/ Linguistics

What is Denasalization?

Denasalization Symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

These are uncommon among the worlds languages and represent languages that are currently undergoing a change between two stable states of articulation: nasal and non-nasal.

  • denasalization: < denasalisation. de-nasal-ise-ation
  • nasal: < Midieval Latin nasalis < Latin nasus, "nose"
  • nasus: compare Proto-Indo-European *néh₂s, and cognate with Sanskrit नासा ‎(nā́sā), Proto-Slavic *nosъ, Proto-Germanic *nusō > Old English nosu.

Accurate IPA Symbols

In our IPA Phonics Videos, we use the following IPA symbols:

[m͊] and [n͊]

We display the transition in the video as a nasal that is starting to get released, but then the uvula closes the nasal passage upon release. Enjoy the videos below covering these two sounds.

Don't forget to subscribe to the Phonics channel!

Languages undergoing change

Korean is changing now

In our Korean Fluency course, we write the two denasalized symbols like this:

[mb] and [nd]

This format is easier to read for learners. Start with a nasal [m] or [n], but then release the sound as [b] or [d]. Pretty straightforward. It takes practice to get the two sounds to come together and release at the same time.

There are other languages that are going through or have gone through denasalization:

Japanese (borrowings from Chinese)

The word for diligent:

Chinese 努力: [nuolɨk̚]

Mandarin 努力: nǔlì [nu˨˩ li˥˩]

Hakka 努力: nu̖līt [nu˧˩ lit̚˥]

Hokkien 努力: lōlīëk [lo˦ liɪk̚˦]

Cantonese 努力: no̗ulï̱k [nou̯˧˩ lɪk̚˨]

Japanese 努力: ​りょく [dóꜜryòkù]

Korean 努力: 노력 [o̞ɾjʌ̹k̚]

Note: The pinyin used for Chinese languages is our own Glossika Universal Pinyin based on standard pinyin.

Taiwanese Hokkien (閩南語/Bânlâmgú language)

The word for eye:

Chinese 目: [mɨuk̚]

Mandarin 目: m[mu˥˩]

Hokkien 目: bbak [bak̚˦]

Cantonese 目: mo̱uk [mʊk̚˨]

Korean 目: 목 [ok̚]

Vietnamese 目: mục [mʊʷk͡p̚˧˨]

The word for intimate:

Chinese 密: [mɣiɪt̚]

Mandarin 密: mì [mi˥˩]

Hokkien 密: bbīt bit̚˦

Cantonese 密: mä̱t [mɐt̚˨]

Korean 密: 밀 [iɭ]

Vietnamese 密: mật [mɜt̚˧˨]

Likewise, the Southern Min alveolars /l/ and /n/ are unstable and tending towards [n͊] and [d]. The /l/ can be considered a lateralization within the alveolar series. We can see both denasalization and lateralization in the language's autonym: 閩南語 Bân-lâm-gú (compare Mandarin: Mǐn-nán-yŭ).

Balto-Slavic Languages

The word for nine:

European: *h₁néw

Slavic: *devętь > devet

Lithuanian: devyn[dʲæːviːnʲˈɪ]

Latvian: deviņi [ˈdɛviɲi]

Old Church Slavonic: дєвѧть ‎devętĭ

Russian: девять dʲevʲɪtʲ]

Polish: dziewięć ʥɛvʲɛɲʨ]

Slovak: deväť ɟevæc]

Serbian: девет/dȅvet [dêʋet]

Bulgarian: девет [devet]

Compare with the rest of Europe and India "nine":

Sanskrit: वन् návan

Persian: نه ne

Ancient Greek: ἐννέα [ɛnˈnɛa]

Latin: novem

Celtic: *nawan

Old English: niġon

Old Norse: niu

The word for cloud:

European: *nébʰos

Slavic: *nebo > nebo

Lithuanian: debesìs [dʲebʲesʲˈɪs]

Latvian: debess [dˈebess]

Old Church Slavonic: нєбо/ⰵⰱⱁ ‎nebo

Russian: не́бо nʲebə]

Polish: niebo ɲɛbɔ]

Slovak: nebo ɲɛbɔ]

Serbian: небо/nȅbo nêbo]

Bulgarian: небе [nebé]

Compare with the rest of Europe and India "cloud":

Sanskrit: भस् nábhas

Persian: نم nam

Ancient Greek: νέφος ‎nɛpʰos]

Latin: nebula

Celtic: *nemos

Germanic: *nebulaz

Old English: nifol

Old Norse: nifl

  • Note: the Old English "nifol" didn't survive. The modern word "cloud" is cognate with "clod" and "clot" and ultimately related to "gel" and "cold", which via Slavic "*xoldьnъ" is related to Russian "хо́лодный".

  • Note: the Slavic word небо/nebo now mostly means "sky" among these languages. Like English, a separate word is now used to refer to the white fluffy stuff in the sky: *obolkъ > Serbian oblak, Croatian oblak, Slovene oblak, Macedonian облак, Bulgarian облак, Russian облако, Czech oblak, Belarusian во́блака. The root used in Central and Western Slavic also differs: Ukrainian хмара, Belarusian хмара, Rusyn хмара, Slovak mrak, Polish chmura, Lower Sorbian mrok. And Latvian now also differs with mākonis.

Such instabilities are not uncommon. We can witness another phenomenon when /d/ became /l/ in different stages of Latin for the word "tear": Old Latin dacrima > Latin lacrima. The "dacr" part of this Indo-European word descended into Germanic as "tahr" which eventually became English "tēar". Such "lateralizations" are also common among Sinitic languages, as you can glean from the evidence above for Taiwanese Hokkien "努力 / lōlīëk".

Michael Campbell

Michael Campbell

Polyglot, phonologist, linguist specialising in Formosan, Proto-Austronesian, Sinitic, Slavic, typology, IPA, and L2. Does Glossika training daily.

Read More
What is Denasalization?
Share this