How Nasal Consonants Influence Vowels

Sep 20, 2020

How Nasal Consonants Influence Vowels

9/20/2020

American English doesn't have nasal vowels...BUT...nasal consonants can influence the way vowels are pronounced! If you want to sound natural to a native speaker, you need to master the nasalization of the American English vowels. Practice your nasalized vowels in this video!

(Video Transcript)

 

Hi, I’m Julie with San Diego Voice and Accent, and in this video, you’ll learn how the nasal consonants can change the pronunciation of the vowels in American English.



Listen to these three words. Do they have the same vowel sound...or do they have a different vowel sound?

 

sit

 

sin

 

sing



These three words all contain the same vowel sound - the IH /ɪ/ as in bit vowel. But you might have noticed that the vowel didn’t sound the same in all three words. I’ll say them again, and listen carefully to the vowel sound.

 

sit

 

sin

 

sing



The IH vowel sounded like the pure IH vowel in the first word, sit. 

 

sit

 

But in the other two words, the IH vowel sounded...different. 

 

sin

 

sing

 

Nasalization of the IH /ɪ/ vowel

Why did the IH vowel sound so different in sit and sing?  Look at the IPA transcription of these words, and you’ll see that sin and sing contain the nasal consonants N and NG. These nasal consonants influence the way the IH vowel is pronounced. The muscles in the mouth and nose anticipate that a nasal sound is coming, so they prepare for the nasal consonant while you pronounce the vowel. This causes the IH vowel to become nasalized, which means a little bit of air comes out of the nose as you say the vowel.

 

This happens anytime a vowel comes before a nasal consonant in the same syllable. But the effect of nasalization can vary depending on the vowel and the nasal consonant. Sometimes it is very noticeable, like in the example of sit and sing

 

sit

 

sing

 

It almost sounds like two different vowels! 

 

And sometimes the effect of nasalization isn’t as noticeable, like in the example of tone and toad.

 

tone

 

toad

 

Those sound like the same vowel to me!



I first want to discuss the vowels that are impacted the most by nasal consonants. Some of this will be a review for some of you, but practice along with me anyway so you can be sure that you sound as natural as possible to a native speaker.

 

IH /ɪ/ before NG /ŋ/

Let’s start with the IH /ɪ/ as in bit vowel.

 

When IH comes before the NG consonant /ŋ/, like in the word sing, it sounds like a combination of the IH and EE vowels. 

 

IH + EE

IH + EE

IH + EE

sing



Here is the word sing without the effects of nasalization: 

 

sing

sing

 

It doesn’t sound right.

 

Here it is with nasalization:

 

sing



Here are some additional practice words:

 

bring

cling

fling

king

ring

sling

spring

sting

string

thing

wing




AA /æ/ before N or M consonants

Next, the AA /æ/ as in cat vowel. When AA comes before the N or M consonants, like in the words hand and ham, it sounds like a combination of AA and UH. The back of the tongue relaxes as you progress through the vowel to the nasal consonant. 

 

AA + UH

AA + UH

AA + UH

 

hand

ham



Here is the word hand without the effects of nasalization:

 

hand

hand

 

Hmm. It doesn’t sound right! Here it is with nasalization:

 

hand



Here are some additional practice words:

 

can

 

demand

 

began

 

ran

 

plan

 

lamp

 

example

 

man

 

stamp

 

stand

 

answer




AA /æ/ before NG /ŋ/

When the AA vowel comes before the NG consonant /ŋ/, like in the word sang, it sounds closer to the AY /eɪ/ diphthong.

 

AY /eɪ/

 

sang



Here is the word sang without the effects of nasalization:

 

sang

sang

 

Hmm - that doesn’t right! Here it is with nasalization:

 

sang



Here are some additional practice words:

 

ankle

 

tank

 

thanks

 

anger

 

bank

 

drank

 

Hank



Vowels: Non-nasal consonants and nasal consonants

Now, you’ll hear examples of vowels when they come before a non-nasal consonant and a nasal consonant. The vowels that come before a nasal consonant are nasalized, but the effect of nasalization isn’t as noticeable as it was in the earlier examples. But listen for the nasality and repeat after me.



seat/seen

 

pit/pin

 

bed/Ben

 

zoot/zoom

 

tot/Tom

 

shut/shun

 

hope/home



I hope this video helped you to understand how nasal consonants can influence the pronunciation of American English vowels. Thanks for watching, and let me know how I can help you with your English pronunciation!