Thursday 27 May 2010

labiodental flap

Jo-Anne Ferreira sent me a message saying she was
hunting high and low for a Unicode font that has the labiodental flap. Can you help?

The answer was easy: the symbol she needs is already available in the SIL fonts she uses regularly. The problem is knowing where to find it among the thousands of characters in the fonts. And the place to find it is at Unicode number 2C71.

The voiced labiodental flap symbol is the newest letter to be added to the IPA chart inventory, though it has now been with us for several years. It was the topic of one of the very first entries in this blog (25 March 2006), where I reported that it had been added to the widely-used SIL phonetic fonts, Charis SIL and Doulos SIL. The last time we mentioned it was two years ago (blog, 16 April 2008).

It was adopted by the IPA too late to make it to the most recent printed Unicode standard, 5.0. However it was added for the Unicode 5.1 revision, and you’ll find it in the current on-line Unicode charts.

So, briefly, here’s what you need to know: the labiodental flap symbol is at U+2C71 LATIN SMALL LETTER V WITH RIGHT HOOK. It is included in the current versions of the SIL fonts Charis, Charis Compact, Doulos and Doulos Compact, and also in the font Code 2000. However, it is not found in the Microsoft fonts routinely supplied with new PCs, nor in Lucida Grande. So PC users will need to download and install specialist fonts. I imagine Mac users will too.

Tiresomely, Unicode did not add it to one of the blocks where phonetic symbols are usually found (IPA Extensions, U+0250–U+02AF; Phonetic Extensions, U+1D00–U+1DBF). Instead, it is in a small block called Latin Extended-C (U+2C60–U+2C7F), nestling unobtrusively between Glagolitic and Coptic. Within that block it lies among the “miscellaneous additions” located between “Additions for Uighur” and “Claudian letters” (Latin letters invented by the emperor Claudius but soon dropped). It’s not surprising that people say it’s hard to find.

If your browser settings are favourable and you have a suitable font, you may be able to see the symbol here: , or in a larger size ⱱ.


  1. Tiresomely? The block was full. It had to go somewhere else.

  2. This Mac user has one font with the character: Geneva Regular, which is an Apple Font.

    How do I know? Most Mac users reading this will know, but in case there's anybody who doesn't know...

    The trick is to open Character Viewer and change the View to Code Tables. If necessary, click to select Unicode, not Other Encodings or Favourites. Then scroll down the left hand column to 00002C60 Latin Extended-C — between Glagolitic and Coptic.

    When you click on a character in a table above, a description is displayed below, along with any 'related' characters. Below that, the Viewer displays every example that your computer possesses indicating what font it's in.

    I'm now going to Insert the character. Let's see whether it's displayed in my screens and on the Blog.


  3. John, how did you get that larger size?

  4. Does it look larger to you, David? The only thing that looks larger to me on Firefox is the graphic.

    > Tiresomely? The block was full. It had to go somewhere else. <

    Yes, Michael, and that was tiresome. John is saying at some length how tiresome. I just have to hope I remember my shortcut combinations!

  5. Mallamb

    The difference is more noticeable in Safari, but in my version of Firefox these final words are bigger:

    in a larger size ⱱ

  6. David: I used the tag <big>, which works nicely in Blogger postings (but not in comments).

  7. Thank you, David. I thought I must be experiencing an optical illusion, and that it might have something to do with the fact that the first ⱱ is in bold and the second not, but your explanation that the whole phrase is in a larger size prompted me to copy the whole sentence to Word, where I can clearly see that difference (13.5pt vs 12pt). I already had Firefox set up to allow pages to use their own fonts (there's no mention of sizes under Tools Options), and I've tried as much as I can be bothered with to get this difference to display in Firefox, but to no effect. I can't expect you to be bothered with it either.

    As to your question how John got the larger size, I tried it here, but I didn't expect the tag to be accepted in Comments, and it isn't..

  8. Mallamb

    On the Contenttab of Preferences in my version, there's an Advanced button next to the Default font settings. This brings down a window-thingy where you can play around with font sizes. Perhaps it's important to set the Minimum font size to None.

    I expect you've tried all this, though.

  9. Is there a reference anywhere to how the labiodental flap is produced in those languages that have it? I could envisage two different possibilities: 1) lower lip moves up and strikes lower edge of upper front teeth and then returns; or a transient flick type, where the lower lip is curled back behind upper teeth and strikes them during an uncurling movement. This obviously reflect the difference between [ɾ] and [ɽ].

    M. J. Ball

  10. Well, David, in case you are not yet sufficiently convinced of my stupidity, I have to say that I had tried just about everything BUT None. The "Tools Options" I referred to above when I was experimenting with the Content tab of my Firefox is obviously the MS version of your Preferences in your Mac version, and when I said there was no mention of sizes under Tools Options I meant there was none in the legend for the checkbox for allowing pages to use their own fonts. And that of course is in the very same Advanced dialogue box you are talking about! I thought the pull-down for Minimum font size was for NOT allowing pages to use their own settings! Nevertheless I had tried every size down to 10pt, at which I still couldn't see the difference, and even if I could have, there would have been no point in that setting anyway, as it is beyond the capacity of even my grandpa specs to cope with. Once again I have to blame my eyes for these run-arounds. You may have already observed that I am always complaining about having to tinker with these very pull-downs for font sizes in order to see some of the symbols.

