Spontaneous nasalization is the emergence of distinctive nasalization in contexts lacking an historical etymological nasal. In Thai, low and mid-low vowels nasalize after /h/ and to a lesser degree after /ʔ/. It has been reasoned that nasalization after /h/ may occur because breathiness and nasalization are acoustically similar; both introduce higher energy at low frequencies and increase spectral tilt. Glottal consonants may generally facilitate nasalization because aerodynamically they do not require velopharyngeal closure. We investigated velopharyngeal opening (VPO) during vowels after /h/ and/ ʔ/ and measured spectral tilt (H1–H2). We measured VPO by processing oblique ultra-fast magnetic resonance images of the velopharyngeal port. Four Thai speakers exhibited a complex system of VPO that varied based on vowel height and preceding consonant. Low vowels after /h/ manifested more physiological nasalization than low vowels after /ʔ/, while the former were often produced with higher spectral tilt, which may be indicative of either increased breathiness or nasalization. While VPO is likely responsible for impressions of greater nasalization after /h/, our findings suggest that breathiness and VPO may interact in the spontaneously nasalized vowels of Thai.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-72
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Phonetics
StatePublished - Jul 2019


  • Glottal consonants
  • Spontaneous nasalization
  • Thai
  • Ultra-fast MRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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