N - Encyclopedia




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N A letter which regularly follows M in the alphabet, and, like it in its early forms has the first limb longer than the others; thus, written from right to left, A. The Semitic languages gradually diminish the size of the other two limbs, while the Greek and Latin alphabets tend to make all three of equal length. The earliest name of the symbol was Nun, whence comes the Greek ny (vv). The sound of n varies according to the point at which the contact of the tongue with the roof of the mouth is made; it may be dental, alveolar, palatal or guttural. In Sanskrit these four sounds are distinguished by different symbols; the last two occur in combination with stops or affricates of the same series. The French or German n when standing by itself is dental, the English alveolar, i.e. pronounced like the English t and d against the sockets of the teeth instead of the teeth themselves. The guttural nasal is written in English ng as in ring; for the palatal n as in lynch there is no separate symbol. The sound of n stands in the same relation to d as m stands to b; both are ordinarily voiced and the mouth position for both is the same, but in pronouncing n the nasal passage is left open, so that the sound of n can be continued while that of d cannot. This is best observed by pronouncing syllables where the consonant comes last as in and id. When the nasal passage is closed, as when one has a bad cold, m and n cannot be pronounced; attempts to pronounce moon result only in bood. Two important points arise in connexion with nasals: (i) sonant nasals, (2) nasalization of vowels. The discovery of sonant nasals by Dr Karl Brugman in 1876 (Curtius, Studien, 9, pp. 28 5-33 8) explained many facts of language which had been hitherto obscure and elucidated many difficulties in the Indo-European vowel system. It had been observed, for example, that the same original negative prefix was represented in Sanskrit by a, Greek by a, in Latin by in and in Germanic by and these differences had not been accounted for satisfactorily. Dr Brugman argued that in these and similar cases the syllable was made by the consonant alone, and the nasal so used was termed a sonant nasal and written n. In most cases Sanskrit and Greek lost the nasal sound altogether and replaced it by a vowel a, a, while in Latin and Germanic a vowel was developed independently before the nasal. In the accusative singular of consonant stems Sans. padam, Gr. ir68a, Lat. pedem, Sanskrit and Greek did not, as generally, agree, but it was shown that in such cases there were originally two forms according to the nature of the sound beginning the next word in the sentence. Thus an original Indo-European *pedrn, would not be treated precisely in the same way if the next word began with a vowel as it would when a consonant followed. Sanskrit had adopted the form used before vowels, Greek the form before consonants and each had dropped the alternative form. The second point - the nasalizing of vowels - is difficult for an Englishman to understand or to produce, as the sounds do not exist in his language. Thus in learning to pronounce French he tends to replace the nasalized vowels by the nearest sounds in English, making the Fr. on a nasalized vowel (2), into Eng. ong, a vowel followed by a guttural consonant. The nasalized vowels are produced by drawing forward the uvula, the "tab" at the end of the soft palate, so that the breath escapes through the nose as well as the mouth. In the French nasalized vowels, however, many phoneticians hold that, besides the leaving of the nasal passage open, there is a change in the position of the tongue in passing from a to a. The nasalized vowels are generally written with a hook below, upon the analogy of the transliteration of such sounds in the Slavonic languages, but as the same symbol is often used to distinguish an "open" vowel from a "close"'one, the use is not without ambiguity. On the other hand, it is not admissible to write & for the nasalized vowel in languages which have accent signs, e.g. Lithuanian. It is possible to nasalize some consonants as well as vowels; nasalized spirants play an important part in the so-called "Yankee" pronunciation of Americans. (P. GI.)

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