N. Douglas Porter and Dr. Willis Fails, Spanish and Portuguese
This study examines the nature of nasalized vowels in Brazilian Portuguese and specifically looks at data regarding progressive nasalization, which occurs when a nasal consonant (like /m/ or /n/) affects how nasal the vowel is that follows it (as in the word mito or minto).
The general consensus in the literature has been that vowels may become more nasal in Portuguese when followed by a nasal consonant (this is called regressive nasalization). Fails (2011), however, found evidence supporting the possibility that progressive nasalization also played a significant role in determining whether or not a vowel was nasalized. The purpose of this study is to fill out Fails’ findings and answer the following questions: Does progressive nasalization normally occur in Brazilian Portuguese (as in the word mato)? How does it change according to the vowel and the preceding nasal consonant? What makes nasalization different between words like mato and manto?
At the time of this report, we have gathered a little over half of our projected data. The results discussed here will specifically be based on a basic examination of results from 5 participants: 3 from São Paulo and 2 from Rio de Janeiro. Beginning in the winter of 2014, we will finish gathering data and carry out statistical analyses.
Our sample of Portuguese speakers was selected through a non-random, snowball process. All participants were students enrolled as degree-seeking students at Brigham Young University (BYU) or as students in BYU’s English Language Center. All participants met the following requirements: (1) from Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, (2) between 18-30 years old, (4) university educated or in a university level English language program, (5) less than 10 years as a resident in the United States.
Participants were first asked to pronounce the vowels /a, ɛ, i, ɔ, u/, and then read a list of words which contained those vowels but that did not have any nasal consonants (e.g. cata, queda, quita, etc.). Each participant then was recorded reading a list of 33 selected words that contained the desired contexts. Each of those 33 words was recorded separately and with a short delay between each recording. Finally the study participants were recorded reading a list of 20 of the original 33 words, which were organized into near minimal pairs (e.g. mito~minto, mato~manto). During this section, participants were asked to differentiate as much as possible between each of the words in a pair. This was done in order to see what aspects of the vowels were emphasized in careful speech. A total of 58 recordings were created for each participant.
Recordings were done using the Nasometer from KayPentax. The Nasometer is a special headset which positions a metal plate in between the upper lip and the nose of the wearer. On both sides of the metal plate is a microphone; one senses the acoustic energy levels coming from the mouth and the other senses the energy levels coming
from the nose during speech production. The data picked up by each microphone are then combined and can be analyzed both visually and numerically, as can be seen in Figure 1. The y-axis shows percentage of nasalization and the x-axis shows time.
An initial analysis of the data highlights the following points:
1. Progressive vowel nasalization is a normal occurrence for all vowels in the context NV$C (e.g. mito). The high front vowel /i/ seems to be the most susceptible to vowel nasalization.
2. The place of articulation of the preceding nasal consonant seems to have no significant effect on the level of vowel nasalization. For example, the /i/ in grunhido does not seem to be very different from the /i/ in mito, although both are more nasal than the /i/ in quita.
3. The main differences between pairs of words such as mito/minto and mato/manto seems to be the level of nasalization of the stressed vowel, the length of the vowel, and the clear presence of a nasal consonant in minto and manto.
One of the traditional explanations of the Portuguese vowel system proposes that the difference between word pairs such as mito~minto is the presence or absence of a nasal vowel (m/i/to v. to). However, the preliminary results of this study indicate that the difference is much more complex and that any explanation must take into account movements in the levels of nasalization, differences in vowel length, and the existence of a nasal consonant segment in words like minto.
Although this report is still too preliminary to come to definite conclusions about any trends present in the collected data, initial analyses do indicate some significant results. With further data collection and more rigorous statistical analysis, I believe our results will be important for constructing a clearer and more complete picture of how vowel nasalization functions in Brazilian Portuguese.
- Fails, W. (2011). O grau de nasalização das vogais oronasais no português paulistano e no espanhol mexicano: Um estudo experimental comparativo. Hispania,94, 443-461.