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The Status of Voiceless Nasals in Ikema Ryukyuan
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Human production and perception of language, although studied for decades, is largely
misunderstood. Furthermore, not all sounds in human language have been studied extensively.
Typologically rare sounds arguably lack reliable documentation and research. One such sound is
voiceless nasals. Debate as to the degree of voicelessness, method of articulation and general
perceptibility abound concerning the extant careful speech based research (Bhaskararao &
Ladefoged, 1991, Ohala & Ohala 1993). The current study evaluates the acoustic qualities of
voiceless nasals in Ikema, a dialect of the Ryukyuan language Miyako spoken on Japanese
islands near Taiwan.
Data collected from elicitation sessions was analyzed for Ikema’s phonemic nasals /n̥, m̥ ,
n, m/. Speech data consisted of minimal pairs produced in spontaneous sentences chosen by the
speakers, maximizing natural language quality. Target sounds were segmented in Praat and
analyzed for voiced and voiceless nasal portions. Initial analysis revealed voicing throughout the
target sounds when found word or phrase medially, or word or phrase finally, leading to analysis
of breathy voicing state quality using cepstral peak prominence (CPP). The segments were
compared to voiceless nasals and modal nasals found in the language. Analysis revealed
significantly higher CPP for target voiced sounds than modal sounds, suggesting an allophonic
relationship between voiceless nasals and breathy nasals in Ikema.
Detailed knowledge of voiceless nasal articulation in natural speech will help create a
more accurate understanding of Ikema’s sound system, extending to our knowledge of Miyako
and its relative Japanese. This research may also illustrate variable articulations of voiceless
nasals, contributing to our efforts to describe human phonetics as a whole.
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