Nasal Consonants

Nasals are consonants that are formed by blocking the oral passage and allowing the air to escape through the nose. Present-Day English has three nasals, all of which are voiced (vocal cords vibrating during the articulation of the nasal). (The nasals, the lateral /l/, the retroflex /r/, and the semivowels /w/ and /j/ are sometimes called the resonants.) A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to come out through the nose, while the air is not allowed to pass through the mouth because something (like the tongue or the lips) is stopping it.

Two major things to be noted:

  1. The air is completely blocked from leaving the mouth, and is instead released out through the nose
  2. All three nasal sounds are voiced, meaning that the vocal cords vibrate during the creation of the sound

A subtle aspect of the n sound to be aware and attempt mastery of is: The n sound can become syllabic consonant on unstressed syllables.

1. /m/ (the phoneme spelled m in mail): (voiced) bilabial nasal.
2. /n/ (the phoneme spelled n in nail): (voiced) alveolar nasal.
3. /ŋ/ (the phoneme spelled ng in sing): (voiced) velar nasal.

The M consonant sound

The M consonant sound (/m/) is made by lightly pressing your lips together while making the sound with your vocal chords.  Although most of the air moves over your soft palate, some air moves through the nose, and it feels like it is vibrating through your nasal passage. This is why the M consonant is referred to as a nasal sound.

/m/ – mommouth, miss, may.

The N consonant sound

The N consonant sound (/n/) is made by moving air through the nasal passage. Your lips will be slightly parted. The tongue touches the roof your mouth just behind your teeth. You should feel a vibration in your nose.

/n/ – tiny, tennine, not

The ng consonant sound

You can’t study the N sound without also studying the ng sound (/ŋ/). This is the third nasal sound in English. It is also produced by moving air through your nasal passage, but the tongue placement is different than the N sound. Your tongue is raised and further back in your mouth.

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