In articulatory phonetics, the place of articulation (also point of articulation) of a consonant is the point of contact where an obstruction occurs in the vocal tract between an active (moving) articulator (typically some part of the tongue) and a passive (stationary) articulator (typically some part of the roof of the mouth). Along with the manner of articulation and phonation, this gives the consonant its distinctive sound.
A place of articulation is defined as both the active and passive articulators. For instance, the active lower lip may contact either a passive upper lip (bilabial, like [m]) or the upper teeth (labiodental, like [f]). The hard palate may be contacted by either the front or the back of the tongue. If the front of the tongue is used, the place is called retroflex; if the back of the tongue ("dorsum") is used, the place is called "dorsal-palatal", or more commonly, just palatal.
There are five basic active articulators: the lip ("labial consonants"), the flexible front of the tongue ("coronal consonants"), the middle/back of the tongue ("dorsal consonants"), the root of the tongue together with the epiglottis ("radical consonants"), and the larynx ("laryngeal consonants"). These articulators can act independently of each other, and two or more may work together in what is called coarticulation (see below).
The passive articulation, on the other hand, is a continuum without many clear-cut boundaries. The places linguolabial and interdental, interdental and dental, dental and alveolar, alveolar and palatal, palatal and velar, velar and uvular merge into one another, and a consonant may be pronounced somewhere between the named places.
In addition, when the front of the tongue is used, it may be the upper surface or blade of the tongue that makes contact ("laminal consonants"), the tip of the tongue ("apical consonants"), or the under surface ("sub-apical consonants"). These articulations also merge into one another without clear boundaries.
A homorganic nasal rule is a case where the point of articulation of the initial sound is assimilated by the last sound in a prefix. An example of this rule is found in language Yoruba, where ba, "hide", becomes mba, "is hiding", while sun, "sleep", becomes nsun, "is sleeping".
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|Active gesture||Active + passive place of articulation|
|Laminal postalveolar ("retroflex" #1)|
|Domed (partially palatalized)||Domed postalveolar ("palato-alveolar")|
|Palatalized||Palatalized postalveolar ("alveolo-palatal")|
|Apical postalveolar ("retroflex" #2)|
|Subapical||Subapical (pre)palatal ("retroflex" #3)|
|Prevelar (or medio-palatal)|
Some languages have consonants with two simultaneous places of articulation, called coarticulation. When these are doubly articulated, the articulators must be independently movable, and therefore there may only be one each from the categories labial, coronal, dorsal, and radical. (The glottis controls phonation and sometimes the airstream, and is not considered an articulator.)
Some common coarticulations include: