Glossary of Linguistic Terms

Ambiguous Segment


An ambiguous segment is a phone that may or may not function as the nucleus of a syllable.


An ambiguous segment may also be described as functioning as either a vowel or a consonant, depending on its position in a syllable.


Here is a table that gives a description of some kinds of ambiguous segments with examples of each:


Ambiguous segment


Intervocalic glides and close vowels

[i], [u], [j], [w]

Mid vowels (if there are no corresponding close vowels found in the same context)

[e], [o]

Voiceless segments

[h], [Q8], [E8]

Nasals/nasalized segments

[n], [n`], [®â]


[l], [l`]

Velar and bilabial voiced fricatives

[Ä] (which may correspond to [&u0268;]); [B] (which may correspond to [u])

Retroflexed vowels and approximates

[eÕ], [&u0279;]


(Close vowels in certain environments)

Close vowels (for example, [i] and [w]) are not usually considered ambiguous in the following environments:

  • Between two consonants
  • Between a consonant and a word boundary
  • When they are stressed
  • When they bear tone
See Also: 

Glossary Hierarchy