Seminar Paper, 2007, 21 Pages
2. General characteristics of nasals
2.1. Nonnasals and nasals
2.2. Articulatory and acoustic features
2.3. Sonorants, noncontinuants and consonantals
3. How many nasals does English have?
3.1. The bilabial nasal /m/
3.2. The alveolar nasal /n/
3.3. The velar nasal /ŋ/
4. Different treatments of the velar nasal /ŋ/ by Sapir and Chomsky
4.1. Edward Sapir
4.2. Noam Chomsky
4.2.1. Linguistic examples for the three levels of adequacy
Phonology is “the science of the study of speech sounds” (Swadesh 1934: 43). In order to classify distinct speech sounds, the manners and places of articulation play an important role. Places of articulation are for instance, bilabial or labiodental. Manners of articulation are for instance, plosive or fricative. As they help to define a sound in more detail, they express phonemic contrasts. Consequently, within this linguistic study, sounds are observed for their articulatory, acoustic and auditory features. Such characteristics are important to provide phonetic descriptions of sounds (Giegerich 1992: 112). Thus, the examination of human speech sounds during the process of their production is essential in phonology.
The English language consists of 26 consonant phonemes (Giegerich 1992: 113). However, in this linguistic paper only the category of the nasal stops will be closely discussed. The first section will deal with the general features of nasal stops. Nasals and non-nasals will be distinguished by explaining the main articulatory and auditory quality of nasals; and by underlining the main class features of sonorants, noncontinuants and consonantals. The second section will take a closer look at the three nasal consonants [m], [n] and [ŋ]. There will be a special focus on the velar nasal [ŋ]. It has a unique role within the category of the nasals. The third and last section will finally underline this function. At this point, two different treatments of the velar nasal [ŋ], from Sapir and Chomsky, will be presented.
To classify a sound as a nonnasal or as a nasal, it is essential to know the main distinctive features of each class.
Firstly, a sound is produced when the air, which comes from the lungs, passes through the larynx and pharynx. The former is “a cartilage casing whose forward part (the Adam´ s Apple) can be felt just below the chin” (Giegerich 1992: 2). The latter is in “the back of the throat” (Giegerich 1992: 3)). Secondly, the air enters the nasal cavity or the oral cavity. The process of articulation comes into effect when the velum - “a soft flap of muscle and tissue in the back of the throat of the roof of the mouth” (Giegerich 1992: 5) - is lowered or raised. Therefore, the position of the velum is important to classify nonnasal and nasal sounds.
Whenever the velum is raised, it is “pressed against the back of the pharynx” (Giegerich 1992: 5). In speech sounds where “the nasal cavity is blocked off in the back of the throat and where the air stream is directed into the oral cavity” (Giegerich 1992: 3-5), nonnasal sounds are produced (Chomsky & Halle 1968: 316). Therefore, the air can merely escape through the open mouth. In contrary, the “nasal sounds are produced with a lowered velum” (Chomsky & Halle 1968: 316). In this case, the velum “is not raised against the back of the pharynx” (Giegerich 1992: 5). The oral cavity has to “be blocked off somewhere further forward in the mouth” (Giegerich 1992: 5) so that the air stream can pass through the nasal cavity and is released through the nostrils (Giegerich 1992: 3); a nasal sound is produced.
Since the articulatory position of the nasals and of the stops (plosives) is in the same area of the mouth, some phoneticians consequently call nasal sounds “nasal stops” (Knútsson 2002). Stephen G. Lambacher (1996), for instance, states that “both are produced with an obstruction somewhere within the oral cavity”, but nasals are formed with the help of the entire vocal tract, the nasal cavity and nasopharnyx. Alfred C. Gimson (1962) differentiates nasals and plosives:
(Nasals) differ from such plosives in that the soft palate is in its lowered position, allowing an escape of air into the nasal cavity and giving the sound the special resonance provided by the naso-pharyngeal cavity (193).
Oral stop consonants like /p/ or /b/ are produced when there is an obstruction of the nasal cavity. The articulatory position of the consonant /p/ and /m/ are shown below.
Figure one: Articulatory position of the consonant /p/ and /m/ (Knútsson 2002)
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Thus, the nasal sounds can be included into the table of plosives of figure two, because the three nasal phonemes correspond to the three oral plosive areas of articulation.
Figure two: Table of plosives (Knútsson 2002)
illustration not visible in this excerpt
This consonant chart of English plosives shows that /m/ corresponds to /p, b/, /n/ to /t, d/ and /ŋ/ to /k, g/. The plosives /p/ and /b/ can be differentiated into voiceless (fortis) and voiced (lenis) (Cruttenden 1962: 193).
