Nasal consonant

In phonetics, a nasal, also called a nasal occlusive, nasal stop in contrast with a nasal fricative, or nasal continuant, is an occlusive consonant produced with a lowered velum, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. The vast majority of consonants are oral consonants. Examples of nasals in English are [n], [ŋ] and [m], in words such as nose, bring and mouth. Nasal occlusives are nearly universal in human languages. There are also other kinds of nasal consonants in some languages.

Definition

Nearly all nasal consonants are nasal occlusives, in which air escapes through the nose but not through the mouth, as it is blocked (occluded) by the lips or tongue. The oral cavity still acts as a resonance chamber for the sound. Rarely, non-occlusive consonants may be nasalized.

Most nasals are voiced, and in fact, the nasal sounds [n] and [m] are among the most common sounds cross-linguistically. Voiceless nasals occur in a few languages such as Burmese, Welsh, Icelandic and Guaraní. (Compare oral stops, which block off the air completely, and fricatives, which obstruct the air with a narrow channel. Both stops and fricatives are more commonly voiceless than voiced, and are known as obstruents.)

In terms of acoustics, nasals are sonorants, which means that they do not significantly restrict the escape of air (as it can freely escape out the nose). However, nasals are also obstruents in their articulation because the flow of air through the mouth is blocked. This duality, a sonorant airflow through the nose along with an obstruction in the mouth, means that nasal occlusives behave both like sonorants and like obstruents. For example, nasals tend to pattern with other sonorants such as [r] and [l], but in many languages, they may develop from or into stops.

Acoustically, nasals have bands of energy at around 200 and 2,000 Hz.

Voiced Voiceless
Description IPA Description IPA
voiced bilabial nasal [m] voiceless bilabial nasal [m̥]
voiced labiodental nasal [ɱ] voiceless labiodental nasal [ɱ̊]
voiced dental nasal [n̪] voiceless dental nasal [n̪̊]
voiced alveolar nasal 1 [n] voiceless alveolar nasal 1 [n̥]
voiced retroflex nasal [ɳ] voiceless retroflex nasal [ɳ̊]
voiced palatal nasal [ɲ] voiceless palatal nasal [ɲ̊]
voiced velar nasal [ŋ] voiceless velar nasal [ŋ̊]
voiced uvular nasal [ɴ] voiceless uvular nasal [ɴ̥]

1. ^ The symbol ⟨n⟩ is commonly used to represent the dental nasal as well, rather than ⟨⟩, as it is rarely distinguished from the alveolar nasal.

Examples of languages containing nasal occlusives:

The voiced retroflex nasal is [ɳ] is a common sound in Languages of India.

The voiced palatal nasal [ɲ] is a common sound in European languages, such as: Spanish ⟨ñ⟩, French and Italian ⟨gn⟩, Catalan and Hungarian ⟨ny⟩, Czech and Slovak ⟨ň⟩, Polish ⟨ń⟩, Occitan and Portuguese ⟨nh⟩, and (before a vowel) Modern Greek ⟨νι⟩.

Many Germanic languages, including German, Dutch, English and Swedish, as well as varieties of Chinese such as Mandarin and Cantonese, have [m], [n] and [ŋ]. Tamil has a six-fold distinction between [m], [n̪], [n], [ɳ], [ɲ] and [ŋ] (ம,ந,ன,ண,ஞ,ங).

Catalan, Occitan, Spanish, and Italian have [m], [n], [ɲ] as phonemes, and [ɱ] and [ŋ] as allophones. Nevertheless, in several American dialects of Spanish, there is no palatal nasal but only a palatalized nasal, [nʲ], as in English canyon.

In Brazilian Portuguese and Angolan Portuguese [ɲ], written ⟨nh⟩, is typically pronounced as [ȷ̃], a nasal palatal approximant, a nasal glide (in Polish, this feature is also possible as an allophone). Semivowels in Portuguese often nasalize before and always after nasal vowels, resulting in [ȷ̃] and []. What would be coda nasal occlusives in other West Iberian languages is only slightly pronounced before dental consonants. Outside this environment the nasality is spread over the vowel or become a nasal diphthong (mambembe [mɐ̃ˈbẽjbi], outside the final, only in Brazil, and mantém [mɐ̃ˈtẽj ~ mɐ̃ˈtɐ̃j] in all Portuguese dialects).

The Japanese syllabary kana ん, typically romanized as n and occasionally m, can manifest as one of several different nasal consonants depending on what consonant follows it; this allophone, colloquially written in IPA as /N/, is known as the moraic nasal, per the language's moraic structure.

Welsh has a set of voiceless nasals, [m̥], [n̥] and [ŋ̊], which occur predominantly as a result of nasal mutation of their voiced counterparts ([m], [n] and [ŋ]).

The Mapos Buang language of New Guinea has a phonemic uvular nasal, [ɴ], which contrasts with a velar nasal. It is extremely rare for a language to have [ɴ] as a phoneme.

