Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue (the dorsum) against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum).
Since the velar region of the roof of the mouth is relatively extensive and the movements of the dorsum are not very precise, velars easily undergo assimilation, shifting their articulation back or to the front depending on the quality of adjacent vowels. They often become automatically fronted, that is partly or completely palatal before a following front vowel, and retracted before back vowels.
Palatalised velars (like English /k/ in keen or cube) are sometimes referred to as palatovelars. Many languages also have labialized velars, such as [kʷ], in which the articulation is accompanied by rounding of the lips. There are also labial-velar consonants, which are doubly articulated at the velum and at the lips, such as [k͡p]. This distinction disappears with the approximant [w], since labialization involves adding of a labial approximant articulation to a sound, and this ambiguous situation is often called labiovelar.
The velar consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:
A velar trill or tap is not possible - see the shaded boxes on the consonant table at the bottom. In the velar position the tongue has an extremely restricted ability to carry out the type of motion associated with trills or taps. Nor does the body of the tongue have the freedom to move quickly enough to produce a velar trill or flap.
Lack of velars
The velar consonant [k] is the most common consonant in human languages. The only languages recorded to lack velars—indeed, to lack any dorsal consonant at all—may be Xavante and Tahitian. However, there are other languages that lack simple velars. An areal feature of the Pacific Northwest coast is that historical *k has become palatalized in many languages, in many languages becoming [kʲ], but, in others, such as Saanich, Salish, and Chemakun becoming [tʃ]. (Likewise, historical *k’ has become [tʃʼ] and historical *x has become [ʃ]; there was no *g or *ŋ.) However, all three languages retain a labiovelar series [kʷ], [kʼʷ], [xʷ], [w], as well as a uvular series.
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