Dental, alveolar and postalveolar nasals

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For consonants followed by superscript ⁿ, see Nasal release.
Alveolar nasal
IPA number 116
Entity (decimal) n
Unicode (hex) U+006E
Kirshenbaum n
Braille ⠝ (braille pattern dots-1345)

The alveolar nasal is a type of consonantal sound used in numerous spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents dental, alveolar, and postalveolar nasals is ⟨n⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is n.

The vast majority of languages have either an alveolar or dental nasal. There are a few languages that lack either sound but have [m] (e.g. colloquial Samoan). There are some languages (e.g. Rotokas) that lack both [m] and [n].

True dental consonants are relatively uncommon. In the Romance, Dravidian, and Australian languages, n is often called "dental" in the literature. However, the rearmost contact (which is what gives a consonant its distinctive sound) is actually alveolar or denti-alveolar. The difference between the Romance languages and English is not so much where the tongue contacts the roof of the mouth, as which part of the tongue makes the contact. In English it is the tip of the tongue (such sounds are termed apical), whereas in the Romance languages it is the flat of the tongue just above the tip (such sounds are called laminal).

However, there are languages with true apical (or less commonly laminal) dental n. It is found in the Mapuche language of South America, where it is actually interdental. A true dental generally occurs allophonically before /θ/ in languages which have it, as in English tenth. Similarly, a denti-alveolar allophone will occur in languages which have denti-alveolar stops, as in Spanish cinta.

Some languages contrast laminal denti-alveolar and apical alveolar nasals. For example, in the Malayalam pronunciation of Nārāyanan, the first n is dental, the second is retroflex, and the third alveolar.

A postalveolar nasal occurs in a number of Australian Aboriginal languages, including Djeebbana and Jingulu.[1]


Features of the alveolar nasal:

  • Its manner of articulation is occlusive, which means it is produced by obstructing airflow in the vocal tract. Because the consonant is also nasal, the blocked airflow is redirected through the nose.
  • There are four specific variants of [n]:
    • Dental, which means it is articulated with either the tip or the blade of the tongue at the upper teeth, termed respectively apical and laminal.
    • Denti-alveolar, which means it is articulated with the blade of the tongue at the alveolar ridge, and the tip of the tongue behind upper teeth.
    • Alveolar, which means it is articulated with either the tip or the blade of the tongue at the alveolar ridge, termed respectively apical and laminal.
    • Postalveolar, which means it is articulated with either the tip or the blade of the tongue behind the alveolar ridge, termed respectively apical and laminal.
  • Its phonation is voiced, which means the vocal cords vibrate during the articulation.
  • It is a nasal consonant, which means air is allowed to escape through the nose, either exclusively (nasal stops) or in addition to through the mouth.
  • Because the sound is not produced with airflow over the tongue, the centrallateral dichotomy does not apply.
  • The airstream mechanism is pulmonic, which means it is articulated by pushing air solely with the lungs and diaphragm, as in most sounds.


