World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Nasal consonant

Article Id: WHEBN0000022110
Reproduction Date:

Title: Nasal consonant  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Khanty language, Vowel, Distinctive feature, Pohnpeian language, Ancient Greek phonology
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Nasal consonant


In phonetics, a nasal, also called a nasal occlusive, nasal stop in contrast with a nasal fricative, or nasal continuant, is an occlusive consonant produced with a lowered velum, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasals in English are [n] and [m], in words such as nose and mouth. Nasal occlusives are nearly universal in human languages. There are also other kinds of nasal consonants in some languages.


Nearly all nasal consonants are nasal occlusives, where air escapes through the nose but not through the mouth, as it is blocked (occluded) by the lips or tongue. The oral cavity still acts as a resonance chamber for the sound. Rarely, non-occlusive consonants may be nasalized.

Most nasals are voiced, 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, Welsh, Icelandic and Guaraní. (Compare oral stops, which block off the air completely, and fricatives, which obstruct the air with a narrow channel. Both stops and fricatives are more commonly voiceless than voiced, and are known as obstruents.)

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

Acoustically, nasals have bands of energy at around 200 and 2,000 Hz.

Voiced Voiceless
Description Description IPA
voiced bilabial nasal [m] voiceless bilabial nasal [m̥]
voiced labiodental nasal [ɱ] voiceless labiodental nasal [ɱ̊]
voiced dental nasal [n̪] voiceless dental nasal [n̪̊]
voiced alveolar nasal [n] voiceless alveolar nasal [n̥]
voiced retroflex nasal [ɳ] voiceless retroflex nasal [ɳ̊ ]
voiced palatal nasal [ɲ] voiceless palatal nasal [ ɲ̥]
voiced velar nasal [ŋ] voiceless velar nasal [ŋ̊]
voiced uvular nasal [ɴ] voiceless uvular nasal [ɴ̥]

1. ^ The symbol n is commonly used to represent the dental nasal as well, rather than , as it is rarely distinguished from the alveolar nasal.

Examples of languages containing nasal occlusives:

The voiced retroflex nasal is [ɳ] is a common sound in Languages of India.

The voiced palatal nasal [ɲ] is a common sound in European languages, such as: Spanish ñ, French and Italian gn, Catalan and Hungarian ny, Czech and Slovak ň, Polish ń, Occitan and Portuguese nh, Serbo-Croatian nj, and (before a vowel) Modern Greek νι.

Many Germanic languages, including German, Dutch, English and Swedish, as well as Sinitic languages such as Mandarin and Cantonese, have [m], [n] and [ŋ]. Tamil has a six-fold distinction between [m], [n̪], [n], [ɳ], [ɲ] and [ŋ] (ம,ந,ன,ண,ஞ,ங).

Catalan, Occitan, Spanish, and Italian have [m], [n], [ɲ] as phonemes, and [ɱ] and [ŋ] as allophones. Nevertheless, in several American dialects of Spanish, there is no palatal nasal but only a palatalized nasal, [nʲ], as in English canyon.

In Brazilian Portuguese and Angolan Portuguese [ɲ], written nh, is typically pronounced as [ȷ̃], that is, as a nasal palatal approximant, a nasal glide (in Polish this feature is also possible as an allophone). Semivowels in Portuguese often nasalize before and always after nasal vowels, resulting in [ȷ̃] and []. What would be coda nasal occlusives in other West Iberian languages is only slightly pronounced before dental consonants, outside this environment the nasality is spread over the vowel or become a nasal diphthong (e.g. mambembe [mɐ̃ˈbẽjbi], outside the final, only in Brazil, and mantém [mɐ̃ˈtẽj ~ mɐ̃ˈtɐ̃j] in all Portuguese dialects).

The term 'nasal occlusive' (or 'nasal stop') is generally abbreviated to nasal. However, there are also nasalized fricatives, nasalized flaps, nasal glides, and nasal vowels, as in French, Portuguese, and Polish. In the , nasal vowels and nasalized consonants are indicated by placing a tilde (~) over the vowel or consonant in question: French sang [sɑ̃], Portuguese bom [bõ].

Voiceless nasals

A few languages have phonemic voiceless nasal occlusives. Among them are Icelandic, Burmese, Jalapa Mazatec, Kildin Sami, Welsh, and Central Alaskan Yup'ik. Iaai of New Caledonia has an unusually large number of them, with /m̥ m̥ʷ n̪̥ ɳ̊  ɲ̊ ŋ̊/.

