Uvular nasal

Uvular nasal
IPA number 120
Entity (decimal) ɴ
Unicode (hex) U+0274
Kirshenbaum n"
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The uvular nasal is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ɴ, a small capital version of the Latin letter n; the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is N\.

The uvular nasal is a rare sound cross-lingually, presumably due to the relative difficulty involved in articulating it.[1] To produce it, the uvula takes part in two quite distinct gestures, one in which the nasal passage is opened up to allow air to escape through the nose, the other in which the oral passage is closed through contact made by the back of the tongue against the uvula.[1] This articulatory complexity can be said to account for the marked rarity of this sound among the world's languages.[1]

The uvular nasal most commonly occurs as a conditioned allophone of other sounds in specific environments,[2] for example as an allophone of /n/ before a uvular consonant as in Quechua, or as an allophone of /q/ before another nasal consonant as in Selkup. However, it has been reported to exist as an independent phoneme in a small number of languages. Examples include the Klallam language, the Tawellemmet and Ayr varieties of Tuareg Berber,[3] the Pwo Karen languages,[4][5] the Rangakha dialect of Khams Tibetan,[6] at least two dialects of the Bai language,[7][8] and the Papuan language Mapos Buang.[9] In Mapos Buang, there is a three-way dorsal distinction between a palatal nasal, a velar nasal, and a uvular nasal.[9]

There is also the pre-uvular nasal[10] in some languages such as Yanyuwa, which is articulated slightly more front compared with the place of articulation of the prototypical uvular nasal, though not as front as the prototypical velar nasal. The International Phonetic Alphabet does not have a separate symbol for that sound, though it can be transcribed as ɴ̟ (advanced ɴ), ŋ̠ or ŋ˗ (both symbols denote a retracted ŋ). The equivalent X-SAMPA symbols are N\_+ and N_-, respectively.


Features of the uvular nasal:

  • Its manner of articulation is occlusive, which means it is produced by obstructing airflow in the vocal tract. Because the consonant is also nasal, the blocked airflow is redirected through the nose.
  • Its phonation is voiced, which means the vocal cords vibrate during the articulation.
  • It is a nasal consonant, which means air is allowed to escape through the nose, either exclusively (nasal stops) or in addition to through the mouth.
  • Because the sound is not produced with airflow over the tongue, the centrallateral dichotomy does not apply.


AfrikaansMany speakersaangenaam[ˈɑːɴχənɑːm]'pleasant'Allophone of /n/ before /χ/; realized as [n] in formal speech. See Afrikaans phonology
ArabicSome speakersانقلاب[ˌɪɴ.qʰɪˈlæːb]'coup d'état'Allophone of /n/ before /q/; more commonly realized as [n].
Armenianանխելք[ɑɴˈχɛlkʰ]'brainless'Allophone of /n/ before a uvular consonant in informal speech.
DutchNetherlandicaangenaam[ˈaːɴχəˌnaːm]'pleasant'Allophone of /n/ and /ŋ/ in dialects that use [χ]. Can be realized as [n] in formal speech.
Georgianზიყი[ziɴqʼi]'hip joint'Allophone of /n/.
InuitInuvialuktunnamunganmun [namuŋaɴmuɴ]'to where?'See Inuit phonology
Japanese[11]/hon[hõ̞ɴː]'book'Tongue closure may be incomplete. See Japanese phonology
Klallamsqəyáyŋəxʷ[sqəˈjajɴəxʷ]'big tree'Contrasts with glottalized form.
Mapos Buang[9] alu [aˈl̪uɴ] 'widower' Phonemic, and contrasts with /ŋ/.
Bai Enqi dialect[8] [ɴa˨˩] 'to walk' Phonemic, and contrasts with /ŋ/.
Luobenzhuo dialect[7] [ɴɔ˦˨] 'I' Phonemic, and contrasts with /ŋ/.
QuechuaPeruviansonqo[ˈs̠oɴqo]'heart'Allophone of /n/.
Spanish[12]enjuto[ẽ̞ɴˈχuto̞]'shriveled'Allophone of /n/. See Spanish phonology
Yanyuwa[13]wangulu[waŋ̠ulu]'adolescent boy'Pre-uvular; contrasts with post-palatal [ŋ˖].[13]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Johnson, Marion (1978). "A note on the Inuit uvular nasal". Études/Inuit/Studies. 2 (1): 132–135.
  2. Bobaljik, Jonathan David (October 1996). "Assimilation in the Inuit Languages and the Place of the Uvular Nasal". International Journal of American Linguistics, Vol. 62, No. 4, pp. 323-350. The University of Chicago Press. JSTOR 1265705.
  3. Karl Prasse, Ghoubeid Alojaly, and Ghabdouane Mohamed (1998). Lexique touareg-français. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press.
  4. Kato, Atsuhiko (2009). "A Basic Vocabulary of Htoklibang Pwo Karen with Hpa-an, Kyonbyaw, and Proto-Pwo Karen Forms" (PDF). Asian and African Languages and Linguistics No. 4.
  5. Kato, Atsuhiko (September 2011). "The agent-defocusing function of a Pwo Karen noun that means "thing"" (PDF). 17th Himalayan Languages Symposium. Kobe City University of Foreign Studies, Kobe, Japan.
  6. Suzuki, Hiroyuki (2007). "Khams Tibetan Rangakha dialect: phonetic analysis (in Japanese)" (PDF). Asian and African Languages and Linguistics No. 2: 131–162.
  7. 1 2 Allen, Bryan (August 2007). "Bai Dialect Survey". SIL Electronic Survey Report 2007-012.
  8. 1 2 Feng, Wang (2006). "Comparison of Languages in Contact: The Distillation Method and the Case of Bai" (PDF). Language and linguistics monograph series B. Frontiers in linguistics III.
  9. 1 2 3 Hooley; Rambok, Bruce; Mose Lung (2010). Ḳapiya Tateḳin Buang Vuheng-atov Ayej = Central Buang–English Dictionary. Summer Institute of Linguistics, Papua New Guinea Branch. ISBN 9980035897.
  10. Instead of "pre-uvular", it can be called "advanced uvular", "fronted uvular", "post-velar", "retracted velar" or "backed velar". For simplicity, this article uses only the term "pre-uvular".
  11. Vance (2008), p. 96.
  12. Martínez Celdrán, Fernández Planas & Carrera Sabaté (2003), p. 258.
  13. 1 2 Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), pp. 34-35.


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