Dental or denti-alveolar

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Belarusian[2] новы [ˈn̪ovɨ] 'new' Laminal denti-alveolar. Contrasts with palatalized form. See Belarusian phonology
Bulgarian[3] жена [ʒɛˈn̪a] 'woman' Laminal denti-alveolar.
Catalan[4] cantar [kən̪ˈt̪ä(ɾ)] 'to sing' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /n/ before /t, d/.[4] See Catalan phonology
Dutch Belgian nicht [n̻ɪxt̻] 'niece' Laminal denti-alveolar, sometimes simply alveolar. See Dutch phonology
English month [mʌn̪θ] 'month' Interdental. Allophone of /n/ before /θ, ð/.
Esperanto Esperanto [espeˈranto] 'Who hopes' See Esperanto phonology
French[5] connexion [kɔn̻ɛksjɔ̃] 'connection' Laminal denti-alveolar, sometimes simply alveolar. See French phonology
Greek[6] άνθος/ánthos [ˈɐn̪θo̞s] 'flower' Interdental. Allophone of /n/. See Modern Greek phonology
Hungarian[7] nagyi [ˈn̪ɒɟi] 'grandma' Laminal denti-alveolar. See Hungarian phonology
Italian[8][9] cantare [kän̪ˈt̪äːre] 'to sing' Laminal denti-alveolar.[9] Allophone of /n/ before /t, d, s, z, t͡s, d͡z/.[8][9] See Italian phonology
Kashubian[10] [example needed] Laminal denti-alveolar.
Kazakh көрінді [kœɾɪn̪d̪ɪ] 'it seemed' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /n/ before /t, d/.
Kyrgyz беделинде [be̞d̪e̞lin̪d̪e̞] 'in the authority' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /n/ before /t, d/.
Latvian[11] nakts [n̪äkt̪s̪] 'night' Laminal denti-alveolar. See Latvian phonology
Macedonian[12] нос [n̪o̞s̪] 'nose' Laminal denti-alveolar. See Macedonian phonology
Malayalam[13] പന്നി [pən̪n̪i] 'pig' Interdental for some speakers.
Mapudungun[14] a [mɘ̝ˈn̪ɐ̝] 'male cousin on father's side' Interdental.[14]
Polish[15] nos [n̪ɔs̪] 'nose' Laminal denti-alveolar. Alveolar before /t͡ʂ, d͡ʐ/. See Polish phonology
Portuguese General[16][17] narina [n̻ɐˈɾin̻ɐ] 'nostril' Laminal denti-alveolar. May nasalize preceding vowel (especially if stressed). Has [ɲ̟] as allophone, forming from clusters with [j], and before /i/.
Vernacular Paulista[18][19] percebendo [pe̞ʁse̞ˈbẽn̻u] 'perceiving' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /d/ after a stressed nasal vowel in more stigmatized varieties. See Portuguese phonology
Romanian[20] alună [äˈlun̪ə] 'hazelnut' Laminal denti-alveolar. See Romanian phonology
Serbo-Croatian студент / student [s̪t̪ǔd̪e̞n̪t̪] 'student' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /n/ before /t, d, s, z, t͡s/. See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Slovene amarant [amaˈɾaːn̪t̪] 'amaranth' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /n/ before /t, d, s, z, t͡s/. See Slovene phonology
Spanish Most dialects cantar [kän̪ˈt̪är] 'to sing' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /n/ before /t, d/. See Spanish phonology
Ukrainian[21] наш [n̪ɑʃ] 'our' Laminal denti-alveolar, contrasts with palatalized form. See Ukrainian phonology
Uzbek[22] [example needed] Laminal denti-alveolar.


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Adyghe нэфнэ [nafna] 'light'
Arabic Standard نار [naːr] 'fire' See Arabic phonology
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic nora [noɾa:] 'mirror'
Basque ni [ni] 'I'
Bengali নাক [na:k] 'nose' See Bengali phonology
Catalan[23] nou [ˈnɔw] 'new' See Catalan phonology
Chinese Mandarin /nán [nan˧˥] 'difficult' See Mandarin phonology
Czech na [na] 'on' See Czech phonology
Dutch[24] nacht [nɑxt] 'night' See Dutch phonology
English nice [naɪs] 'nice' See English phonology
Finnish annan [ˈɑnːɑn] 'I give' See Finnish phonology
Georgian[25] კა [ˈkʼɑni] 'skin'
Greek νάμα/náma [ˈnama] 'communion wine' See Modern Greek phonology
Gujarati હી [nəhi] 'no' See Gujarati phonology
Hawaiian[26] naka [naka] 'to shake' See Hawaiian phonology
Hebrew נבון [navon] 'wise' See Modern Hebrew phonology
Hindustani या / نیا [nəjaː] 'new' See Hindi–Urdu phonology
Italian[27] nano [ˈnäːno] 'dwarf' See Italian phonology
Japanese[28] 反対/hantai [hantai] 'opposite' See Japanese phonology
Korean /na [na] 'I' See Korean phonology
Kyrgyz[29] банан [baˈnan] 'banana'
Malay nasi [näsi] 'cooked rice'
Malayalam[13] കന്നി [kənni] 'virgin'
Maltese lenbuba [lenbuˈba] 'truncheon'
Mapudungun[14] na [mɘ̝ˈnɐ̝] 'enough'
Marathi [nəkʰ] 'fingernail' See Marathi phonology
Ngwe Mmockngie dialect [nøɣə̀] 'sun'
Pirahã gíxai [níˈʔàì̯] 'you'
Polish[15] poncz [ˈpɔn̥t͡ʂ] 'punch' Allophone of /n/ (which is normally laminal denti-alveolar []) before /t͡ʂ, d͡ʐ/. See Polish phonology
Punjabi ਨੱਕ [nəkː] 'nose'
Slovak na [na] 'on'
Slovene[30] novice [nɔˈʋìːt̪͡s̪ɛ] 'news'
Spanish[31] nada [ˈnäð̞ä] 'nothing' See Spanish phonology
Turkish neden [ne̞d̪æn] 'reason' See Turkish phonology
Vietnamese[32] bạn đi [ɓan˧ˀ˨ʔ ɗi] 'you're going' Occurs only before alveolar consonants. See Vietnamese phonology
Welsh nain [nain] 'grandmother' See Welsh phonology
Western Apache non About this sound [nòn]  'cache'
West Frisian nekke [ˈnɛkə] 'neck'
Yi /na [na˧ ] 'hurt'
Zapotec Tilquiapan[33] nanɨɨ [nanɨˀɨ] 'lady' contrasts with a fortis alveolar nasal that is not represented in the orthography.


