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Why Not More Nasals!!!!?

From:Brian Betty <bbetty@...>
Date:Tuesday, March 9, 1999, 16:36
On 3/8/99, Ray Brown wrote: "You could, of course, have added that Chinese
(all varieties I believe) has NO phonemic voiced plosives but does have
three phonemic nasals - and that accounts for a large part of the world's

Untrue! Shanghainese and several other dialects of Chinese have phonemic,
voiced stops: BDG. Mandarin has, in some dialects such as Beijinghua,
half-voiced consonants, often notated as voiced BDG with an open dot under
them. These sounds are halfway between voiced and voiceless - ie. voicing
for the vowels that follow stops (Mandarin has no final stops, so they are
all located before a voiced sound, either a vowel or a semivowel) comes so
soon after the stop that the two are almost simultaneous. This is unlike
more familiar dialects of Chinese like the various Cantonese dialects,
which make clearly voiceless stops.

But as for the rest, it's true!

"I'm by no means well up on the languages of the area, but I get the
impression that the main opposition in plosives is between aspirated &
unaspirated voicless plosives and that the few voiced plosives function
rather differently."

Of Asia, you mean? Well, certainly the opposition of aspiration is the most
common in South China and much of mainland Southeast Asia; that and
phonemic tone are often called the 'areal typography' of Southeast Asia
much as retroflexion is that of Indian languages (and has made its way into
bordering aspirate regions, such as Lhasa Tibetan, as tones and aspiration
have influenced neighboring North Indian languages).

But Vietnamese has implosive consonants (like the famous Vietnamese b), for
example, and voiced sounds and other local preferences are present in many
languages in the region. I suspect that Beijing Mandarin, isolated in a sea
of Altaic and other languages that prize distinctions of voicing, is
tending towards voicing sounds ... weird. I wonder if the loss of finals is
conditioned by neighboring languages which don't permit finals save nasals,
much like Japanese (not that I think Japanese influenced Mandarin much ...
) I think Manchu is like this. Does anyone know?


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