Yanyuwa is highly unusual in that it has a seven-way distinction between [m], [n̪], [n], [ɳ], [ṉ] (palato-alveolar), [ŋ̟] (front velar), and [ŋ̠] (back velar). This may be the only language in existence that contrasts nasals at seven distinct points of articulation.

The term 'nasal occlusive' (or 'nasal stop') is generally abbreviated to nasal. However, there are also nasalized fricatives, nasalized flaps, nasal glides, and nasal vowels, as in French, Portuguese, and Polish. In the IPA, nasal vowels and nasalized consonants are indicated by placing a tilde (~) over the vowel or consonant in question: French sang [sɑ̃], Portuguese bom [bõ].

Voiceless nasals

A few languages have phonemic voiceless nasal occlusives. Among them are Icelandic, Faroese, Burmese, Jalapa Mazatec, Kildin Sami, Welsh, and Central Alaskan Yup'ik. Iaai of New Caledonia has an unusually large number of them, with /m̥ m̥ʷ n̪̊ ɳ̊ ɲ̊ ŋ̊/, along with a number of voiceless approximants.

Other kinds of nasal consonant

Ladefoged and Maddieson (1996) distinguish purely nasal consonants, the nasal occlusives such as m n ng in which the airflow is purely nasal, from partial nasal consonants such as prenasalized consonants and nasal pre-stopped consonants, which are nasal for only part of their duration, as well as from nasalized consonants, which have simultaneous oral and nasal airflow.[1] In some languages, such as Portuguese, a nasal consonant may have occlusive and non-occlusive allophones. In general, therefore, a nasal consonant may be:

Languages without nasals

A few languages, perhaps 2%,[2] contain no phonemically distinctive nasals. This led Ferguson (1963) to assume that all languages have at least one primary nasal occlusive. However, there are exceptions.

Lack of phonemic nasals

When a language is claimed to lack nasals altogether, as with several Niger–Congo languages[note 1] or the Pirahã language of the Amazon, nasal and non-nasal or prenasalized consonants usually alternate allophonically, and it is a theoretical claim on the part of the individual linguist that the nasal is not the basic form of the consonant. In the case of some Niger–Congo languages, for example, nasals occur before only nasal vowels. Since nasal vowels are phonemic, it simplifies the picture somewhat to assume that nasalization in occlusives is allophonic. There is then a second step in claiming that nasal vowels nasalize oral occlusives, rather than oral vowels denasalizing nasal occlusives, that is, whether [mã, mba] are phonemically /mbã, mba/ without full nasals, or /mã, ma/ without prenasalized stops. Postulating underlying oral or prenasalized stops rather than true nasals helps to explain the apparent instability of nasal correspondences throughout Niger–Congo compared with, for example, Indo-European.[3]

This analysis comes at the expense, in some languages, of postulating either a single nasal consonant that can only be syllabic, or a larger set of nasal vowels than oral vowels, both typologically odd situations. The way such a situation could develop is illustrated by a Jukunoid language, Wukari. Wukari allows oral vowels in syllables like ba, mba and nasal vowels in bã, mã, suggesting that nasals become prenasalized stops before oral vowels. Historically, however, *mb became **mm before nasal vowels, and then reduced to *m, leaving the current asymmetric distribution.[4]

In older speakers of the Tlingit language, [l] and [n] are allophones. Tlingit is usually described as having an unusual, perhaps unique lack of /l/ despite having five lateral obstruents; the older generation could be argued to have /l/ but at the expense of having no nasals.

Lack of phonetic nasals

Several of languages surrounding Puget Sound, such as Quileute (Chimakuan family), Lushootseed (Salishan family), and Makah (Wakashan family), are truly without any nasalization whatsoever, in consonants or vowels, except in special speech registers such as baby talk or the archaic speech of mythological figures (and perhaps not even that in the case of Quileute). This is an areal feature, only a few hundred years old, where nasals became voiced stops ([m] became [b], etc.) after colonial contact. For example, Snohomish is currently pronounced sdohobish, but was transcribed with nasals in the first English-language records.

The only other places in the world where this is known to occur is in Melanesia. In the central dialect of the Rotokas language of Bougainville Island, nasals are only used when imitating foreign accents. (A second dialect has a series of nasals.) The Lakes Plain languages of West Irian are similar.