See also: Retroflex nasal
Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Catalan[4] panxa ['pän̠ɕə][34] 'belly' Allophone of /n/ before /ʃ, ʒ, t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ/, may be alveolo-palatal instead.[4] See Catalan phonology
Czech manželka [ˈman̠ʒelka] 'wife' Allophone of /n/ before postalveolar sibilants. See Czech phonology
Djeebbana[35] barnmarramarlón̠a [needs IPA][ban̠maramal̠ɔn̪a] 'they two swam' Result of rhotic plus alveolar [n].[35]
English Australian[36] enrol [əṉˈɹ̠ɔo̯ɫ] 'enrol' Allophone of /n/ before /r/.[36] See Australian English phonology
Italian[37] angelo [ˈän̠ʲːd͡ʒelo] 'angel' Palatalized laminal; allophone of /n/ before /ʃ, t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ/.[37] See Italian phonology


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
English Scottish[38] nice [nəis] 'nice'

Laminal denti-alveolar for some speakers, alveolar for other speakers.[38][39]

German Standard[40] Lanze [ˈlant͡sə] 'lance' Varies between laminal denti-alveolar, laminal alveolar and apical alveolar.[40] See Standard German phonology
Norwegian Standard Eastern[41] mann [mɑn̻ː] 'man' Varies between laminal denti-alveolar and laminal alveolar.[41] See Norwegian phonology
Swedish Central Standard[42] nu [nʉ̟ː] 'now' Varies between laminal denti-alveolar and alveolar, with the former being predominant.[42] See Swedish phonology

See also


  1. ^ Chadwick, Neil J. (1975). A descriptive study of the Djingili language. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. 
  2. ^ Padluzhny (1989), pp. 49–50.
  3. ^ Klagstad Jr. (1958), p. 46.
  4. ^ a b c d Rafel (1999), p. 14.
  5. ^ Fougeron & Smith (1993), p. 73.
  6. ^ Arvaniti (2007), p. 15.
  7. ^ Siptár & Törkenczy (2000), pp. 75–76.
  8. ^ a b Bertinetto & Loporcaro (2005), p. 133.
  9. ^ a b c Canepari (1992), p. 58.
  10. ^ Jerzy Treder. "Fonetyka i fonologia". 
  11. ^ Nau (1998), p. 6.
  12. ^ Lunt (1952), p. 1.
  13. ^ a b Ladefoged (2005), p. 165.
  14. ^ a b c Sadowsky et al. (2013), pp. 88–89.
  15. ^ a b Rocławski (1976), p. 136.
  16. ^ Cruz-Ferreira (1995), p. 91.
  17. ^ Barbosa & Albano (2004), p. 230.
  18. ^ (Portuguese) Unesp's digital collection – The deleting of /d/ in the morpheme of the gerund in São José do Rio Preto's accent
  19. ^ (Portuguese) The deletting of /d/ in the morpheme of the gerund in São José do Rio Preto's accent – PDF
  20. ^ Chițoran (2001), p. 10.
  21. ^ Danyenko & Vakulenko (1995), p. 10.
  22. ^ Sjoberg (1963), p. 12.
  23. ^ Carbonell & Llisterri (1992), p. 53.
  24. ^ Gussenhoven (1992), p. 45.
  25. ^ Shosted & Chikovani (2006), p. 255.
  26. ^ Ladefoged (2005), p. 139.
  27. ^ Rogers & d'Arcangeli (2004), p. 117.
  28. ^ Okada (1991), p. 94.
  29. ^ Kara (2003), p. 11.
  30. ^ Pretnar & Tokarz (1980), p. 21.
  31. ^ Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003), p. 255.
  32. ^ Thompson (1959), pp. 458–461.
  33. ^ Merrill (2008), p. 108.
  34. ^ Valencian pronunciation: ['pän̠t͡ɕä]. Note that what's transcribed /ʃ, ʒ, t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ/ in Catalan are actually alveolo-palatal sibilants [ɕ, ʑ, t͡ɕ, d͡ʑ].
  35. ^ a b Dixon (2002), p. 585.
  36. ^ a b Mannell, Cox & Harrington (2009).
  37. ^ a b Canepari (1992), pp. 58–59.
  38. ^ a b Scobbie, Gordeeva & Matthews (2006), p. 4.
  39. ^ a b Wells (1982), p. 388.
  40. ^ a b Mangold (2005), p. 49.
  41. ^ a b Kristoffersen (2000), p. 22.
  42. ^ a b Riad (2014), p. 46.


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