LINGUIST List 28.671

Fri Feb 03 2017

Review: Portuguese; Spanish; Historical Ling; Phonology; Socioling: Goodin-Mayeda (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 29-Sep-2016
From: Silvina Bongiovanni <>
Subject: Nasals and Nasalization in Spanish and Portuguese
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: C. Elizabeth Goodin-Mayeda
TITLE: Nasals and Nasalization in Spanish and Portuguese
SUBTITLE: Perception, phonetics and phonology
SERIES TITLE: Issues in Hispanic and Lusophone Linguistics 9
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Silvina Bongiovanni, Indiana University Bloomington

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Nasality, and in particular vowel nasality, have been much studied in Romance varieties, especially French and Portuguese. The study of nasality in other Romance varieties, like Spanish, has lagged behind. In “Nasals and Nasalization in Spanish and Portuguese”, Prof. C. Elizabeth Goodin-Mayeda explores the perception of nasals and nasalization in Spanish and Portuguese. As a research monograph, it is intended for researchers and advanced students exploring the relationship between phonetics and phonology in co-articulation. A second (but equal) purpose of this book is to examine the role of the listener’s native language. Therefore, this monograph will also be of interest to researchers working on native and non-native speech perception.

The book includes six chapters. Since it is a research monograph, it understandably does not include exercises and problem sets. In the following paragraphs, I provide a brief summary of each chapter.

In Chapter 1, “Introduction”, the author presents the subject matter. This chapter argues for the importance of perceptual work in examining the relationship between phonetics and phonology and offers nasalization in Romance languages as a test case for showcasing the role of speech perception in synchronic variation and language change. As expected, this chapter lays out the goals of the book and presents its organization.

Chapter 2, “From citizens of the world to language specialists: Infant and adult speech perception”, covers literature on speech perception, both for child and adult subjects. In doing so, this chapter highlights the importance of examining language experience and its implications for theories of native and nonnative speech perception.

Chapter 3, “Coarticulation and nasalization”, considers the role of co-articulation and context in speech perception. Though the focus of the book is on speech perception, this chapter offers a comprehensive summary of the phonetics of the velopharyngeal mechanism and the acoustic correlates (and perceptual consequences) of nasal coupling.

Chapter 4, “Nasals and nasalization in Spanish and Portuguese”, describes and compares the phonemic inventories and distribution of nasal consonants and nasal vowels in the languages of interest. It also provides a brief summary of the historical development of this sound class in both languages. It then discusses work on nasal consonants and nasalization, and the phonological processes that these sounds undergo. The section on Spanish focuses on the process nasals undergo in the syllable-coda, such as place assimilation and neutralization. The section in Portuguese, on the other hand, concentrates on nasalization due to stress and due to syllable structure.

Chapter 5, “Studies in the perception of nasals and nasalization in Spanish and Portuguese”, presents two original experiments that connect with the issues brought up in the previous chapters: the role of language experience in speech perception and coarticulation. The first experiment examines the perception of place of articulation in nasals and the second, the perception of vowel height in the presence of nasalization. In both cases, the author presents the goals of each experiment, the research questions that guide the investigation, the methods and procedure followed, and the results. The chapter closes with a general discussion of the findings of both experiments and their implications for models of speech perception and the role of language experience.

Finally, Chapter 6, “Summary and conclusions”, summarizes the content of the previous chapters and connects them in light of the results of the experiments presented in Chapter 5. This chapter also identifies areas for future research.


The goal of this research monograph, stated in its introduction and conclusion sections, is twofold. Firstly, the aim of the book is to contribute insights into how perception can inform models of phonetics, phonology and language change, taking nasals and nasalization in Spanish and Portuguese as case studies. A second aim of the book is to investigate the role of listeners’ first language in the perception of nasals and nasalization.

An important contribution of this monograph has to do with the languages under study. First, it compares patterns of nasality in two closely related languages. Second, and more importantly, it undertakes the study of nasalization in Spanish, which has been understudied. Another strength of this book is the author’s ability to synthesize clearly and concisely complex research literature dealing with speech perception (Chapter 2), co-articulation, and the acoustics of nasalization (Chapter 3). These two chapters present information in a way that anticipates readers’ questions.

