Last updated
IPA Number 424
Entity (decimal)̃
Unicode (hex)U+0303

In phonetics, nasalization (or nasalisation) 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[ citation needed ]. An archetypal nasal sound is [n].


In the International Phonetic Alphabet, nasalization is indicated by printing a tilde diacritic U+0303̃COMBINING TILDE (HTML ̃) above the symbol for the sound to be nasalized: [ã] is the nasalized equivalent of [a], and [ṽ] is the nasalized equivalent of [v]. A subscript diacritic [ą], called an ogonek or nosinė, is sometimes seen, especially when the vowel bears tone marks that would interfere with the superscript tilde. For example, [ą̄ ą́ ą̀ ą̂ ą̌] are more legible in most fonts than [ã̄ ã́ ã̀ ã̂ ã̌].

Nasal vowels

Nasal vowels are found in over 20% of the languages around the world, such as French, Polish, Portuguese, Breton, Gheg Albanian, Hindi, Nepali, Bengali, Oriya, Hmong, Hokkien, Urdu, Yoruba and Cherokee. Those nasal vowels contrast with their corresponding oral vowels. Nasality is usually seen as a binary feature, although surface variation in different degrees of nasality caused by neighboring nasal consonants has been observed. [1]

Degree of nasality

There are occasional languages, such as in Palantla Chinantec, where vowels seem to exhibit three contrastive degrees of nasality: oral e.g. [e] vs lightly nasalized [ẽ] vs heavily nasalized [e͌], [2] [3] although Ladefoged and Maddieson believe that the lightly nasalized vowels are best described as oro-nasal diphthongs. [4] Note that Ladefoged and Maddieson's transcription of heavy nasalization with a double tilde might be confused with the extIPA adoption of that diacritic for velopharyngeal frication.

Nasal consonants

By far the most common nasal sounds are nasal consonants such as [m], [n] or [ŋ]. Most nasal consonants are occlusives, and airflow through the mouth is blocked and redirected through the nose. Their oral counterparts are the stops [ citation needed ].

Nasalized consonants

Nasalized versions of other consonant sounds also exist but are much rarer than either nasal occlusives or nasal vowels. Some South Arabian languages use phonemic nasalized fricatives, such as /z̃/, which sounds something like a simultaneous [n] and [z]. The Middle Chinese consonant ([ȵʑ]; [ʐ] in modern Standard Chinese) has an odd history; for example, it has evolved into [ ʐ ] and [ɑɻ] (or [ ɻ ] and [ ɚ ] respectively, depending on accents) in Standard Chinese; [ z ]/[ ʑ ] and [ n ] in Hokkien; [z]/[ʑ] and [n]/[ n̠ʲ ] while borrowed into Japan. It seems likely that it was once a nasalized fricative, perhaps a palatal [ʝ̃].

In Coatzospan Mixtec, fricatives and affricates are nasalized before nasal vowels even when they are voiceless. In the Hupa, the velar nasal /ŋ/ often has the tongue not make full contact, resulting in a nasalized approximant, [ɰ̃]. That is cognate with a nasalized palatal approximant [ȷ̃] in other Athabaskan languages.

In Umbundu, phonemic /ṽ/ contrasts with the (allophonically) nasalized approximant [w̃] and so is likely to be a true fricative rather than an approximant.[ further explanation needed ] In Old and Middle Irish, the lenited m was a nasalized bilabial fricative. [5]

Sundanese has an allophonic nasalized glottal stop [ʔ̃]; nasalized stops can occur only with pharyngeal articulation or lower, or they would be simple nasals. [6] Nasal flaps are common allophonically. Many West African languages have a nasal flap [ɾ̃] (or [n̆]) as an allophone of /ɾ/ before a nasal vowel; Pashto, however, has a phonemic nasal retroflex lateral flap.

Other languages, such as the Khoisan languages of Khoekhoe and Gǀui, as well as several of the !Kung languages, include nasal click consonants. Nasal clicks are typically with a nasal or superscript nasal preceding the consonant (for example, velar-palatal ŋ͡ǂ or ᵑǂ and uvular-palatal ɴ͡ǂ or ᶰǂ). [7] Nasalized laterals such as [l̃] are easy to produce but rare or nonexistent as phonemes; allophonically, they may appear in some Portuguese words like enlatar or enlamear. Often when /l/ is nasalized, it becomes [n].

True nasal fricatives

Nasal fricative

Besides nasalized oral fricatives, there are true nasal fricatives, or anterior nasal fricatives, previously called nareal fricatives. They are sometimes produced by people with disordered speech. The turbulence in the airflow characteristic of fricatives is produced not in the mouth but at the anterior nasal port, the narrowest part of the nasal cavity. (Turbulence can also be produced at the posterior nasal port, or velopharyngeal port, when that port is narrowed see velopharyngeal fricative. With anterior nasal fricatives, the velopharyngeal port is open.) A superimposed homothetic sign that resembles a colon divided by a tilde is used for this in the extensions to the IPA: [n͋] is a voiced alveolar nasal fricative, with no airflow out of the mouth, and [n̥͋] is the voiceless equivalent; [v͋] is an oral fricative with simultaneous nasal frication. No known language makes use of nasal fricatives in non-disordered speech.


Nasalization may be lost over time. There are also denasal sounds, which sound like nasals spoken with a head cold. They may be found in non-pathological speech as a language loses nasal consonants, as in Korean.

