As far as I can tell, some nasals don't seem to require nasal aspiration. For example, [m] and [n] seem to just involve oral occlusive voicing. I can plug my nose and still make such sounds. It surely sounds odd with a plugged nose, but the consonants are still distinguishable to me. If nasal passages aren't required, then is it really right to refer to them as "nasal consonants"? Or, am I missing something and the nasal passages are still required to seem degree?

  • 1
    They're distinguishable to you, but as you say they sound odd and they may not be distinguishable to everybody else. Or even anybody else. As long as there is oral occlusion and some way to release lung air to maintain voicing, the shape of the nose doesn't matter. If you have total nasal occlusion as well as oral occlusion, however, you have a stop and not a nasal resonant.
    – jlawler
    Aug 4, 2018 at 2:09
  • Speech does sound odd with a plugged nose, but what is odder is that it sounds nasal.
    – Greg Lee
    Aug 4, 2018 at 2:23
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    @Greg Lee Or one could also say that it sounds soft palatal.
    – abcjme
    Aug 4, 2018 at 2:57
  • @jlawler "As long as there is oral occlusion and some way to release lung air to maintain voicing, the shape of the nose doesn't matter." You can release the lung air without nasal passages at all though. The air can build up briefly just in the soft palatal area.
    – abcjme
    Aug 4, 2018 at 3:04
  • "I can plug my nose and still make such sounds." No you can't. Try holding "mmmmmmm" with your nostrils closed.
    – ubadub
    Oct 2, 2018 at 1:48

1 Answer 1


Plugged nasals still involve the nasopharynx, even if air does not flow through the nares. The term "nasal" refers to a class of normal speech sounds where air does indeed flow through the nostrils, and doesn't refer to sounds produced by putting a cork in your nose. Our terminology is based on facts of normal speech. Languages simply don't use plugged-nose "dasals", so we don't have a term to refer to them. A dasal® is acoustically distinct from both an oral stop and a nasal. Nasals and dasals have a nasal side-cavity (and corresponding antiresonance), but the side cavity for a nasal is a tube open at both ends whereas the side cavity for a dasal is a tube close at one end, which changes its resonance frequency. You can probably identify the dasal based on the distinctive resonant pattern on surrounding dasalized vowels in plugged "ama".

This recording contains [aba], and [aMa] where "M" is dasal [m]. In [aMa], the consonant is across-spliced from a dasal utterance of ama – the point is that the similarity between nasal [m] and dasal [M] comes from the vowel context, not the consonant itself. By cross-splicing a nasal versus dasal consonant into an oral vowel context, you control the perceptual effect of the effect on vowels. If the utterances sound the same, that supports the view that the acoustic properties of the consonant are themselves fairly irrelevant (what matters in their effect on other sounds). If the utterances sound different, that would indicate a perceptual role for the subtle acoustic differences in the consonants.

If the acoustics of the consonant itself is not the main source of the perceptual distinction between oral and nasal consonants, you also predict that cross-splicing [m] into an oral versus versus nasal context ([aba] versus [ama]) would still maintain the difference between b and m. That is the "different sound same context" condition. In this recording, we have ordinary [m] spliced into the vowel context of "aba" and "ama": that is the "same sound different context" condition. If the two utterances sound the same, that would support the view that the acoustics of the consonant itself plays an important role in perception, and if they sound different that supports the view that the consonant acoustics is relatively unimportant.

  • Still, even if the nasals were plugged at both ends, it seems likely to me that [m] and [n] would be recognizable as such. Do you think so?
    – abcjme
    Aug 4, 2018 at 10:38
  • @abcjme If the velopharyngeal port is closed, that's just an oral stop, whether the nostrils are closed or not.
    – Nardog
    Aug 4, 2018 at 21:05
  • That's why when we mimic having a cold we say "By doze is stobbed up."
    – WGroleau
    Aug 6, 2018 at 13:54
  • "By doze iz stobbed up" is what folks say when mimicing having a cold. But in reality, with clogged nose, /b/ and /m/ are distinguishable because of length of stop and/or amount of air pressure.
    – WGroleau
    Aug 6, 2018 at 14:01

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