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Term Definition

Coronals are consonants (a type of flap) articulated with the flexible front part of the tongue. Only the coronal consonants can be divided into apical (using the tip of the tongue), laminal (using the blade of the tongue), domed (with the tongue bunched up), or subapical (using the underside of the tongue), as well as a few rarer orientations, because only the front of the tongue has such dexterity.

The coronal is a form of consonant; it is defined by the fact that the sound is made in speech through the use of the frontal part of the tongue—the more flexible part. 

The coronal can be divided up into several different subcategories, based on how exactly the tongue moves when the sound is being made. Obviously, everyone makes use of coronal consonants, all the time, without even knowing it. The coronal is an important part of just about any language, although it is primarily only professional linguists who know them by that name. 

Examples of coronals

You know that you are making use of a coronal consonant if your tongue curves and moves upward, toward the roof of your mouth, when you are making the sound in your speech. This is the main rule for defining the coronal. Essentially, it is all about the movement of the tongue when the sound is being produced. Most coronals are also flaps.

The main examples of the coronal within the English language are the sounds, t, d, n, s, z, and l. Try it: you will see that every time you make one of these sounds, your tongue curves upward and touches the part of your mouth right behind your front teeth. 

There are different kinds of subcategories of the coronal, depending on how exactly the tongue moves when the sound is being made.

These subcategories include

1. the domed coronal, when the tongue kind of bunches up when the sound is being made; 

2. the apical coronal, which primarily focuses on the tip of the tongue; 

3. the subapical coronal, which focuses on the bottom of the tongue;

4. the laminal coronal, which focuses on the blade of the tongue. 

For every coronal, though, the important point is that the tip of the tongue moves in an upward direction. 

Use in linguistic analysis

Study of the coronal can be useful for the purposes of linguistic analysis. For example, the Dutch language has similar coronal sounds to the English language, which is an indicator of the historical and linguistic affinities of those languages. On the other hand, the Romance languages tend to have somewhat different sounds—both coronal and otherwise—from the Germanic languages, which is one of the main rationales for why these are two separate language families in the first place. 

For practical purposes, it is not necessary for the speaker of a language to actually be aware of the concept of the coronal. Rather, when a child learns to speak, he simply masters all the relevant sounds of his native language (including the coronal sounds) through mimicry, without any conceptual awareness to speak of. The technical concept of the coronal is primarily of interest to professional linguists. 

However, awareness of the concept of the coronal may have some use for adults who are trying to learn foreign languages. For example, if a foreign language speaker is having difficult making certain English sounds, then it may be helpful for him to literally know how his tongue is supposed to move when making that sound. Knowing that the tongue is supposed to rise when making the t coronal sound may actually help him learn how to make that sound. 

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Synonyms: coronal

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