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August 25, 2013

The Nasal Consonants


Definition

Nasals (also called nasal stops, nasal occlusives, or nasal continuants) are types of consonant sounds. These are called nasals because during their articulation the airflow escapes through the nasal cavity as there is a complete closure in the oral cavity.

Plosives vs. Nasals

The nasal sounds are produced in exactly the same position in the mouth as the pairs of plosives /p/-/b/, / t/-/d/, and /k/-/g/, consequently some phoneticians call them nasal stops. Like plosives, nasals are produced by blocking the airstream completely in the oral cavity. The difference is that for nasals the air pressure is not allowed to build up behind the closure, rather it is allowed to escape through the nasal cavity by lowering the soft palate (velum). Therefore, with a sharp contrast to plosives, it is possible to take a breath and prolong a nasal sound.

Classification

There are only three nasal consonants in English: /m/, /n/, and /ŋ/. They are generally described on three bases:
(1) Manner of Articulation
The manner of articulation refers to  how the articulators approach to each other to create a closure. It also determines the type and degree of hindrance the airflow meets on its way out affected by the closure. The closure takes different manners for different sounds. For instance, during the articulation of the nasal sounds the following sequence of events occurs:
  • The articulators completely block the oral cavity of air; the soft palate is lowered so that the air can escape through the nasal cavity.
  • During the escape of air through the nasal cavity, the vocal folds are together and vibrate.
  • As the air pressure is released through the nose, there is usually not an audible burst when the oral closure is released.
  • When the nasal sound is finished the oral closure is released, unless this is prevented by the requirements of the next sound.
(2) Place/Point of Articulation
The place of articulator refers to the place or point where the speech organs create a closure by either coming close or near contact. This is the place where the sound is produced. There are three types of closures producing nasal sounds:
  1. Bilabial
  2. Alveolar
  3. Velar
(3) Voicing/Phonation
Voicing refers to whether or not the vocal folds are vibrating. If the vocal folds vibrate during the articulation then a voiced sound is produced. Contrariwise, if the vocal folds do not vibrate then a voiceless sound is produced. Some phoneticians use the terms Lenis and Fortis to describe the voiced and voiceless sounds respectively. In English all nasals are voiced sounds.

All three nasal sounds can be summarized in the following table:

Nasals
/m/
/n/
/
Place/Point of Articulation
bilabial
alveolar
velar
Manner of Articulation
nasal
nasal
nasal
Voicing/Phonation
voiced
(lenis)
voiced
(lenis)
Voiced
(lenis)

Detailed Description of Nasals

/m/-Bilabial Nasal
Place of Articulation: The upper and the lower lips. The position of the articulators for this sound is shown in the following illustration:

Bilabial Nasal


Manner of Articulation: During the articulation of /m/ the two lips are pressed together and a closure is made. The soft palate is lowered; consequently the air then goes up the nasal cavity and passes out through the nose.

Voicing: During the articulation of /m/ the vocal folds vibrate, hence it is a voiced bilabial nasal sound.
Distribution: /m/ can occur initially, medially, and finally, for instance:

Nasal Initial Medial Final
/m/ mat laymen gum
/n/-Alveolar Nasal
Place of Articulation: The tip of the tongue and the alveolar ridge. The position of the articulators for this sound is shown in the following illustration:

Alveolar Nasal


Manner of Articulation: During the articulation of /n/the tip of the tongue touches the alveolar ridge and creates a closure. The air is held behind the closure for a while. The soft palate is lowered; consequently the air then goes up the nasal cavity and passes out through the nose.

Voicing: During the articulation of /n/ the vocal folds vibrate, hence it is a voiced alveolar nasal sound.
Distribution: /n/ can occur initially, medially, and finally, for instance:

Nasal Initial Medial Final
/n/ naive sand gun
/ŋ/- Velar Nasal
Place of Articulation: The back of the tongue and the soft plate. The position of the articulators for this sound is shown in the following illustration:

Velar Nasal


Manner of Articulation: During the articulation the back of the tongue comes near the soft palate and creates a closure. The soft palate is lowered; consequently the air then goes up the nasal cavity and passes out through the nose.

Voicing: During the articulation of /ŋ/ the vocal folds vibrate, hence it is a voiced velar nasal sound.
Distribution: /n/ can occur medially, and finally, for instance:

Nasal Initial Medial Final
/ŋ/
-
ankle bring




References


“Consonants.” SLT Info. 2013. SLTInfo.20 August 2013
<http://www.sltinfo.com/consonants.html>.

Mannell,  Robert.“Articulation of Nasal Stops.” Macquarie University. 2009.
Macquarie University.20 August 2013
<http://clas.mq.edu.au/phonetics/phonetics/consonants/nasal_stops.html>.

Roach, Peter. English Phonetics and Phonology: A self-contained, comprehensive pronunciation course.
3rd ed. Cambridge: CUP, 2000.

Varshney, Dr. R.L.  An Introduction of Linguistics & Phonetics. Dhaka: BOC, n.d. 92-93.

Yule, George. The Study of Language. 2nd ed. Cambridge: CUP, 1996. 46.


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1 comment:

  1. I just wanted to thank you for an excellent series of posts on English consonants. I'm a teacher trainer in Mexico and will be directing my trainee teachers to your blog.

    Nora Díaz

    ReplyDelete

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