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Replacing a non-velar or non-glottal consonant with a velar or glottal consonant.


Backing occurs whenever a non-velar or non-glottal consonant (i.e. a bilabial, labio-dental, dental, alveolar, post-alveolar or palatal consonant) is substituted by a velar /k ɡ ŋ/ or glottal /h ʔ/consonant.


duck /dʌk/ → /kʌk/          (syllable-initial backing)

bad /bæd/ → /bæɡ/          (syllable-final backing)


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In order to understand the process of backing, we need to be clear about which speech sounds constitute the group of non-velar and non-glottal consonants, and which sounds constitute the remaining group of velar and glottal consonants. The groupings are set out in Table 6.

Table 6. Distribution of non-velar,non-glottal and velar,glottal consonants

Table 6. Distribution of non-velar/non-glottal and velar/glottal consonants.

We see from Table 6 that the group of non-velar and non-glottal consonants incorporates the bilabials /p b m w/, the labio-dentals /f v/, the dentals /θ ð/, the alveolars / t d n s z l/, the post-alveolars /ʃ ʒ ʧ ʤ r/ and the palatal /j/. The place of articulation for all of these speech sounds is relatively further forwards in the mouth.

The group of velar and glottal consonants is, of course, made up of the velars /k g ŋ/ and the glottals /h ʔ/. The velars and the glottals are the sounds made furthest back in the mouth.

Backing occurs whenever a member of the non-velar and non-glottal consonant group (forward sounds) is substituted by a velar /k ɡ ŋ/ or glottal /h ʔ/consonant (sounds at the back of the mouth). For example, consider the word bun /bʌn/ realized as /gʌn/. Here, the voiced bilabial plosive /b/, which is made as far forward in the mouth as is possible, is substituted by the voiced velar plosive /g/, which is made far back in the mouth: hence the sound is said to be backed. We can illustrate this process visually with the following diagram.

backing image 1

In this example, the backed consonant /b/ appeared in syllable-initial position. Other examples of syllable-initial backing include the following.















Examples of syllable-final backing can also be found:















As with fronting, the voicing of the substituting consonant typically mirrors the voicing of the substituted consonant. We see that this mirroring has operated in the above examples. For instance, the voiceless /t/ in the word tie is backed through the substitution of the correspondingly voiceless /k/ to create /kaɪ/. Similarly, the voiced /d/ in the word head is backed by substituting the correspondingly voiced consonant /g/ to give /hɛg/.

Backing is less common than fronting but it can be observed in typically developing children from 2;00-3;00 years of age.

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