I have a question regarding the initial part of stop consonants in English.

Let's take /b/, the voiced bilabial stop consonant, as an example. When I produce this consonant, prior to the stop release, my lips are closed so airflow through my mouth is completely blocked. To vibrate the vocal cords, I send air through my nose. Does that mean the initial part of my /b/ is identical to the initial part of /m/, the bilabial nasal consonant? Is this how native speakers of English articulate this stop?

In general in English, are voiced stops articulated in the same manner as their nasal counterparts before the stop release?

  • 1
    If the velic is open, you can generally hear nasality on /m/ and not on /b/. A /b/ can be held for a certain time while the mouth fills up with air (an /m/ can of course be held indefinitely because the air escapes) but there's no nasality with /b/ because the velic is closed. Other than that, they're the same, yes.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 5:41
  • Thank you for the reply! I tried but I haven't managed to block the nasal passage when I say /b/. Any tips how I can close the "velic"?
    – netvope
    Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 6:03
  • 2
    Hum [m] for a while, then turn it into a [b]. (Keep humming until your lips are forced open by air pressure, to prove it was a real [b]). At some point during the change, the velic flap (look it up) at the back of your mouth closed the nasal passage, forcing the air into your mouth. Learn to feel that movement; it's under your control and you can control it independently of other articulators. Take a phonetics class. If you can't do that, get a copy of Catford's Practical Introduction to Phonetics, which is designed for the autodidact.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 16:28
  • When you say "the lips are closed" and "air is sent through the nose", you mean your lips and your nose, right? I would not consider airflow through the nose to be a standard way to articulate an initial /b/ in English. What is your native language? As @RainDoctor notes, the phoneme /b/ does not have a language-general phonetic realization. Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 15:14
  • @musicallinguist Cantonese. I'm trying to learn how to correctly articulate a /b/ in English :)
    – netvope
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 21:29

2 Answers 2


There are different kinds of stop consonant /b/.

  1. Prevoiced /b/: this occurs in Spanish, French, Russian, etc; has a negative VOT. In other words, voicing starts before the closure. You can call it 'voice lagging time'.
  2. Partially voiced /b/: this occurs in aspirating languages, and intially. has non-negative VOT (sure, you find some speakers with negative VOT).
  3. What happens when you open velopharngeal port when you are producing a prevoiced /b/? You hear prenasalized /b/. And you can see prenasalization in Bantu languages.

If you let air escape through the nasal cavity during the oral closure, then yes--the first part of your /b/ is being articulated in the same way as an /m/.

This is not the standard way for native speakers of English to articulate stop consonants. If a native speaker actually (phonetically) voices her stops (i.e. if there actually is vocal fold vibration during the oral closure), the vocal fold vibration is achieved by passing the air through to the oral cavity only. This is possible even when the oral cavity is completely sealed (due to the lips being closed, for example) because the air is a gas and is thus compressible. The walls of the cavity may also expand a bit to accommodate the greater volume of air. You can convince yourself that this is true if you hold your nose shut with your fingers and attempt to "hum" with your lips closed.

It is true that maintaining vocal fold vibration with both the oral and nasal cavities closed is difficult. This difficulty, along with the fact that there are more robust cues to (phonological) voicing in English (see my response to a related question), explains why many native speakers don't actually phonetically voice their voiced stops! If you record someone with consistent stop voicing and then go in and replace all of the voice bars with silence, all of the stops will still be perceived by other native speakers as voiced.

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