Uvular nasal

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\.

Uvular nasal
IPA Number120
Entity (decimal)ɴ
Unicode (hex)U+0274
Audio sample
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The uvular nasal is a rare sound cross-lingually, occurring as a phoneme in only a small handful of languages. It is an articulatory complex and highly marked sound, as it is inherently difficult to produce a nasal articulation at the uvular point of contact.[1] This articulatory difficulty 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,[2] for example as an allophone of /n/ before a uvular plosive 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 Rangakha dialect of Khams Tibetan,[4] at least two dialects of the Bai language,[5][6] and the Papuan language Mapos Buang.[7] In Mapos Buang and in the Bai dialects, it contrasts phonemically with a velar nasal.[5][6][7]

There is also the pre-uvular nasal[8] 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.
  • It is a central consonant, which means it is produced by directing the airstream along the center of the tongue, rather than to the sides.


AfrikaansMany speakersaangenaam[ˈɑːɴχənɑːm]'pleasant'Allophone of /n/ before /χ/; realized as [n] in formal speech. See Afrikaans phonology
ArabicStandardانقلاب[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/.
Inuvialuktunnamunganmun [namuŋaɴmuɴ]'to where?'See Inuit phonology
Japanese[9]/hon[hõ̞ɴː]'book'Tongue closure may be incomplete. See Japanese phonology
Kalaallisutpaarngorpoq[paaɴːoʁpoq]'crawls'See Inuit phonology
Klallamsqəyáyŋəxʷ[sqəˈjajɴəxʷ]'big tree'Contrasts with glottalized form.
Mapos Buang[7] alu [aˈl̪uɴ] 'widower' Phonemic, and contrasts with /ŋ/.
Bai Enqi dialect[6] [ɴa˨˩] 'to walk' Phonemic, and contrasts with /ŋ/.
Luobenzhuo dialect[5] [ɴɔ˦˨] 'I' Phonemic, and contrasts with /ŋ/.
QuechuaPeruviansunqu[ˈs̠oɴqo]'heart'Allophone of /n/.
Spanish[10]enjuto[ẽ̞ɴˈχuto̞]'shriveled'Allophone of /n/. See Spanish phonology
Yanyuwa[11]wangulu[waŋ̠ulu]'adolescent boy'Pre-uvular; contrasts with post-palatal [ŋ˖].[11]

See also


  1. 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. The University of Chicago Press. 62 (4): 323–350. doi:10.1086/466303. JSTOR 1265705.
  3. Karl Prasse, Ghoubeid Alojaly, and Ghabdouane Mohamed (1998). Lexique touareg-français. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. Suzuki, Hiroyuki (2007). "Khams Tibetan Rangakha dialect: phonetic analysis (in Japanese)" (PDF). Asian and African Languages and Linguistics (2): 131–162.
  5. Allen, Bryan (August 2007). "Bai Dialect Survey". SIL Electronic Survey Report 2007-012. CiteSeerX
  6. 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.
  7. 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 978-9980035899.
  8. 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".
  9. Vance (2008), p. 96.
  10. Martínez Celdrán, Fernández Planas & Carrera Sabaté (2003), p. 258.
  11. Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), pp. 34-35.


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