Published December 10, 1993 | Version v1
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A survey of the phonology of the feature [+nasal]

  • 1. Cornell University


In recent years, nasalization has been a topic of interest in both phonetics and
phonology. Within phonetics, there has been work on the acoustics of nasalization.
including the acoustic effects of vowel nasalization (Beddor (1983), Hawkins and Stevens
(1985) among others). Work in phonology has included consideration of rules of nasal
spreading (Anderson (1972). Hyman (1972; 1982) Poser (1981; 1982) among others) and
of typologies of nasal segment inventories (Ferguson (1963; 1974), Ruhlen (1978).
Maddieson (1984)). Despite this interest, there is no single source in the literature that
provides an overview of the co-occurrence of inventories and rules. The database
presented in this report was compiled to provide such information. The focus is on
languages with inventories or rules deemed unusual.

Issues addressed in this report include the status of the feature [nasal], i.e. the types of
inventories of sounds that have [nasal] as a distinctive feature; the behavior of rules
involving the feature [nasal] and their interaction with different kinds of nasal inventories;
and general issues that cut across both of the above topics.

In order to consider these issues, I have compiled a corpus of 165 languages.
Information about the patterning of the feature [nasal] in each of these languages was
entered into a database. This information was gathered through a computerized search and
from several major sources about nasals and nasalization.

In Section 1 of this paper, I discuss the questions that I sought to address through this
database. This is followed, in Section 2, by a brief description of the major secondary
sources consulted. This includes a description of the kinds of theoretical questions
addressed by each author, and the sorts of language information presented. In Section 3. I
give a brief description of the construction of the database. including the type of language
data used. In Section 4, I present results and discussion. This is followed by an appendix with a description of the format of the database and a database entry for each language and
a bibliography of both theoretical works and the language references cited in the database.


This paper is copyrighted, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) - see This paper, originally written in 1987, has been referred to in my work and that of others as Cohn, A. (1987) "A survey of the phonology of the feature [┬▒Nasal]." UCLA ms. It appears here in its original form, with some minor errors and inaccuracies corrected. Since this paper was written, much attention has been paid to the representation of the feature [nasal] and formulation of processes of nasalization in both the phonological and phonetic literature which sheds further light on the issues discussed here. An excellent survey of more recent work in both phonology and phonetics is the volume edited by M. Huffman and R. Krakow (1993) Nasals, Nasalization, and the Velum. San Diego: Academic Press. This work was supported by NSF grant #BNS 84 18580 to Pat Keating. I thank Pat and the many other researchers who have discussed the feature [nasal] with me over the last several years. Thanks also to Alice Anderton for technical assistance.



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