Exceptional nasal-stop inventories

Carlos-Eduardo Piñeros


This article explores the topic of exceptionality in phonology focusing on nasal-stop inventories. A meticulous survey shows that it is normal for such systems to include at least two anterior units: /m/ and /n/. The finding that the introduction of /ŋ/, the first posterior unit to appear, normally follows that of both anterior units suggests that anteriority is somehow more compatible with this consonant class; however, this hypothesis is challenged by exceptions: /n/ is occasionally superseded by /ŋ/. The proposed analysis overturns the view that there is a single universal place hierarchy. It demonstrates that languages assess the cost of place features on multiple dimensions and that nasal-stop inventories are shaped by the conflict between three evaluation measures: one for articulatory cost, one for perceptual cost, and one for dispersion. A theory of far greater explanatory power emerges when each evaluation measure is empirically substantiated and their universality is strictly respected.


sound inventories; nasal stops; place features; exceptions; place hierarchies; universal rankings; articulatory cost; perceptual cost; dispersion

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