Nasal consonant

Nasal consonant

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Encyclopedia
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant
Consonant
In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are , pronounced with the lips; , pronounced with the front of the tongue; , pronounced with the back of the tongue; , pronounced in the throat; and ,...

 produced with a lowered velum
Soft palate
The soft palate is the soft tissue constituting the back of the roof of the mouth. The soft palate is distinguished from the hard palate at the front of the mouth in that it does not contain bone....

 in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 are [n] and [m], in words such as nose and mouth.

Definition


Nearly all nasal consonants are nasal stops (or nasal continuants), where air escapes through the nose but not through the mouth, as it is blocked by the lips or tongue. The oral cavity still acts as a resonance chamber for the sound. Rarely, consonants other than stop consonants may be nasalized
Nasalization
In phonetics, nasalization is the production of a sound while the velum is lowered, so that some air escapes through the nose during the production of the sound by the mouth...

.

Most nasals are voiced
VOICED
Virtual Organization for Innovative Conceptual Engineering Design is a virtual organization that promotes innovation in engineering design. This project is the collaborative work of researchers at five universities across the United States, and is funded by the National Science Foundation...

, and in fact the nasal sounds [n] and [m] are among the most common sounds cross-linguistically. Voiceless nasals do occur in a few languages, such as Burmese
Burmese language
The Burmese language is the official language of Burma. Although the constitution officially recognizes it as the Myanmar language, most English speakers continue to refer to the language as Burmese. Burmese is the native language of the Bamar and related sub-ethnic groups of the Bamar, as well as...

 and Welsh
Welsh language
Welsh is a member of the Brythonic branch of the Celtic languages spoken natively in Wales, by some along the Welsh border in England, and in Y Wladfa...

. (Compare oral plosives, which block off the air completely, and fricatives
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

, which obstruct the air with a narrow channel. Both stops and fricatives are more commonly voiceless than voiced, and are known as obstruent
Obstruent
An obstruent is a consonant sound formed by obstructing airflow, causing increased air pressure in the vocal tract, such as [k], [d͡ʒ] and [f]. In phonetics, articulation may be divided into two large classes: obstruents and sonorants....

s.)

In terms of acoustics, nasal stops are sonorant
Sonorant
In phonetics and phonology, a sonorant is a speech sound that is produced without turbulent airflow in the vocal tract; fricatives and plosives are not sonorants. Vowels are sonorants, as are consonants like and . Other consonants, like or , restrict the airflow enough to cause turbulence, and...

s, meaning that they do not significantly restrict the escape of air (as it can freely escape out the nose). However, nasals are also stops in their articulation because the flow of air through the mouth is blocked completely. This duality, a sonorant airflow through the nose along with an obstruction in the mouth, means that nasal stops behave both like sonorants and like obstruents. For example, nasal stops tend to pattern with other sonorants such as [r] and [l], but in many languages they may develop from or into plosives.

Acoustically, nasal stops have bands of energy at around 200 and 2,000 Hz.
Voiced Voiceless
Description IPA SAMPA
X-SAMPA
The Extended Speech Assessment Methods Phonetic Alphabet is a variant of SAMPA developed in 1995 by John C. Wells, professor of phonetics at the University of London. It is designed to unify the individual language SAMPA alphabets, and extend SAMPA to cover the entire range of characters in the...

Description IPA SAMPA
voiced bilabial nasal
Bilabial nasal
The bilabial nasal is a type of consonantal sound used in almost all spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is , and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is m...

 
[m] [m] voiceless bilabial nasal  [m̥] or [m̊] [m_0]
voiced labiodental nasal  [ɱ] [F] voiceless labiodental nasal [ɱ̥] or [ɱ̊] [F_0]
voiced dental nasal
Dental nasal
The dental nasal is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is .-Features:Features of the dental nasal:- Occurrence :...

 
[n̪] [n_d] voiceless dental nasal [n̪̥] or [n̪̊] [n_d_0]
voiced alveolar nasal
Alveolar nasal
The alveolar nasal is a type of consonantal sound used in numerous spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents dental, alveolar, and postalveolar nasals is , and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is n....

 
[n] [n] voiceless alveolar nasal  [n̥] or [n̊] [n_0]
voiced retroflex nasal  [ɳ] [n`] voiceless retroflex nasal [ɳ̥] or [ɳ̊] [n`_0]
voiced palatal nasal
Palatal nasal
The palatal nasal is a type of consonant, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is , a lowercase letter n with a leftward-pointing tail protruding from the bottom of the left stem of the letter. The equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is J...

 
[ɲ] [J] voiceless palatal nasal  [ɲ̥] or [ɲ̊] [J_0]
voiced velar nasal
Velar nasal
The velar nasal is the sound of ng in English sing. It is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is , and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is N....

