AskDefine | Define retroflex

Dictionary Definition

retroflex adj
1 bent or curved backward [syn: retroflexed]
2 pronounced with the tip of the tongue turned back toward the hard palate [syn: cacuminal]


1 bend or turn backward [syn: replicate]
2 articulate (a consonant) with the tongue curled back against the palate; "Indian accents can be characterized by the fact that speakers retroflex their consonants"

User Contributed Dictionary



From retroflexus, the perfect participle of retroflecto, from flecto.


  • a RP /ˈrɛt.ɹəʊ.flɛks/
  • a US /ˈrɛt.ɹə.flɛks/


  1. Bent or curved backwards.
  2. : Of pronunciation in which the tip of the tongue is raised and bent backwards, so that the underside of the tongue is behind the alveolar ridge or touches the palate.


Related terms


bent backwards
of pronunciation in which the tongue is bent backwards
  • French: rétroflexe

See also

Extensive Definition

In phonetics, retroflex consonants are consonant sounds used in some languages. (They are sometimes referred to as cerebral consonants, especially in indology.) The tongue is placed behind the alveolar ridge, and may even be curled back to touch the palate: that is, they are articulated in the postalveolar to palatal region of the mouth.
The consonants commonly called "postalveolar", or more precisely "palato-alveolar", as well as the "alveolo-palatals", are also pronounced in the postalveolar region. However, they have an additional secondary articulation of palatalization. The consonants commonly called "palatal" are also pronounced in the palatal region, but are more precisely "dorso-palatal", meaning that they are dorsal (articulated with the dorsum or back of the tongue), rather than coronal like retroflex consonants.
In other words, retroflex consonants are coronal consonants articulated behind the alveolar ridge, which do not have the secondary articulation of palatalization.
Retroflex consonants, like other coronals, may involve several shapes of the tongue. The tongue may be flat, with the blade of the tongue (the top surface of the tongue near the tip) touching the roof of the mouth, as in Polish cz, sz, ż (rz), dż and Mandarin zh, ch, sh, r. This is termed laminal (laminal retroflex). Or they may be pronounced with the tip of the tongue, as in Hindi. This is termed apical (apical retroflex). Finally, the tongue may be curled back so that the underside touches the alveolar or pre-palatal region, as in many of the Dravidian languages. This is termed sub-apical (sub-apical retroflex).


Although data are not precise, about 20 percent of the world's languages contain retroflex consonants of one sort or another. About half of these possess only retroflex continuants, with most of the rest having both stops and continuants. Retroflex consonants are relatively rare among European languages, occurring in Sardinian, some southern Italian dialects such as Sicilian, in Swedish and Norwegian (where a sequences of r plus a coronal consonant may be replaced by the coronal's retroflex equivalent, e.g. the name Martin would be pronounced [maʈin]. Also, this is sometimes done for several consonants in a row after an r - Hornstull is pronounced [hoɳʂʈul]). Polish and Russian possess retroflex sibilants, but no stops or liquids at this place of articulation. They are also largely absent from indigenous languages of the Americas with the exception of the extreme south of South America and an area in Southwestern US, as in Hopi and Papago. In African languages retroflex consonants are also very rare, reportedly occurring in a few Nilo-Saharan languages. In southwest Ethiopia, phonemically distinctive retroflex consonants are found in Bench and Sheko, two contiguous, but not closely related, Omotic languages.
Retroflex consonants are concentrated in the Indo-Aryan languages and the Dravidian languages of the Indian subcontinent. They also occur in some other Asian languages such as Mandarin Chinese, Javanese and Vietnamese. The other major concentration is in the indigenous languages of Australia and the Western Pacific (notably New Caledonia). Here, most languages have retroflex plosives, nasal and approximants.
There are several retroflex consonants not yet recognized by the IPA. For example, the Iwaidja language of northern Australia has a retroflex lateral flap [ɺ̡] as well as a retroflex tap [ɽ] and retroflex lateral approximant [ɭ]; and the Dravidian language Toda has a sub-apical retroflex lateral fricative [ɬ̡] and a retroflexed trill [ɽ͡r]. Because of the regularity of deriving retroflex symbols from their alveolar counterparts, people will occasionally use a font editor to create the appropriate symbols for such sounds. (Here they were written with diacritics.) The Ngad'a language of Flores has been reported to have a retroflex implosive , but in this case the expected symbol is coincidentally supported by Unicode. Sub-apical retroflex clicks occur in Central Juu and in Damin.
Retroflex consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:
Note: In the International Phonetic Alphabet, the symbols for retroflex consonants are typically the same as for the alveolar consonants, but with the addition of a right-facing hook to the bottom of the symbol. Some linguists restrict these symbols for the "true" retroflex consonants with sub-apical palatal articulation, and use the alveolar symbols with the obsolete IPA underdot symbol for an apical post-alveolar articulation: [ṭ, ḍ, ṇ, ṣ, ẓ, ḷ, ɾ̣, ɹ̣]. Another solution, more in keeping with the official IPA, would be to use the rhotic diacritic for the apical retroflexes: [t˞, d˞, n˞, s˞, z˞, l˞, ɾ˞, ɹ˞]. Laminal retroflexes, as in Polish and Russian, are often transcribed with a retraction diacritic, as [s̱], etc. Otherwise they are typically but inaccurately transcribed as if they were palato-alveolar, as *[ʃ], etc.


