Is there an articulatory difference between the voiced palatal nasal [ɲ] sound and the nasalized voiced palatal approximant [j̃] sound?

If there is a diference, what is it? I ask that because in portuguese we see both symbols in phonetic transcriptions, but to me they are articulated (and they sound) the same. Is it just a convention, for they have distinct origins? If it is, why would a phonetic transcription care about etymology?

  • 2
    are you a native Portuguese speaker, and do you speak any other languages with these sounds? If the answers to these are yes and no respectively, it's no surprise you can't hear the difference, people are really bad at distinguishing between sounds that aren't phonemically distinct in a language they speak (e.g. English speakers usually can't distinguish between [ɲ] and [nj] without specific training or practice). The fact you can't hear a difference is just indicative of you not speaking a language where the distinction is pertinent, and not a genuine lack of phonetic distinction
    – Tristan
    Oct 13, 2021 at 16:30

1 Answer 1


In theory, the IPA symbol ɲ is a palatal nasal stop, which means there's a complete closure blocking airflow through the mouth (near the palate), and all the airflow is exclusively through the nose. j̃ on the other hand is a nasalized palatal approximant, meaning there's no complete closure, so there is some airflow through the mouth as well as the nose.

In practice, I don't have much experience transcribing Portuguese, so it's possible the symbols are conventionally used in ways that don't match this articulatory definition; I wouldn't know one way or another.

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    There’s no phonemic distinction between the two in Portuguese, but it’s very common for the phoneme /ɲ/ not to have full closure, so [j̃] is a common allophone of /ɲ/. Oct 4, 2021 at 22:15
  • Well, but if we want to transcribe "mãe", we do it like this: [ˈmɐ̃j̃]; and if I want to transcribe "manhã", I do it like: [mɐ̃ˈɲɐ̃]; even though they sound and feel exactly the same, so yeah, it confuses me :') Oct 4, 2021 at 23:26
  • @ErgativeMan How about a word like nhoque? Generally speaking, [j̃] should not appear syllable-initially, so even if you consistently pronounce manhã with no alveolar occlusion, you ought to have full occlusion in nhoque. Oct 13, 2021 at 23:40

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