Other kinds of nasal consonant

Ladefoged and Maddieson (1996) distinguish purely nasal consonants, the nasal occlusives such as m n ng in which the airflow is purely nasal, from partial nasal consonants such as prenasalized stops and prestopped nasals, which are nasal for only part of their duration, as well as from nasalized consonants, which have simultaneous oral and nasal airflow.[1] In some languages, such as Portuguese, a nasal consonant may have occlusive and non-occlusive allophones. In general, therefore, a nasal consonant may be:

Languages without nasals

Few languages, perhaps 2%,[2] contain no phonemically distinctive nasals. This led Ferguson (1963) to assume that all languages have at least one primary nasal occlusive. When a language is claimed to lack nasals altogether, as with several Niger–Congo languages[3] or the Pirahã language of the Amazon, nasal and non-nasal or prenasalized consonants usually alternate allophonically, and it is a theoretical claim on the part of the individual linguist that the nasal is not the basic form of the consonant. In the case of some Niger–Congo languages, for example, nasals occur before only nasal vowels. Since nasal vowels are phonemic, it simplifies the picture somewhat to assume that nasalization in occlusives is allophonic. There is then a second step in claiming that nasal vowels nasalize oral occlusives, rather than oral vowels denasalizing nasal occlusives, that is, whether [mã, mba] are phonemically /mbã, mba/ without full nasals, or /mã, ma/ without prenasalized stops. Postulating underlying oral or prenasalized stops rather than true nasals helps to explain the apparent instability of nasal correspondences throughout Niger–Congo compared with, for example, Indo-European.[4]

However, this comes at the expense, in some languages, of postulating either a single nasal consonant that can only be syllabic, or a larger set of nasal vowels than oral vowels, both typologically odd situations. The way such a situation could develop is illustrated by a Jukunoid language, Wukari. Wukari allows oral vowels in syllables like ba, mba and nasal vowels in bã, mã, suggesting that nasals become prenasalized stops before oral vowels. Historically, however, *mb became **mm before nasal vowels, and then reduced to *m, leaving the current asymmetric distribution.[5]

In older speakers of the Tlingit language, [l] and [n] are allophones. Tlingit is usually described as having an unusual, perhaps unique lack of /l/ despite having six lateral obstruents; the older generation could be argued to have /l/ but at the expense of having no nasals.

However, several of the Chimakuan, Salish, and Wakashan languages surrounding Puget Sound, such as Quileute, Lushootseed, and Makah, 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 nasals became voiced stops ([m] became [b], etc.). The only other places in the world where this occurs is in the central dialect of the Rotokas language of Papua New Guinea, where nasals are used only when imitating foreign accents (a second dialect has nasals).

The unconditioned loss of nasals is considered unusual. However, currently in Korean, word-initial /m/ and /n/ are shifting to [b] and [d]. This started out in nonstandard dialects and was restricted to the beginning of prosodic units (a common position for fortition), but has expanded to many speakers of the standard language to the beginnings of common words even within prosodic units.[6]

See also


  1. ^  
  2. ^ Maddieson, Ian. 2008. Absence of Common Consonants. In: Haspelmath, Martin & Dryer, Matthew S. & Gil, David & Comrie, Bernard (eds.) The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library, chapter 18. Available online at Accessed on 2008-09-15.
  3. ^ These languages lie in a band from western Liberia to southeastern Nigeria, and north to southern Burkina. They include:
    • Liberia: Kpelle (Mande); Grebo, Klao (Kru)
    • Burkina Faso: Bwamu (Gur)
    • Ivory Coast: Dan, Guro-Yaoure, Wan-Mwan, Gban/Gagu, Tura (Mande); Senadi/Senufo (Gur); Nyabwa, Wè (Kru); Ebrié, Avikam, Abure (Kwa)
    • Ghana: Abron, Akan, Ewe (Kwa)
    • Benin: Gen, Fon (Kwa)
    • Nigeria: Mbaise Igbo, Ikwere (Igboid)
    • CAR: Yakoma (Ubangi)
    (Heine & Nurse, eds, 2008, A Linguistic Geography of Africa, p.46)
  4. ^ As noted by Kay Williamson (1989:24).
  5. ^ Larry Hyman, 1975. "Nasal states and nasal processes." In Nasalfest: Papers from a Symposium on Nasals and Nasalization, pp. 249–264
  6. ^ Yoshida, Kenji, 2008. "Phonetic implementation of Korean 'denasalization' and its variation related to prosody". IULC Working Papers, vol. 8.


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.