, commonly written ng.
[ŋ] [N] voiceless velar nasal  [ŋ̥] or [ŋ̊] [N_0]
voiced uvular nasal  [ɴ] [N\] voiceless uvular nasal [ɴ̥] or [ɴ̊] [N\_0]

1. The symbol [n] is commonly used to represent the dental nasal as well, rather than n̪, as it is rarely distinguished from the alveolar
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

 nasal.

Examples of languages containing nasal consonants:

The voiced retroflex nasal is [ɳ] is a common sound in Indic languages.

The voiced palatal nasal [ɲ] is a common sound in European languages
Languages of Europe
Most of the languages of Europe belong to Indo-European language family. These are divided into a number of branches, including Romance, Germanic, Balto-Slavic, Greek, and others. The Uralic languages also have a significant presence in Europe, including the national languages Hungarian, Finnish,...

, such as: Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

 ñ; or French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 and Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

 gn; or Catalan
Catalan language
Catalan is a Romance language, the national and only official language of Andorra and a co-official language in the Spanish autonomous communities of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Valencian Community, where it is known as Valencian , as well as in the city of Alghero, on the Italian island...

, Hungarian
Hungarian language
Hungarian is a Uralic language, part of the Ugric group. With some 14 million speakers, it is one of the most widely spoken non-Indo-European languages in Europe....

 and Ganda ny; or Czech
Czech language
Czech is a West Slavic language with about 12 million native speakers; it is the majority language in the Czech Republic and spoken by Czechs worldwide. The language was known as Bohemian in English until the late 19th century...

 and Slovak
Slovak language
Slovak , is an Indo-European language that belongs to the West Slavic languages .Slovak is the official language of Slovakia, where it is spoken by 5 million people...

 ň; or Polish
Polish language
Polish is a language of the Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages, used throughout Poland and by Polish minorities in other countries...

 ń; or Occitan and Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

 nh; or Serbo-Croatian
Serbo-Croatian
Serbo-Croatian or Serbo-Croat, less commonly Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian , is a South Slavic language with multiple standards and the primary language of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro...

 nj.

English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

, German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 and Cantonese have [m], [n] and [ŋ]. Tamil
Tamil language
Tamil is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by Tamil people of the Indian subcontinent. It has official status in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and in the Indian union territory of Pondicherry. Tamil is also an official language of Sri Lanka and Singapore...

 possesses distinct letters to represent [m], [n̪], [n], [ɳ], [ɲ] and [ŋ] (ம,ந,ன,ண,ஞ,ங).

Catalan, Occitan, Spanish, and Italian have [m], [n], [ɲ] as phoneme
Phoneme
In a language or dialect, a phoneme is the smallest segmental unit of sound employed to form meaningful contrasts between utterances....

s, and [ɱ] and [ŋ] as allophones. (In several American dialects of Spanish, there is no palatal nasal but only a palatalized nasal, [nʲ], as in English canyon. In Brazilian Portuguese
Brazilian Portuguese
Brazilian Portuguese is a group of Portuguese dialects written and spoken by most of the 190 million inhabitants of Brazil and by a few million Brazilian emigrants, mainly in the United States, United Kingdom, Portugal, Canada, Japan and Paraguay....

 nh is frequently pronounced as a nasalized [ j ], that is, as a nasal glide. This vowel also exists in Guaraní.)

The term 'nasal stop' will often be abbreviated to just "nasal". However, there are also nasal fricatives, nasal flaps, nasal glide
Nasal glide
A nasal glide is a semivowel which is nasalized. It may be the*nasal palatal approximant or the*nasal labio-velar approximant In Bini, the nasalized allophones of the glides and are nasal stops, and ....

s, and nasal vowel
Nasal vowel
A nasal vowel is a vowel that is produced with a lowering of the velum so that air escapes both through nose as well as the mouth. By contrast, oral vowels are ordinary vowels without this nasalisation...

s, as in French, Portuguese, Catalan (dialectal feature), Yoruba
Yoruba language
Yorùbá is a Niger–Congo language spoken in West Africa by approximately 20 million speakers. The native tongue of the Yoruba people, it is spoken, among other languages, in Nigeria, Benin, and Togo and in communities in other parts of Africa, Europe and the Americas...

, Gbe, Polish, and Ljubljana Slovene. In the IPA, nasal vowels are indicated by placing a tilde (~) over the vowel in question: French sang [sɑ̃].

A select few languages use voiceless nasal consonants. Among them are Icelandic
Icelandic language
Icelandic is a North Germanic language, the main language of Iceland. Its closest relative is Faroese.Icelandic is an Indo-European language belonging to the North Germanic or Nordic branch of the Germanic languages. Historically, it was the westernmost of the Indo-European languages prior to the...

, Burmese
Burmese language
The Burmese language is the official language of Burma. Although the constitution officially recognizes it as the Myanmar language, most English speakers continue to refer to the language as Burmese. Burmese is the native language of the Bamar and related sub-ethnic groups of the Bamar, as well as...

