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The palatal nasal is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ɲ, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is J. The IPA symbol is a lowercase letter n with a leftward-pointing tail protruding from the bottom of the left stem of the letter. Compare n and ɲ. The symbol ɲ should not be confused with ɳ, the symbol for the retroflex nasal, which has a rightward-pointing hook extending from the bottom of the right stem or with ŋ, the symbol for the velar nasal, which has a leftward-pointing hook extending from the bottom of the right stem.
Features of the palatal nasal:
- Its manner of articulation is plosive or stop, which means it is produced by obstructing airflow in the vocal tract.
- Its place of articulation is palatal which means it is articulated with the middle or back part of the tongue raised against the hard palate.
- Its phonation type is voiced, which means the vocal cords are vibrating during the articulation.
- It is a nasal consonant, which means air is allowed to escape through the nose.
- It is a central consonant, which means it is produced by allowing the airstream to flow over the middle of the tongue, rather than the sides.
- The airstream mechanism is pulmonic egressive, which means it is articulated by pushing air out of the lungs and through the vocal tract, rather than from the glottis or the mouth.
In some dialects of English, the sequence /nj/ is sometimes realized as the palatal nasal, via coalescence, a type of assimilation. For example, onion (/ˈʌnjən/) might be realized as [ˈʌɲən] or canyon (/ˈkænjən/) might be realized as [ˈkæɲən]. However, there are no minimal pairs for /nj/ and /ɲ/, so the palatal nasal is not a separate phoneme in English.
In other languages
The palatal nasal is fairly common in Romance languages:
Catalan has the palatal nasal as a phoneme, and it is denoted by "ny".
French has the palatal nasal as a phoneme, and it is denoted by "gn".
Italian has the palatal nasal as a phoneme, and it is denoted by "gn", as in gnocchi (a type of pasta).
Portuguese has the palatal nasal as a phoneme, and it is denoted by "nh", as in manhã /mɐɲɐ/ (morning).
Spanish has the palatal nasal as a phoneme, and it is denoted by "ñ", as in mañana /maɲana/ (morning).
The Eastern dialects of Finnish, but not the standard language, retain the feature of palatalization, and the palatal nasal the palatalized version of "n". When the palatal nasal is in the position where standard Finnish would use "ni", it is commonly written "nj", e.g. mänj [mæɲ], cf. standard language meni [meni].
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