The discussion of the topics at hand could be improved in a number of ways. For example, Chapter 4 presents a comprehensive discussion of phonological analyses of nasals in Spanish, with an emphasis on nasal consonants in the syllable-coda. This chapter would benefit from a more developed presentation of experimental studies that have examined language-specific processes, not only in the syllable coda but also in the onset. An important study, considering the experiments presented in Chapter 5, is Colantoni & Kochetov (2012), which uses eletropalatography to compare the realization of word-final nasals in Argentine and Cuban Spanish across three speech styles. The findings in this study indicate that, as expected, Argentine speakers produced more coronal, while Cuban speakers more velar, word-final nasals. However, crucially, the study found that both speaker groups produced weakened variants (i.e., less constricted) in the less-controlled tasks, but the degree of weakening was higher for the Cuban speakers. Because of the methodology, however, the authors were not able to examine the degree to which nasal weakening was accompanied by nasalization. These results are particularly relevant to the studies presented in Chapter 5, considering the participants in Experiment 2, and shed experimental light on phonological processes that have been known to lead to sound change in nasalization.

With regard to onset nasals, research has shown that they can undergo lenition as well, among other processes. In particular, Honoroff (2003) and Shosted & Willoghs (2006), who investigate nasal de-occluvization, find that onset nasal consonants exhibit phonetic tendencies towards weakening, though these are not robust enough to claim that nasal lenition in this environment is on its way to become phonologized. These are important findings because they show that onset nasals also present gestural reduction, which may bear on patterns of variation in the production of nasalization in Spanish, progressive nasalization in this case. By not addressing the experimental literature, both of onset and coda nasals, Chapter 4 misses important details of the nasal system in Spanish, and contextual and dialectal variation.

It is also important to consider how certain methodological decisions may have influenced the data presented in Chapter 5. In Experiment 1, methodological details crucial for replication purposes are not mentioned. For example, given that the same speaker produced the tokens for each language, the reader may be wondering what were the actual differences between the stimuli. An analysis of the stimuli would be beneficial to help clarify these differences between languages. Furthermore, information regarding the criteria to determine methodological decisions such as how much acoustic material to remove in order to eliminate transitions would also be useful.

With regard to Experiment 2, one key issue has to do with the use of synthesized speech. Typical synthesis models, like the Klatt synthesizer used in the experiments described in Chapter 5, use LPC analysis to reconstruct the signal, which is based on the assumption of a single-resonator tube. Nasal(ized) segments, however, can only adequately be modeled with a dual-resonator tube. Thus, synthesizing and manipulating the nasality parameter becomes an issue. As a result, it is not clear how the stimuli used in the experiments presented in Chapter 5 connect to real speech.

The limitations noted in this review should not overshadow the accomplishments of this monograph. This book represents a much-needed and timely contribution to the study of nasals and nasalization in Spanish and Portuguese. “Nasals and nasalization in Spanish and Portuguese” by C. Elizabeth Goodin-Mayeda certainly opens fruitful avenues for future research.


Colantoni, Laura & Kochetov, Alexei. 2012. Nasal variability and speech style: An EPG study of word-final nasals in two Spanish dialects. Italian Journal of Linguistics/Rivista di Linguistica, 24, 11-42.

Honorof, Douglas. 2003. Articulatory evidence for nasal deocclusivization in Castilian. In María-Josep Solé, Daniel Recasens & Joaquin Romero (eds.), 15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, 1759-1762, Barcelona.

Shosted, Ryan, & Willoghs, Beatriz. 2006. Nasals Unplugged: The Aerodynamics of Nasal De-occlusivization in Spanish. In Manuel Díaz-Campos (ed.), Selected Proceedings of the 2nd Conference on Laboratory Approaches to Spanish Phonetics and Phonology, 14-21, Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.


Silvina Bongiovanni is a dual-PhD candidate in Linguistics and Hispanic Linguistics at Indiana University. Her doctoral work focuses on dialectal differences in the production of nasality in Spanish.

Page Updated: 03-Feb-2017