, Jalapa Mazatec
Jalapa Mazatec
Jalapa Mazatec is a Mazatecan language, spoken by ca. 15,000 people, one-third of whom are monolingual, in 13 villages in the vicinity of the town of San Felipe Jalapa de Díaz in the Tuxtepec District of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. It is most closely related to Ixcatlán Mazatec, and somewhat more...

, Kildin Sami, Welsh
Welsh language
Welsh is a member of the Brythonic branch of the Celtic languages spoken natively in Wales, by some along the Welsh border in England, and in Y Wladfa...

, and Central Alaskan Yup'ik
Central Alaskan Yup'ik language
Central Alaskan Yup'ik or just Yup'ik is a Yupik language of the Eskimo language family, in turn a member of the Eskimo–Aleut language group, spoken in western and southwestern Alaska. Both in ethnic population and in number of speakers, Central Alaskan Yup'ik is the largest of the languages...

.

Languages without nasals


Few languages, perhaps 2.3%, contain no phonemically distinctive nasal consonants. This led Ferguson (1963) to assume that all languages have at least one primary nasal consonant. When a language is claimed to lack nasal consonants altogether, as with several Niger–Congo languages
Niger–Congo languages
The Niger–Congo languages constitute one of the world's major language families, and Africa's largest in terms of geographical area, number of speakers, and number of distinct languages. They may constitute the world's largest language family in terms of distinct languages, although this question...

, or the Pirahã language
Pirahã language
Pirahã is a language spoken by the Pirahã. The Pirahã are an indigenous people of Amazonas, Brazil, living along the Maici River, a tributary of the Amazon....

 of the Amazon, nasal and non-nasal or prenasalized consonants usually alternate allophonically
Allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

, and it is a theoretical claim on the part of the individual linguist that the nasal version is not the basic form of the consonant. In the case of some Niger–Congo languages, for example, nasal consonants occur before only nasal vowels. Since nasal vowels are phonemic, it simplifies the picture somewhat to assume that nasalization in stops is allophonic. There is then a second step in claiming that nasal vowels nasalize oral stops, rather than oral vowels denasalizing nasal stops, that is, whether [mã, mba] are phonemically /mbã, mba/ without full nasal stops, or /mã, ma/ without prenasalized stops. Postulating underlying oral or prenasalized rather than nasal consonants helps to explain the apparent instability of nasal correspondences throughout Niger–Congo compared with, for example, Indo-European. In older speakers of the Tlingit language
Tlingit language
The Tlingit language ) is spoken by the Tlingit people of Southeast Alaska and Western Canada. It is a branch of the Na-Dené language family. Tlingit is very endangered, with fewer than 140 native speakers still living, all of whom are bilingual or near-bilingual in English...

, [l] and [n] are allophones. Tlingit is usually described as having an unusual, perhaps unique lack of /l/ despite having six lateral obstruents
Lateral consonant
A lateral is an el-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth....

; the older generation could be argued to have /l/ but at the expense of having no nasals.

However, several of the Chimakuan, Salish
Salishan languages
The Salishan languages are a group of languages of the Pacific Northwest...

, and Wakashan languages surrounding Puget Sound
Puget Sound
Puget Sound is a sound in the U.S. state of Washington. It is a complex estuarine system of interconnected marine waterways and basins, with one major and one minor connection to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean — Admiralty Inlet being the major connection and...

, such as Quileute
Quileute language
Quileute , also known as Quillayute , is the only surviving Chimakuan language, spoken by a few Quileute and Makah elders on the western coast of the Olympic peninsula south of Cape Flattery at La Push and the lower Hoh River in Washington state, USA...

, Lushootseed
Lushootseed
Lushootseed is the language or dialect continuum of several SalishNative American groups of modern-day Washington state...

, and Makah
Makah language
The Makah language is the Indigenous language spoken by the Makah people. Makah has been extinct as a first language since 2002, when its last fluent native speaker died. However, it survives as a second language, and the Makah tribe is attempting to revive the language, including through preschool...

, are truly without any nasalization at all, in consonants or vowels, except in special speech registers such as baby-talk or the archaic speech of mythological figures (and perhaps not even that in the case of Quileute). This is an areal feature, only a few hundred years old, where nasal stops became voiced plosives ([m] became [b], etc). The only other places in the world where this occurs is in the central dialect of the Rotokas language
Rotokas language
Rotokas is an East Papuan language spoken by some 4000 people in Bougainville, an island to the east of New Guinea, part of Papua New Guinea. There are at least three dialects of the language: Central Rotokas , Aita Rotokas, and Pipipaia...

 of Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea , officially the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, is a country in Oceania, occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and numerous offshore islands...

, where nasal stops are used only when imitating foreign accents (a second dialect does have nasal stops).