In Corsican, some vowels are nasalized before a nasal consonant in the same syllable. What do these vowels have in common? Here are some examples:

'prin.tʃi.pe = prince

'fun.gu = mushroom

'ãn.ku = also

'kõn.tu = settlement

'põn.te = bridge'

fun.da.'mẽn.tu = foundation

I think that one similarity is the short pronounciation of the vowels due to nasalizing both vowel and consonant. But thats the only thing I can deduce and it is not a very scientifical approach or answer. Any hints would be appreciated.

  • 4
    This looks very much like a homework question. Those are okay, but you need to edit the question and add something that shows that you’ve tried to find a solution for yourself, as well as how/why what you tried didn’t convince you you have the right answer. Just copy-pasting the question and expecting someone to give you the answer is very much frowned upon. Nov 6 '21 at 12:56
  • Your guess is not quite along the right path (assuming that my guess at the obvious answer is correct) – the transcription appears to be using IPA, in which case long vowels would be indicated by a colon /ː/ after the vowel. Since there isn’t one, it follows that all the vowels here are short, both oral and nasal. But look at which vowels are nasal and which aren’t and then try placing them in the typical IPA vowel chart and you should see what it is. Nov 6 '21 at 15:51
  • @JanusBahsJacquet As with all nasal vowels, the airflow from the larynx into the mouth is reduced by bringing the soft palate closer to the base of the tongue. Another thing is that the position of the lips is always rounded here. If it is not correct then I truly am puzzled. Nov 6 '21 at 18:39
  • The lips are not always rounded here – before nasal consonants you have rounded /õ/ and unrounded /ẽ ã/, and you have rounded /u/ and unrounded /i/. In other words, the vowels that nasalise are /a e o/ and the ones that don’t are /i u/. What does that distribution look like? Nov 6 '21 at 18:56
  • @JanusBahsJacquet i and u are almost closed vowels and the others are open but the question is what all vowels have in common, isn't it? Nov 6 '21 at 20:47

The difficulty in seeing the solution derives from the theory of classifying groups of sounds. You can see that [i u] do not become nasal, and [a e o] do, but how do you encode that in a rule. One (bad) solution is to simply list the three letters that do nasalize, and forego any generalization of what the one class of sounds have in common. So you need a theory of how to describe sets of sounds. If you are trying to describe the sounds that undergo the rule using IPA terminology, you are doomed, because there is no IPA property that combines [e o a], especially given that the vowels in the middle are transcribed with [e o] and not [ɛ ɔ]. But there are other phonological theories for describing groups of sounds. One such theory, the SPE theory, has a small number pf physical properties plus values "+" and "-", where for example "voiced" is not a separate feature from "voiceless", instead there is a general property of voicing which may be present ([+voice]) or lacking ([-voice]).

So the answer depends on the theoretical framework that you are using for describing sounds and how groups of sounds cluster together a classes in phonological rules. Most phonological theories have a way to do this, but they vary wildly in how they do it.


Assuming that the data is correct and there's indeed good basis to say that /i, u/ don't become nasalised, then in the IPA vowel space what distinguishes these two vowels from all the rest is that they're high/close as opposed to mid or low/open. In generative / autosegmental phonology this is encoded as the vowel feature [+high].

In particle phonology, however, there's no single feature that distinguishes them, not even the two features I and U since they're also present in the vowels /e/ (AI) and /o/ (AU).

A phonetic explanation must be that:

  1. the two high vowels /i/ and /u/ are the two shortest vowel sounds while nasalisation increases vowel duration, and
  2. nasalisation pushes the vowels away from the corners and towards the middle of the vowel space, while what distinguishes the vowels /i/ and /u/ is their extreme corner peripherality.

The two in combination would suffice to disfavour phonemic (perceptually salient) nasalisation of these vowels.

I put in italics terms that you may benefit from googling.

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