    But in spite of my little faith, you did bother with it and None is indeed the setting which does allow pages to use their own settings. So I was able to see the difference but of course couldn't see what it was a difference in, unless I zoomed the page to the point at which I couldn't find my way around it! Nevertheless I am immensely grateful for your bothering with it, as I would otherwise just have given up and put up with it, which obviously would have meant I'd have missed all sorts of other things in John's blog. Thanks to you I remembered that I had had the Zoom set to Zoom text only, which must have got de-defaulted in one of the pesky upgrades, and I have reset that. And the good karma for you may go beyond my gratitude for getting me on track to get the correct display back, as this record of my odyssey may save some other Firefox victim a bit of aggro.

    BTW you probably realized I had missed John's post explaining the <big> tag, but it was indeed what I had tried: you can see how he does these things by looking under Page Source. I didn't expect the tag to be accepted in Comments because hardly any tags are on blogspot. On some sites you can get away with almost anything in Comments.

  11. Martin, I think I have heard the odd BrE speaker provide evidence that English is one of "those languages that have it", but only in your first incarnation. I confess I had just assumed that was what the symbol was intended to represent. I can't wait to see if anyone comes up with your other possibility. I've been pondering this anxiously and long, and I suspect I am finding it harder than you to imagine that anyone will, but what I can imagine is that if it does turn out to have been lurking in the undergrowth there will be duels fought over the new symbol you will no doubt propose and which should be which!

  12. Martin (M.J.Ball) - I'm pretty sure it's a FLAP (analogous to ɽ) rather than a TAP (analogous to ɾ). It is found in Kera and some other central African languages. See .

  13. That's what I would have guessed, because pronouncing it as a tap would sound (at least to me) too much like the fricative.

    BTW, Wikipedia says "No language contrasts a tap and a flap at the same place of articulation." Well, some English speakers have a tap in berry and some have a flap in Betty, though maybe none does both. (Well, I sometimes do do both, but I'm not a native speaker, and I do attempt to pronounce /r/ without contact, even though I often fail. This is particularly bad because I've picked up both /t/-flapping and intrusive R, so if I'm not careful enough I tend to pronounce sought it and saw it nearly the same.)

  14. Well if ⱱ is actually defined as analogous to ɽ rather than to ɾ, it wouldn't be suitable for anything I have heard in English. But one hears so many miscellaneous "defective rs" that someone may yet lay claim to the ɽ analogue. But now that John has revealed what ⱱ was introduced for, I guess that's what it's actually approved for.

    BTW army, Martin's first suggestion does suggest a tap, but I didn't mean to claim that I had heard or observed precisely that. I was thinking of people who flip their lower lip back past their teeth with a sort of grimace to get it back far enough to give the impression of a flap!

    But you're probably right – that version probably does sound too much like the fricative, or even the approximant some of the time. I had always been happy with ʋ until ⱱ came along and I wondered whether it was worth refining my observations a bit.

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  16. mallamb:
    I was just thinking about the sounds in abstraction; I wasn't even aware that either of them was used by English speakers.

  17. Still it is hard to see that the encoding position is "tiresome". It's first come, first served. The other blocks were full, so there was no putting the character there.

    I'd like to see better tools for finding characters. On the Mac I use PopChar and UnicodeChecker.

  18. Somewhat related issue: As a user of Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger), I've found it impossible to get the barred small capital i and barred upsilon (two characters that I'm quite fond of) to show up.

  19. Lazar, in some previous contretemps with Lucida Grande which much exercised us on this site, we determined that it is the default font for Mac OSs but is missing the whole range 1D7B-F (ᵻ, ᵼ, ᵽ, ᵾ, ᵿ,). The only fonts I have found which even attempt to display them in MS are Arial, Caslon Bd BT, Code 2000, Courier New, the SIL fonts, Tahoma, Times New Roman, and some Asian fonts (which I use for Asian Languages, but which this site uses in an erratic way, which makes text copied from it unconvertible!) and of these Arial, Caslon Bd BT, Courier New, SIL SophiaIPA BD, Times New Roman, and the Asian fonts display one or more of them either wrong or unsatisfactorily.

  20. Lazar, Mallamb

    My version of the Geneva font has all those characters — ᵻ, ᵼ, ᵽ, ᵾ, ᵿ and the ⱱ character which John started the thread with.

    It's Version 6.1d3e1, and came, I believe, with Snow Leopard if not with Leopard. You should be able to obtain the font without upgrading, I would have thought.

    Some of these characters can't be boldened, though.

  21. Although I can't display some of the 1D7B-F characters in bold, there's no problem with Lazar's or the OP character. Here's what I got with added italic and/or bold

    ᵻ ᵿ ⱱ
    ᵻ ᵿ ⱱ
    ᵻ ᵿ ⱱ
    ᵻ ᵿ ⱱ (bold tags outside)
    ᵻ ᵿ ⱱ (italic tags outside)

    My version of Geneva is also described as Version 3.0 and Last modified: Wednesday, 30 July 2003 16:13. I suspect that although (presumably) compatible with Tiger it wasn't included as a system font.

  22. I’ve myself tried to develop fonts with a labiodental flap symbol with much the same sort of trouble as you seem to be experiencing. I have at best been able to copy from the Internet onto Microsoft Word a highly altered symbol.

  23. The labiodental flap found in Africa is a flap (Catford's "transient flap") rather than a tap (Catford's "flick-type flap"). I have not observed the sound in English.

    The articulation of the sound is discussed in detail in the following two references:

    Olson, Kenneth S. & John Hajek. 1999. The phonetic status of the labial flap. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 29(2). 101–114.

    Olson, Kenneth S. & John Hajek. 2003. Crosslinguistic insights on the labial flap. Linguistic Typology 7(2). 157–186.

  24. The labiodental flap symbol is also available in the following two fonts: DejaVu Sans, and LaserIPA in Unicode

  25. So we need to wait for Word to update their symbols. Thanks, John, and thanks, Ken.


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