Phonetic and phonological properties of the advanced tongue root feature in African languages

2022. №1, 120-150

Nadezhda V. Makeeva
Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia;


The paper presents an overview of the ATR (advanced tongue root) feature, which is fairly widespread among the Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan languages of the Macro-Sudan Belt. The phonetic section provides a description of the articulatory and acoustic correlates of the feature. The review of the articulatory basis of the feature is presented in a historical perspective, from the fi rst cineradiographic studies of the 1960s till the laryngoscopic studies of the recent years. The paper shows how the introduction of new methods shifted attention from the tongue root movement, which had been given primacy in production of the contrast, to aryepiglotto-epiglottal constriction and a synergistic system of laryngeal articulations. The paper provides a description of several acoustic measures that have been found to correlate with the ATR feature: the frequency of the fi rst formant, the fi rst formant bandwidth, the spectral center of gravity, the relative intensity of the fi rst to the second formant. Similarities and differences between ATR, height and tenseness, which have been largely discussed in the literature, are also described in the paper. The phonological section provides an overview of ATR harmony systems. The main attention is paid to the strong crosslinguistic tendency for [+ATR] to function as the dominant value in languages with ATR contrast among high vowels, but for [−ATR] to be dominant in languages in which ATR is only contrastive for non-high vowels. The paper describes diff erent manifestations of ATR dominance (assimilatory, allophonic, and coalescent dominance) among two major types of underlying vowel inventories.

For citation:

Makeeva N. V. Phonetic and phonological properties of the advanced tongue root feature in African languages. Voprosy Jazykoznanija, 2022, 1: 120–150.


The work was supported by the Russian Science Foundation (project No. 17-78-20071).