Chapter 129: Prenasalized consonants

Feature information for this chapter can be found in feature 129.

Quite a few APiCS languages have prenasalized segments, i.e. homorganic sequences of nasal and nonnasal consonants which function as single segments in the languages (see Herbert (1986: 10) for discussion of the definition of prenasalized consonants). The most common types are prenasalized voiced plosives. Some examples of [mb], [ŋg], [nd] and [ndʒ] are given in (1)-(4).

voiced bialbial plosive [mb]
Lingala móka village
Santome mblôlô (a fish species)
Tayo mboku much
voiced velar plosive [ŋg]
Palenquero ngato cat
Casamancese Creole ŋgratu ungrateful
Cameroon Pidgin English ŋgambi spirit
voiced dental/alveolar plosive [nd]
Mixed Ma'a/Mbugu ndaté stick
Angolar ndatxi root
voiced dpalato-alveolar sibilant affricate [ndʒ]
Lingala ndjibela pocket

In one quarter of the APiCS languages, there is at least one prenasalized sound:

Prenasalized segments exist19
No prenasalized segments57

Consonants other than voiced plosives are more rarely prenasalized in our data (e.g. [nt] as in Santome ntenu ‘pan’, [ns] as in Cameroon Pidgin English nsɔ ‘Nso (place)’).

Prenasalization is generally not common in the world’s languages, but in sub-Saharan Africa it is fairly widespread (though not in Kwa and Kru languages, see Parkvall 2000: 39-43). Thus, the concentration of prenasalization in the African APiCS languages is not surprising. In some languages, only words taken from the indigenous African languages have prenasalized segments, while in others, lexifier-derived words also show prenasalization e.g. Palenquero ngato ‘cat’. Word-medially it is often difficult to tell whether a prenasalized sequence is a single segment or a sequence (cf. Holm 1988: 127-130), so the examples here all show word-initial prenasalization.