Sunday, 31 May 2009

ɲ

While we’re on the topic of nasals (blog, 28 May), it’s interesting to note that there’s one nasal that is pretty common in the world’s languages in general, but which we don’t have in English: the palatal nasal, ɲ.
When we borrow words containing a palatal nasal from languages that do have one, we have two possible strategies: map it onto nj, or map it onto simple n.
In final position, there’s no choice: it has to be n. So French Charlemagne ʃaʁləmaɲ becomes ˈʃɑː(r)ləmeɪn (mostly), and champagne ʃɑ̃paɲ becomes ˌʃæmˈpeɪn; we use the French name for German Köln kœln, namely Cologne kɔlɔɲ, which we pronounce as kəˈləʊn. In Boulogne bulɔɲ, on the other hand, we transfer the palatality to the vowel and say buˈlɔɪn.
Medially, we have nj in poignant, cognac, vignette. French doesn’t have word-initial ɲ, so the question of what to do with it doesn’t arise; but Italian does have it, and when confronted with gnocchi I think most people just say ˈnɒki, unless they are among the few linguistic sophisticates who know it ought to be ˈnjɒki. There’s a phonotactic problem there, though, in that in a stressed syllable English Cj- is on the whole restricted to positions before the vowel or something derived from it.
When it comes to Spanish, I think most British people ignore the diacritic in piña colada piɲakoˈlaða and just say ˈpiːnə kəˈlɑːdə. But Americans know more Spanish, and say ˈpiːnjə. In the case of cañon, fortunately we decided to anglicize its spelling to canyon, so everyone says nj.
Few British people know any Portuguese, so piranha, BrPort piˈraɲa, is usually just pəˈrɑːnə.
Now you know what the picture is for.

13 comments:

  1. No, we use the English name for Cologne. The fact that it has a French etymology doesn't make it French, or our pronunciation any the worse. Your posting is almost a cultural cringe.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I recently heard the following from an American friend: [Emp@"njA:d@z] for Sp "empanadas". Hypercorrection, perhaps?

    ReplyDelete
  3. "[w]hen confronted with gnocchi I think most people just say ˈnɒki, unless they are among the few linguistic sophisticates who know it ought to be ˈnjɒki."

    Out here in California people are more likely to say /noki/ or /njoki/: since /o/ is not fronted this is arguably closer to the Italian original than the British /nɒki/.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Incidentally, "gnocchi" has been borrowed into Portuguese as a loan word, spelled "nhoque", pronounced roughly as in Italian. (Portuguese doesn't otherwise have initial "nh").

    This is a wonderful demonstration of two principles of Portuguese orthography: "nh" being used to represent /nj/, and post-tonic "e" being raised to /i/.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Out here in California people are more likely to say /noki/ or /njoki/: since /o/ is not fronted this is arguably closer to the Italian original than the British /nɒki/An argument that it's really not a good idea to have. When you're pronouncing words your aim is usually to have your interlocutors understand you, not to pronounce words as etymologically accurately as possible.

    ReplyDelete
  6. @Tristan: woah -- steady on. All I did was make an observation that Californians say /njoki/ rather than /njɒki/ (or /njɑki/, which would be its California equivalent). I added the observation that it's "arguably closer to the Italian original" as a minor aside. I did _not_ claim that it is somehow superior as a pronunciation to /njɒki/. Indeed I myself, having acquired my accent in the UK, would normally say /njɒki/.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Here in Germany the spelling pronunciation /ɡnɔki/, which wouldn't be possible in English, prevails.

    ReplyDelete
  8. @JW: Few British people know any Portuguese, so piranha, BrPort piˈraɲa, is usually just pəˈrɑːnə.Shouldn't the BrPort be something like piˈhaɲa (if the IPA comes through)? BrPort <r> is usually some form of [h] or [X], I believe.

    Reporting on the recent tragic loss of the Air France jet, a BBC radio reporter said that the aircraft had passed the islands of Fernando de Noronha, which he pronounced exactly as written ("Noron-ha").

    ReplyDelete
  9. Shouldn't the BrPort be something like piˈhaɲa (if the IPA comes through)? BrPort r is usually some form of [h] or [X], I believe.

    Intervocalically, orthographic single R is an alveolar tap like in Spanish. Word-initally or when doubled orthographically (roughly, where Spanish has a trill), BrPort has a voiceless uvular or glottal fricative, which is what you are thinking of. Word finally, written R is often zero.

    ReplyDelete
  10. In Brazilian Portuguese NH is normally pronounced like a ''nasal glide'' (nasalized [j]) and not like a Continental Portuguese NH, French GN or Spanish Ñ, so in Brazil people confuse NENHUM (none) and NEM UM (not one) in writing, using NENHUM instead of NEM UM and vice versa. Theories to this ''nasal glide'' pronunciation:
    1) Medieval Portuguese (NH was pronounced as nasal glide)
    2) African influence (in São Tomé Portuguese NH is pronounced as nasal [j], not like Spanish Ñ
    3) Tupy-Guarany influence (in these languages there is no Ñ, only the nasal glide).

    ReplyDelete
  11. There are some other words starting with NH in Portuguese besides "nhoque":
    http://tinyurl.com/y6tyyl4

    In Portuguese, the R in piranha is ɾ. Almost like /piˈrɐɲɐ/. The last A is something between /a/ and /ɐ/. I don't know how it would be in IPA.

    Is there really any difference between European and Brazilian NH /ɲ/? I'm Brazilian and haven't been able to realize any difference when listening to Portuguese people.

    "Nenhum" (none; no-one) and "nem um" (not one) would have the same pronunciation only when speaking very quickly.

    Portuguese NH, French GN and Italian GN sound the same to me. Spanish Ñ sounds different.

    ReplyDelete
  12. French does have word-initial ɲ, in slang words such as "gnôle" (/ɲol/, "booze). It's just not very common, and not the first pronunciation that comes to mind for "gnocchi". Most dictionaries give /ɲoki/ as the correct pronunciation. I hear /ɡnoki/ around here, but some speakers say /noki/.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Brazilian Portuguese NH is a nasal glide, it's a nasal approximant, the tongue does not touch the hard palate.

    This statement can be found in:

    1. Modern Portuguese (A Reference Grammar), Mário Perini. Yale University Press. 2002

    2.Talking Brazilian, Mário Perini. Yale University Press. 2002

    3.A Grammar of Spoken Brazilian Portuguese, Earl W. Thomas; Vanderbilt University Press. 1987.

    4. Fonética e fonologia de português. Thaïs Cristófaro Silva, Editora Contexto, 2001.

    ReplyDelete