Friday, July 23, 2010

Nasal dramas

I appear to be the only person among my nearest and dearest not suffering from a winter runny nose (maybe my body and I have reached a mutual understanding that I don't have time to be sick). However I am currently having my own nasal crisis, although of a slightly different, more orthographic kind.

Because most languages have sounds beyond what are easily represented by the standard English alphabet, one way to transcribe is to use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). It has lots of handy symbols for lots of handy sounds (here's an interactive version).

I've been using a few of the symbols - eg. ʃ to represent the sound English speakers write as 'sh', or ɖ and ʈ to represent sounds that we don't have in English - they sounds much like 'd' and 't' for English speakers, but the tongue curls up and the underside is used - they're called 'retroflex' for this reason.

There is also one more nasal sound than we have in the English alphabet, called a palatal nasal. This is made by making an 'n' sound - but moving the tongue back so it's against the top of your mouth - sounds a bit like 'ny'.

The IPA has a handy symbol for this; ɲ. However, I've just noticed that I've actually been using this symbol instead; ɳ - which is a retroflex nasal instead. A subtle difference indeed, but how it has escaped my attention and the attention of 3 supervisors until now is quite a mystery to me.

All I can say is thank goodness for the find and replace functions of word processors!

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