Contextual nasalization

Vowels assimilate to surrounding nasal consonants in many languages, such as Thai, creating nasal vowel allophones. Some languages exhibit a nasalization of segments adjacent to phonemic or allophonic nasal vowels, such as Apurinã.

Contextual nasalization can lead to the addition of nasal vowel phonemes to a language. [8] That happened in French, most of whose final consonants disappeared, but its final nasals made the preceding vowels become nasal, which introduced a new distinction into the language. An example is vin blanc [vɛ̃ blɑ̃] ('white wine'), ultimately from Latin vinum and blancum.

See also

Related Research Articles

Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough nor with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no turbulence. This class is composed of sounds like and semivowels like and, as well as lateral approximants like.

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 ; or the side of the tongue against the molars, in the case of Welsh. This turbulent airflow is called frication.

A lateral is a consonant in which the airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but it is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth. An example of a lateral consonant is the English L, as in Larry.

Manner of articulation

In articulatory phonetics, the manner of articulation is the configuration and interaction of the articulators when making a speech sound. One parameter of manner is stricture, that is, how closely the speech organs approach one another. Others include those involved in the r-like sounds, and the sibilancy of fricatives.

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

In linguistics, voicelessness is the property of sounds being pronounced without the larynx vibrating. Phonologically, it is a type of phonation, which contrasts with other states of the larynx, but some object that the word phonation implies voicing and that voicelessness is the lack of phonation.

The field of articulatory phonetics is a subfield of phonetics that studies articulation and ways that humans produce speech. Articulatory phoneticians explain how humans produce speech sounds via the interaction of different physiological structures. Generally, articulatory phonetics is concerned with the transformation of aerodynamic energy into acoustic energy. Aerodynamic energy refers to the airflow through the vocal tract. Its potential form is air pressure; its kinetic form is the actual dynamic airflow. Acoustic energy is variation in the air pressure that can be represented as sound waves, which are then perceived by the human auditory system as sound.

Pharyngealization Secondary articulation of consonants or vowels where the pharynx or epiglottis is constricted during articulation

Pharyngealization is a secondary articulation of consonants or vowels by which the pharynx or epiglottis is constricted during the articulation of the sound.

Labialization is a secondary articulatory feature of sounds in some languages. Labialized sounds involve the lips while the remainder of the oral cavity produces another sound. The term is normally restricted to consonants. When vowels involve the lips, they are called rounded.

Postalveolar or post-alveolar consonants are consonants articulated with the tongue near or touching the back of the alveolar ridge, farther back in the mouth than the alveolar consonants, which are at the ridge itself but not as far back as the hard palate, the place of articulation for palatal consonants. Examples of postalveolar consonants are the English palato-alveolar consonants, as in the words "ship", "'chill", "vision", and "jump", respectively.

Retroflex consonant Type of consonant articulation

A retroflex, apico-domal, or cacuminalconsonant is a coronal consonant where the tongue has a flat, concave, or even curled shape, and is articulated between the alveolar ridge and the hard palate. They are sometimes referred to as cerebral consonants—especially in Indology.

In phonetics, a trill is a consonantal sound produced by vibrations between the active articulator and passive articulator. Standard Spanish ⟨rr⟩ as in perro, for example, is an alveolar trill.

In phonetics, a flap or tap is a type of consonantal sound, which is produced with a single contraction of the muscles so that one articulator is thrown against another.

A central consonant, also known as a median consonant, is a consonant sound that is produced when air flows across the center of the mouth over the tongue. The class contrasts with lateral consonants, in which air flows over the sides of the tongue rather than down its center.

In phonetics and phonology, a sonorant or resonant is a speech sound that is produced with continuous, non-turbulent airflow in the vocal tract; these are the manners of articulation that are most often voiced in the world's languages. Vowels are sonorants, as are nasals like and, liquids like and, and semivowels like and. This set of sounds contrasts with the obstruents.

Dahalo is an endangered Cushitic language spoken by at most 400 Dahalo people on the coast of Kenya, near the mouth of the Tana River. Dahalo is unusual among the world's languages in using all four airstream mechanisms found in human language.

Edo language

Edo, also called Bini (Benin), is a language spoken in Edo State, Nigeria. It is the native language of the Edo people and was the primary language of the Benin Empire and its predecessor, Igodomigodo.

The voiceless palatal nasal is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represent this sound are ⟨ɲ̊⟩ and ⟨ɲ̥⟩, which are combinations of the letter for the voiced palatal nasal and a diacritic indicating voicelessness. The equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is J_0.

The voiceless nasal glottal approximant is a type of consonantal sound, a nasal approximant, used in some oral languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨⟩, that is, an h with a tilde.


  1. Ladefoged & Maddieson 1996, p. 298.
  2. Juliette Blevins (2004). Evolutionary Phonology: The Emergence of Sound Patterns . Cambridge University Press. p.  203.
  3. Peter Ladefoged (1971) Preliminaries of Linguistic Phonetics, p. 35.
  4. Ladefoged & Maddieson 1996, pp. 298–299.
  5. Thurneysen, Rudolf; D. A. Binchy (1946). A Grammar of Old Irish. Translated by Osborn Bergin. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. p. 85. ISBN   1-85500-161-6.
  6. Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. p. 134. ISBN   978-0-631-19815-4.
  7. Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. p. 268. ISBN   978-0-631-19815-4.
  8. The World Atlas of Language Structures Online – Chapter 10 – Vowel Nasalization