Latvian Palatal Stops: ģ and ķ

The Latvian letters ģ and ķ stand for very unusual consonant sounds. They are unlike any consonant sounds found in English, French, Italian, or German. However, they do occur in languages like Albanian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, and Macedonian. (For example: Hungarian gyermek 'child', Albanian kuq 'red').

How to make them:

The sounds represented by the letters ģ and ķ are known as palatal stops. They are produced by raising the middle of the tongue to touch the middle of the hard palate (i.e. the hard part of the roof of the mouth).

English speakers often think that the voiceless palatal stop [ c ] (Latvian letter ķ) sounds like something halfway between a [ t ] and a [ k ]. In fact, this is correct, as the tongue touches the roof of the mouth further forward than for a [ k ], but further back than for a [ t ].

But, what is the difference between ģ and ķ? The sound represented by ķ is voiceless, and the one represented by ģ is voiced. This means that while you are saying the ķ sound (phonetically [ c ] ), your vocal cords are not vibrating, but when you are saying the sound which the letter ģ stands for (phonetically [ ɟ ]), your vocal cords are vibrating. This is exactly the same as the difference between [ t ] and [ d ].

Where they occur:

In Latvian these consonant sounds are only found when a vowel i or e immediately follows. In addition, they often occur loanwords; this is particularly true of foreign words which were borrowed in the 17th century, or earlier. The following examples will illustrate some of these cases:

Latvian example words containing a ķ:

ķēde 'chain', ķemme 'comb', īkšķis 'thumb', ķekars 'bunch, cluster', ķekatas 'mummery, mumming', ķeksis 'hook', ķengāt 'to abuse, slander', ķēniņš 'king', ķepa 'paw', ķermenis 'body', ķert 'to catch', ķēve 'mare, filly', ķieģelis 'brick', ķīla 'pawn, pledge', ķilava 'sprat', ķīlis 'keel', ķimenes 'caraway seeds', ķiploks 'garlic', ķirsis 'cherry', ķite 'putty'

Latvian example words containing a ģ:

ģenerāls 'general', ķieģelis 'brick', ģenētika 'genetics', ģeogrāfija 'geography', ģeorģīne 'dahlia', ģērbties 'to dress oneself', ģībt 'to faint', ģīmis 'face'(slang), ģindenis 'skeleton', ģipsis 'gypsum'

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This page created and maintained by
A. Steinbergs

Last revised September 19, 2008