Acoustic features of nasal sounds also exist. In contrast to plosives or fricatives, nasal sounds never have a noise component (Cruttenden 1962: 193). However, the key acoustic feature of nasal sounds is that all of them have “a low frequency ´murmur´ below 500 Hz which precedes transitions to following sounds and follows transitions from preceding sounds” (Cruttenden 1962: 193). Furthermore, there is an absence of energy around 1,000 Hz (Cruttenden 1962: 194).
The nasal consonants can also be classified as sonorants and noncontinuants. Firstly, a sonorant is a sound “whose phonetic content is predominantly made up by the sound waves associated with voicing”. Secondly, a continuant is a sound “during whose production the air stream is not blocked in the oral cavity” (Giegerich 1992: 93). Thus, the air can escape through the mouth. Nevertheless, nasals differ from continuants (e.g. fricatives), since nasals are always voiced. Therefore, they are no full continuants, just normally frictionless continuants which resemble vowel-type sounds (Cruttenden 1962: 193). In this respect, Giegerich postulates that “a sound that is both a sonorant and a noncontinuant must be a nasal” (Giegerich 1992: 124). His rule is redundant because “the language has no nasal phonemes other than sonorant noncontinuants” (Giegerich 1992: 124). The third major class feature is the consonantal characteristic. All three nasals are consonantal. These are sounds that “are produced with a radical obstruction in the vocal tract” (Giegerich 1992: 94). In conclusion, the major class features of nasal stops are that they are sonorants, noncontinuants and consonantals.
Various languages contain the nasal consonants /m/, /n/ and /ŋ/. For instance, English, German and Cantonese have these three nasal stops, namely a bilabial nasal /m/ as in my, an alveolar nasal /n/ as in nigh and a velar nasal /ŋ/ like in hang. However, there are two more nasal sounds; a dental and labiodental. An example for the first case is the word tent h where the nasal /n/ is not an alveolar, but a dental one. The reason for that is that in some words “the difference between alveolar and dental articulation of the nasal does not give rise to different words, nor does it anywhere else in English” (Giegerich 1992: 30). Another example, for the second case, is “the on in on fire (which) is often pronounced at a labiodental place of articulation” (Giegerich 1992: 29). Consequently, English has five different nasal sounds.
The first and most frequently used nasal is the bilabial consonant /m/. The vocal cords are made to vibrate during the production of all nasals. As shown in figure three the m-sound is normally produced when “the mouth passage is blocked by closing the lips” (The Virtual Language Centre) as for /p/ and /b/. It also shows that the air can only pass through the nose.
Figure three: The m-sound (The Virtual Language Centre)
illustration not visible in this excerpt
The manner of sound-production of /m/ can be described as below:
(…) the soft palate is lowered, adding the resonance of the nasal cavity to those of the pharynx and the mouth chamber closed by the lips; the tongue will generally anticipate or retain the position of the adjacent vowel or /l/ (Cruttenden, 1962:196).
Exceptions during sound production merely occur when /m/ is “partially devoiced by a preceding voiceless consonant” (Cruttenden 1962: 196) like in smoke and topmost. Here, /m/ is voiceless. These examples show that English has various words which represent the bilabial nasal /m/.
Further examples are morning, moon; summer, dimmer; and comb, bomb. They show that there are words with m, mm and mb. It becomes clear that the English pronunciation is different from its writing and as a result, there is a distinction between the sounds. Therefore, the positions within words in which the /m/ occurs must be distinguished. In English, there are four different positions in a word or morpheme. These four positions are word-initial (meal, mat, march), word-initial /s/ (smock, smoke), word-medial (demon, glimmer, lemon) and word-final (seem, lamb, harm) (Cruttenden 1962:195).
Besides, the surrounding letters are also essential. For instance, whenever the /m/ sound is followed by a labiodental sound, such as /f, v/, “the front closure may be labiodental [ɱ] rather than bilabial” (Cruttenden 1962: 196). This is the case in words like comfort or come first (Cruttenden 1962: 196). Furthermore, there are “pronunciations of infant, enforce, unforced etc. with assimilation of [n] to [ɱ] (which) can be regarded as having an allophone of /m/ “(Cruttenden 1962: 196). The sound /m/ commonly “results from a final /n/ of the citation form before a following bilabial” (Cruttenden 1962: 196) like in one mile /wʌm ´mail/ or more and more /mɔ:r əm ´mɔ:/. Therefore, one general rule is that the /m/ sound is used before labiodentals. Other examples are comfort, emphasis or come forward (Giegerich 1992: 214). Furthermore, “/m/ is (occasionally) a realization of word-final /ən/ or /illustration not visible in this excerpt/ following /p/ or /b/” (Cruttenden 1962: 196) as in happen /´hæpm/ or ribbon /´ribm/. It can also occur in contexts such as in cap and gown /kæp m´gaʊn/ (Cruttenden 1962: 196).
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