I am trying to learn how to pronounce words like cotton, written, mountain. in general, the t, then n (between them will not be pronounced)

so i learned that i have to cut the t. in other words, make my tounle reach the top of my mouth, then i don't know what to do. should I say the n by releasing the air from my nose? or should I say the n by relaxing my teeth and not release any air from my nose?

  • As far as I can tell, both are possible. That's why some dictionaries include both alternatives. For example, Macmillan transcribes the pronunciation of written as /ˈrɪt(ə)n/. The /ə/ is optional. – Damkerng T. Feb 7 '15 at 11:09

With your nostrils clamped tightly shut with your fingers, it is impossible to sound the second syllable of "cotton" and "written": you will feel the pressure in your ears if you try. So yes, there is air coming out through the nose on the second syllable.

Even if the word is pronounced rɪtn the nasal -n- still requires ventilation through the nose.

  • ...there may be air coming out YOUR nose for those, but I get zip-all pressure in my ears when I say it with my nose pinched shut. It's all oral here. – A.Beth Feb 7 '15 at 21:32
  • 1
    Although you didn't indicate it specifically, you appear to have included a phonemic transcription in your answer. You can indicate this with forward slashes in the future, to avoid confusion. More helpful here would be a phonetic transcription, though, like [ɹɪʔn̩]. – snailplane Feb 7 '15 at 23:35
  • Those speaking with a British accent may markedly reduce the amount of nasally expelled air when speaking, even to the point of negligence or elimination. I do. – Esoteric Screen Name Feb 8 '15 at 0:53
  • @snailboat: your transcription appears on my screen as an upside-down lower-case 'r', an upper-case I, a question-mark, and an n, inside square brackets. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 8 '15 at 3:00
  • @TRomano It should, in fact, look quite similar to that. It's IPA. – snailplane Feb 8 '15 at 3:01

If you pronounce /ritn/ the n is longer, you pronounce the /n/ a bit longer than usual. I wouldn'be concerned about the airstream through the nose because that is totally automatic whether you want or not. You can't influence it in any way. So it is unnessary to study the air stream through the nose. - Added: When you produce an /n/ the tongue produces a total stop in the mouth cavity, so the air stream goes through the nasal passage automatically.


Oral and nasal consonants

[p b t d k g] are oral stops (or plosives), meaning the air is blocked at a particular place of articulation, accompanied by sudden release of the air through the mouth.

[m n ŋ] are, by contrast, nasal stops i.e. a closure is made in the oral cavity at a particular place of articulation to stop the air from escaping through the mouth, the soft palate (velum) is lowered, and the air is released outwards through the nose.

Oral stop followed by a nasal

Words like cotton, button, hidden, sudden, kitten etc., can be pronounced in two ways, depending on the speaker. One way is to pronounce an intervening schwa [ə] between the [d, t] and the nasal [n, m]:

  • /.... tən/ or /... dən/

Another way is to release the oral stop ([t d p]) nasally—through the nose. Both of them are correct and common. You can pronounce it either way.

Nasal release

A type of release of a stop in which the oral closure is maintained but the soft palate is lowered, allowing air to escape through the nose.

This is particularly found in words in which the oral stops are followed by a nasal (preferably a syllabic nasal). In words like kitten, hidden, button, cotton, sudden, bottom etc., the oral stops are followed by syllabic nasals. The oral stop is normally released orally (through the mouth), but when it comes right before a nasal, it's usually released nasally—through the nose—by lowering the soft palate.

Nasal release can also be found in words where one syllable ends in an oral stop and the next syllable starts with a nasal as in to[p.m]ost, su[b.m]erge, ca[t.n]ip, ma[d.n]ess etc.

It's particularly noticeable when both the oral stop and the nasal are homorganic (share the same place of articulation), for example:

  • [t] or [d] and [n]: alveolar
  • [p] or [b] and [m]: bilabial etc., are homorganic.

In case of cotton, button, sudden, hidden, both the oral stop ([t] or [d]) and the nasal ([n]) are homorganic (all of them are alveolar), so the tongue comes up and contacts the alveolar ridge for the [t] or [d] and stays there, then soft palate is lowered and the air is released through the nose, that's the syllabic [n]: [ˈbʌt]

For most people, however, there's a vowel between the oral stop and the nasal, so they move down their tongue after the oral stop, in which case, the nasal isn't syllabic: [ˈbʌtən] (it's perfectly fine)

Syllabic consonants are represented in IPA by a small vertical line below th consonant:

Here's an illustration of Nasal release (nasal plosion) from A Course in Phonetics by Ladefoged and Keith Johnson:

Nasal release

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