Nasal consonant

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A nasal consonant (also called nasal stop or nasal continuant) is produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. The oral cavity still acts as a resonance chamber for the sound, but the air does not escape through the mouth as it is blocked by the lips or tongue. Rarely, other types of consonants may be nasalized.

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Definition

Acoustically, nasal stops are sonorants, meaning they do not restrict the escape of air and cross-linguistically are nearly always voiced. Two notable exceptions are Icelandic and Welsh, which have unvoiced nasal sounds. (Compare oral plosives, 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.)

However, nasals are also stops in their articulation because the flow of air through the mouth is blocked completely. This duality, a sonorant airflow through the nose along with an obstruction in the mouth, means that nasal stops behave both like sonorants and like obstruents. For the purposes of acoustic description they are generally considered sonorants, but in many languages they may develop from or into plosives.

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

Examples of languages containing nasal consonants:

The voiced palatal nasal [ɲ] is a common sound in European languages as in: Spanish ñ; or French and Italian gn; or Catalan, Hungarian and Luganda ny; or Czech and Slovak ň; or Polish ń; or Occitan and Portuguese nh.

English, German and Cantonese have [m], [n] and [ŋ]. Tamil possesses distinct letters to represent [m], [n̪], [n], [ɳ], [ɲ] and [ŋ] (ம,ந,ன,ண,ஞ,ங).

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