retroflex in Arabic: ارتدادي
retroflex in Bengali: মূর্ধন্য ব্যঞ্জনধ্বনি
retroflex in Breton: Kensonenn tro-gil
retroflex in Czech: Retroflexní souhláska
retroflex in German: Retroflex
retroflex in Spanish: Consonante retrofleja
retroflex in Esperanto: Retroflekso
retroflex in French: Consonne rétroflexe
retroflex in Korean: 권설음
retroflex in Indonesian: Konsonan tarik-belakang
retroflex in Italian: Consonante retroflessa
retroflex in Hebrew: עיצורים מהופכים
retroflex in Latvian: Retroflekss līdzskanis
retroflex in Dutch: Retroflex
retroflex in Japanese: そり舌音
retroflex in Norwegian: Retrofleks
retroflex in Polish: Retrofleksja (fonetyka)
retroflex in Portuguese: Consoante retroflexa
retroflex in Russian: Ретрофлексные согласные
retroflex in Swedish: Retroflex konsonant
retroflex in Chinese: 捲舌音

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

accented, allophone, alveolar, apical, apico-alveolar, apico-dental, arch, articulated, articulation, aspiration, assimilated, assimilation, back, backslide, barytone, bend, bend back, bilabial, bow, broad, cacuminal, central, cerebral, check, checked, close, cock, consonant, consonantal, continuant, crook, curl, curve, decurve, deflect, dental, diphthong, dissimilated, dissimilation, dome, dorsal, embow, epenthetic vowel, explosive, fall astern, fall behind, flat, flex, front, get behind, glide, glossal, glottal, glottalization, go backwards, go behind, guttural, hard, heavy, high, hook, hump, hunch, incurvate, incurve, inflect, intonated, jerk back, labial, labialization, labiodental, labiovelar, lapse, laryngeal, lateral, lax, light, lingual, liquid, loop, lose ground, low, manner of articulation, mid, modification, monophthong, monophthongal, morphophoneme, mute, muted, narrow, nasal, nasalized, occlusive, open, oxytone, palatal, palatalized, parasitic vowel, peak, pharyngeal, pharyngealization, pharyngealized, phone, phoneme, phonemic, phonetic, phonic, pitch, pitched, plosive, posttonic, prothetic vowel, pull back, recede, recidivate, recurve, reflect, reflex, regress, relapse, retrocede, retrograde, retrogress, return, revert, round, rounded, sag, segmental phoneme, semivowel, slip back, soft, sonant, sonority, speech sound, stop, stopped, stressed, strong, surd, swag, sweep, syllabic, syllabic nucleus, syllabic peak, syllable, tense, thick, throaty, tonal, tonic, transition sound, triphthong, turn, twangy, unaccented, unrounded, unstressed, vault, velar, vocable, vocalic, vocoid, voice, voiced, voiced sound, voiceless, voiceless sound, voicing, vowel, vowellike, weak, wide, wind
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