English /h/ between vowels, e.g. in the word behind, for some speakers.

In the context of the Indo-Aryan languages like Sanskrit and Hindi and comparative Indo-European studies, murmured consonants are often called voiced aspirated, as in the Hindi and Sanskrit stops normally denoted bh, dh, ḍh, jh, and gh and the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European phoneme gʷʰ. From an articulatory perspective, the terminology is incorrect, as murmur is a different type of phonation from aspiration. However, murmured and aspirated stops are acoustically similar in that in both cases there is a delay in the onset of full voicing. In the history of several languages (like Greek and some varieties of Chinese), murmured stops have developed into aspirated stops.

There is some confusion as to the nature of murmured phonation. The IPA and authors such as Ladefoged equate phonemically contrastive murmur with breathy voice in which the vocal folds are held with lower tension (and further apart) than in modal voice, with a concomitant increase in airflow and slower vibration of the glottis. In that model, murmur is a point in a continuum of glottal aperture between modal voice and breath phonation (voicelessness). Others, such as Laver, Catford, Trask and the authors of the VoQS, equate murmur with whispery voice, in which the vocal folds (or at least the anterior part of the vocal folds) vibrate as in modal voice, but the arytenoid cartileges are held apart to allow a large turbulent airflow between them. In that model, murmur is a compound phonation of approximately modal voice plus whisper.

It is possible that the realization of murmur varies among individuals or languages. The IPA uses the term "breathy voice" while VoQS uses the term "whispery voice". Either accepts the term "murmur", which was popularized by Ladefoged.[2]


A stop with murmured release is transcribed in the IPA as either [bʱ], [dʱ], [ɡʱ], [mʱ] etc. or [b̤], [d̤], [ɡ̈], [m̤] etc. Murmured vowels are most often written [a̤], [e̤], etc.

In the VoQS, the notation {V̤} is used for whispery voice (or murmur), while {Vʰ} is used for breathy voice. Some authors, such as Laver, suggest the alternative transcription ḅạɾ (rather than IPA b̤a̤ɾ) as the correct analysis of Gujarati /bɦaɾ/, though it could be confused with the replacement of modal voicing in voiced segments with whispered phonation, conventionally transcribed with the diacritic ◌̣.[3]

Methods of production

There are several ways to produce murmured sounds such as [ɦ]. One is to hold the vocal cords apart, so that they are lax as they are for [h], but to increase the volume of airflow so that they vibrate loosely. A second is to bring the vocal cords closer together along their entire length than in voiceless [h], but not as close as in modally voiced sounds such as vowels. This results in an airflow intermediate between [h] and vowels, and is the case with English intervocalic /h/. A third is to constrict the glottis, but separate the arytenoid cartilages that control one end. This results in the vocal cords being drawn together for voicing in the back, but separated to allow the passage of large volumes of air in the front. This is the situation with Hindi.

The distinction between the latter two of these realizations, vocal cords somewhat separated along their length (breathy voice) and vocal cords together with the arytenoids making an opening (whispery voice), is phonetically relevant in White Hmong.[4]

Phonological property

A number of languages use breathy voicing in a phonologically contrastive way. Many Indo-Aryan languages, such as Hindi, typically have a four-way contrast among plosives and affricates (voiced, murmured, tenuis, aspirated) and a two-way contrast among nasals (voiced, murmured). The Nguni languages in the southern Bantu languages family, including Phuthi, Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele and Swati, also have contrastive murmur. In the case of Xhosa, there is a four-way contrast analogous to Indic in oral clicks, and similarly a two-way contrast among nasal clicks, but a three-way contrast among plosives and affricates (murmured, aspirated, and ejective), and two-way contrasts among fricatives (voiceless and murmured) and nasals (voiced and murmured).

In some Bantu languages, historically murmured stops have been phonetically devoiced,[5] but the four-way contrast in the system has been retained. In all five of the southeastern Bantu languages named, the murmured stops (even if they are realised phonetically as devoiced aspirates) have a marked tone-lowering (or tone-depressing) effect on the following tautosyllabic vowels. For this reason, such stop consonants are frequently referred to in the local linguistic literature as 'depressor' stops.

Swati, and even more so Phuthi, display good evidence that breathy voicing can be used as a morphological property independent of any consonant voicing value. For example, in both languages, the standard morphological mechanism for achieving the morphosyntactic copula is to simply execute the noun prefix syllable as murmured (or 'depressed').

In Portuguese, vowels after the stressed syllable can be pronounced with murmur.[6]

Gujarati is unusual in contrasting murmured vowels and consonants: /baɾ/ 'twelve', /ba̤ɾ/ 'outside', /bʱaɾ/ 'burden'.[7]

Tsumkwe Juǀ'hoan makes the following rare distinctions : /nǂʱao/ fall, land (of a bird etc.); /nǂʱao̤/ walk; /nǂʱaˁo/ herb species; and /n|ʱoaᵑ/ greedy person; /n|oaʱᵑ/ cat.[8]

Murmured stops in Punjabi lost their murmur, merging with voiceless and voiced stops in various positions, and a system of high and low tones developed in syllables that formerly had these sounds.

See also



  1. Chávez-Peón, Mario E. "Non-modal phonation in Quiaviní Zapotec: an acoustic investigation*" (PDF). Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
  2. Trask (1996) "breathy voice", "murmur", "whispery voice", in A Dictionary of Phonetics and Phonology.
  3. Laver (1994) Principles of Phonetics, p. 354
  4. Fulop & Golston (2008), Breathy and whispery voicing in White Hmong, Retrieved 17 June 2012.
  5. Traill, Anthony, James S. M. Khumalo and Paul Fridjhon (1987). Depressing facts about Zulu. African Studies 46: 255-274.
  6. Callou, Dinah. Leite, Yonne. "Iniciação à Fonética e à Fonologia". Jorge Zahar Editor 2001, p. 20
  7. Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-19814-8.
  8. Dickens, Patick (1994) English-Ju/'hoan Ju/'hoan-English dictionary ISBN 3927620556, 9783927620551

General references

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