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Phonological Processes

Phonological processes’ sounds are influenced by their neighboring sounds. The most common type of phonological process is assimilation. Assimilation is the process by which a sound changes to resemble its neighbors more closely (McCarthy and Smith, 2003). Assimilation can either be partial, where a sound takes some, but not all the characteristics of the source sound; or total where the target sound becomes identical to the source sound. Velarization, palatalization, and nasalization phonological processes emerge as typical instances of assimilation. Below are the three phonological processes, giving a definitive understanding of what they entail, and how they emerge from the respective assimilation instances.


Nasal sounds are those produced when the velum is lowered, closing the oral cavity, and air escapes through the nose (Evans et al., 2010). The sounds produced through the nose, in this case, are purely consonant sounds. Examples of nasal sounds /m/ and /n/. through the process of assimilation, vowel sounds are influenced to become consonants.

Nasalization is a phonological process that occurs when a vowel is adjacent toa nasal consonant, in the same syllable. The nasalization is indicated by a tilde diacritic [˜], as in man [man]. In this case, the oral sound /a/ is assimilated to become a nasalized sound [a], in the English language. The diacritic mark, however, is not shown in the dictionary. Hence, man becomes /man/.

Consonants can also be nasalized. This happens when they come at the end of the word. A suitable example is when /m/ comes before /p/ in the word limp /lɪmp/. When /n/ comes before /t/ in lint /lɪnt/, the /t/ is also nasalized. The same case applies to /k/ when it comes after /ŋ/in link /lɪŋk/

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The velum is also known as the soft palate. It distinguishes between oral and nasal sounds. When air from the lungs passes through a lowered velum, it closes the oral cavity. In effect, air escapes through the nasal cavity, enhancing the production of nasal sounds /m/, /n/, and /ŋ/.Alternatively, when air from the lungs passes through a raised velum, it closes the nasal cavity and air escapes through the oral cavity. This leads the production of oral sounds such as /b/, /k/, /l/, /s/, and /r/.

In the production of sounds, assimilation occurs. This leads to the realization of what is termed as secondary articulation. According to Lee (2017), secondary articulation refers to an instance when vowel-like properties are superimposed on the target consonant. Velarization is one such example of assimilation. Lee (2017) defines velarization as a phonological process in which the primary articulation of a target consonant is combined along with the back of the tongue raised towards the velum (soft palate).

In the velarization process, the target consonant achieves the /u/ vowel-like quality, that is, the addition of a [u]-like tongue position, without lip rounding. An example of velarization is the lateral liquid /l/. The velarized /l/ sound is realized when the consonant comes at the end of a syllable, or in the middle of a word when it comes before a consonant sound, for instance, in kill /kɪƚ/ and always /ɔlweɪz/ respectively. The velarized /l/ is also referred to as dark, and it has the diacritic mark [̴ ], written as [ɫ].

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Contrastively, when /l/ occurs before a vowel sound, it is not velarized. In this case, it is known as the light /l/. Examples are words with the regular /l/ such as light /laɪt/, lucky /lʌki/, and lovely /lʌvli/.Lee (2017)also notes that in velarization, the /l/ is a clear [l], if it appears before a vowel, and a dark [ɫ] immediately after vowel.


Palatalization is a phonological process that involves the acquisition of secondary palatal articulation or shift their primary place to, or close to, the palatal region. This usually happens under the influence of an adjacent front vowel and/or a palatal glide (Kochetov, 2011). Palatalization changes the place or manner of articulation of consonant sounds in the English language. An example of palatalization in the English language can be seen in the phrase miss you /mɪʃu:/. There are essentially two types of palatalization examined in the next section.

Types of Palatalization

Full palatalization: A consonant changes its primary place of articulation and often its manner of articulation, while moving toward the palatal region of the vocal tract when adjacent to a high and/ or front vocoid (Bateman, 2011).

Secondary palatalization: A consonant acquires a secondary palatal articulation when adjacent to a high and⁄or front vocoid (Bateman, 2011). Examples include /t/ can be palatalized to be become /tʃ/ as in the phrase don’t you /dontʃju/.



All human languages have distinct rules that govern them, but they exhibit similarities in the features that they use to structure their sounds. Looking at assimilation, it emerges as a significant process that influences the realization of other phonological processes such as palatalization, velarization, and nasalization, examined in this research. Each of those processes is unique in the manner of presentation, as seen in this research.


Bateman, N. (2011). On the Typology of Palatalization. Language and Linguistics Compass. 5. 588-602. 10.1111/j.1749-818X.2011.00294.x.

Evans, A., Ackermann, B., & Driscoll, T. (2010). Functional anatomy of the soft palate applied to wind playing. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 25(4), 183-189.

Kochetov, A. (2016.) Palatalization and glide strengthening as competing repair strategies: Evidence from Kirundi. Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics 1(1): 14. 1–31, DOI:

Lee, M. (2017). English Consonant Allophony: The Case of Secondary Articulation Assimilation. 영어영문학연구43(4), 251-271.

McCarthy, J. J., & Smith, N. (2003). Phonological processes: Assimilation. Linguistics Department Faculty Publication Series, 20.Retrieved from

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