Linguistics Nasals and Nasalization
Bert Botma
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0205


A nasal consonant is a consonant whose production involves a lowered velum and a closure in the oral cavity, so that air flows out through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants are [m], [n], and [ŋ] (as in think and sing). Nasalized sounds are sounds whose production involves a lowered velum and an open oral cavity, with simultaneous nasal and oral airflow. The most common nasalized sounds are nasalized vowels, as in French vin [vɛ̃] “wine,” although some consonants can also be nasalized. Almost all known languages have nasal phonemes, which are among the first sounds acquired by children. Nasalized phonemes are much rarer, although nasalized allophones often occur as the result of phonetic and phonological processes of nasalization. Processes of nasalization have informed phonological theory, in particular, nonlinear approaches and work on the interface between phonetics and phonology.

General Overviews

All textbooks on phonetics and phonology contain at least some discussion of nasals and nasalization. A classic phonetics textbook is Ladefoged 1982. Silverman 2017 is a recent phonology textbook that contains a detailed description of the articulatory and acoustic properties of nasals and relates these to their phonological patterning. A similar perspective is taken in Ohala and Ohala 1993. The best source for a cross-linguistic survey of nasals and nasalized sounds is chapter 4 of Ladefoged and Maddieson 1996, which contains a wealth of data and references. Two edited volumes that focus on nasals and nasalization are Ferguson, et al. 1975 and Huffman and Krakow 1993. Ferguson, et al. 1975 is a collection of papers that discuss various aspects of nasals and nasalization; some of the contributions are based on data from the Stanford Language Universals Project. Huffman and Krakow 1993 is a collection of state-of-the-art information on both the phonetics and the phonology of nasals and nasalization. Cohn 1993 is a useful summary of previous work on nasality and contains a database of languages with nasalization processes.

  • Cohn, Abigail C. 1993. A survey of the phonology of the feature [±nasal]. Working Papers of the Cornell Phonetics Laboratory 8:141–203.

    An overview and summary of previous typological and phonological work on nasality. Cohn’s article also contains a database of 165 languages with information on the patterning of the feature [nasal].

  • Ferguson, Charles, Larry Hyman, and John J. Ohala, eds. 1975. Nasálfest: Papers from a symposium on nasals and nasalization. Stanford, CA: Language Universals Project, Univ. of Stanford.

    A volume of articles that examine various issues relating to nasals and nasalization.

  • Huffman, Marie, and Rena Krakow, eds. 1993. Nasals, nasalization, and the velum. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

    A collection of papers that examines both phonetic and phonological aspects of nasals and nasalization. Topics include the production and perception of nasality, aerodynamic and acoustic properties of nasalized sounds, and the phonological representation of nasal and nasalized sounds.

  • Ladefoged, Peter. 1982. A course in phonetics. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

    A classic phonetics textbook that gives a clear and concise description of the articulatory and acoustic properties of nasals and nasalized sounds, in addition to other information.

  • Ladefoged, Peter, and Ian Maddieson. 1996. The sounds of the world’s languages. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Chapter 4 (“Nasals and Nasalized Consonants”) presents a cross-linguistic overview of these sounds, with data drawn from a large number of genetically diverse languages. Topics include airflow characteristics of nasals, laryngeal activity in nasals, nasal contours, and nasalized consonants.

  • Ohala, John J., and Manjari Ohala. 1993. The phonetics of nasal phonology: Theorems and data. In Nasals, nasalization, and the velum. Edited by Marie Huffman and Rena Krakow, 225–249. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

    DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-12-360380-7.50013-2

    Explores how the phonological patterning of nasals can be derived from their phonetic properties.

  • Silverman, Daniel. 2017. A critical introduction to phonology: Functional and usage-based perspectives. 2d ed. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781474238922

    A phonology textbook that presents a detailed discussion of the phonetic properties of nasals and shows how these properties are reflected in their phonological behavior.

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