The unconditioned loss of nasals, as in Puget Sound, is unusual. However, currently in Korean, word-initial /m/ and /n/ are shifting to [b] and [d]. This started out in nonstandard dialects and was restricted to the beginning of prosodic units (a common position for fortition), but has expanded to many speakers of the standard language to the beginnings of common words even within prosodic units.[5]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ These languages lie in a band from western Liberia to southeastern Nigeria, and north to southern Burkina. They include:
    • Liberia: Kpelle (Mande); Grebo, Klao (Kru)
    • Burkina Faso: Bwamu (Gur)
    • Ivory Coast: Dan, Guro-Yaoure, Wan-Mwan, Gban/Gagu, Tura (Mande); Senadi/Senufo (Gur); Nyabwa, Wè (Kru); Ebrié, Avikam, Abure (Kwa)
    • Ghana: Abron, Akan, Ewe (Kwa)
    • Benin: Gen, Fon (Kwa)
    • Nigeria: Mbaise Igbo, Ikwere (Igboid)
    • CAR: Yakoma (Ubangi)
    (Heine & Nurse, eds, 2008, A Linguistic Geography of Africa, p.46)

References

  1. ^ Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. p. 102. ISBN 0-631-19814-8.
  2. ^ Maddieson, Ian. 2008. Absence of Common Consonants. In: Haspelmath, Martin & Dryer, Matthew S. & Gil, David & Comrie, Bernard (eds.) The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library, chapter 18. Available online at http://wals.info/feature/18. Accessed on 2008-09-15.
  3. ^ As noted by Kay Williamson (1989:24).
  4. ^ Larry Hyman, 1975. "Nasal states and nasal processes." In Nasalfest: Papers from a Symposium on Nasals and Nasalization, pp. 249–264
  5. ^ Yoshida, Kenji, 2008. "Phonetic implementation of Korean 'denasalization' and its variation related to prosody". IULC Working Papers, vol. 6.

Bibliography

  • Ferguson (1963) 'Assumptions about nasals', in Greenberg (ed.) Universals of Language, pp 50–60.
  • Saout, J. le (1973) 'Languages sans consonnes nasales', Annales de l Université d'Abidjan, H, 6, 1, 179–205.
  • Williamson, Kay (1989) 'Niger–Congo overview', in Bendor-Samuel & Hartell (eds.) The Niger–Congo Languages, 3–45.
Denasalization

In phonetics, denasalization is the loss of nasal airflow in a nasal sound, such as a nasal consonant or a nasal vowel. That may be due to speech pathology but also occurs when the sinuses are blocked from a common cold, when it is called a nasal voice, which is not a linguistic term. The symbol in the Extended IPA is ⟨◌͊⟩.

When one speaks with a cold, the nasal passages still function as a resonant cavity so a denasalized nasal [m͊] does not sound like a voiced oral stop [b], and a denasalized vowel [a͊] does not sound like an oral vowel [a].

However, there are cases of historical or allophonic denasalization that have produced oral stops. In some languages with nasal vowels, such as Paicĩ, nasal consonants may occur only before nasal vowels; before oral vowels, prenasalized stops are found. That allophonic variation is likely to be from a historical process of partial denasalization.

Similarly, several languages around Puget Sound underwent a process of denasalization about 100 ago. Except in special speech registers, such as baby talk, the nasals [m, n] became the voiced stops [b, d]. It appears from historical records that there was an intermediate stage in which the stops were prenasalized stops [ᵐb, ⁿd] or poststopped nasals [mᵇ, nᵈ].

Something similar has occurred with word-initial nasals in Korean; in some contexts, /m/, /n/ are denasalized to [b, d]. The process is sometimes represented with the IPA [m͊] and [n͊], which simply places the IPA ◌͊ denasalization diacritic on [m] and [n] to show the underlying phoneme.

Em (Cyrillic)

Em (М м; italics: М м) is a letter of the Cyrillic script.Em commonly represents the bilabial nasal consonant /m/, like the pronunciation of ⟨m⟩ in "him".

It is derived from the Greek letter Mu (Μ μ).

En (Cyrillic)

En (Н н; italics: Н н) is a letter of the Cyrillic script.

It commonly represents the alveolar nasal consonant /n/, like the pronunciation of ⟨n⟩ in "neat".

General Alphabet of Cameroon Languages

The General Alphabet of Cameroon Languages is an orthographic system created in the late 1970s for all Cameroonian languages. Consonant and vowel letters are not to contain diacritics, though ⟨ẅ⟩ is a temporary exception. The alphabet is not used sufficiently for the one unique letter, for a bilabial trill, to have been added to Unicode.

Maurice Tadadjeu and Etienne Sadembouo were central to this effort.

** Like ⟨ɓ⟩, but with the top hook turned to the left.

Aspirated consonants are written ph, th, kh etc. Palatalized and labialized consonants are py, ty, ky and pw, tw, kw etc. Retroflex consonants are written either Cr or with a cedilla: tr, sr or ţ, ş, etc. Prenasalized consonants are mb, nd, ŋg etc. Preglottalized consonants are 'b, 'd, 'm etc. Geminant consonants are written double.

Long vowels are written double. Nasal vowels may be written with a cedilla: a̧ etc. or with a single following nasal consonant: aŋ etc. (presumably assimilating to any following consonant), in which case VN would be written with a double nasal: aŋŋ etc. Harmonic vowels are written with a sub-dot, as ⟨bibị⟩ for [bib-y].

Tone is written as in the IPA, with the addition or a vertical mark for mid-low tone: ⟨á ā a̍ à, â ǎ⟩ etc. Where rising and falling tones only occur on long vowels, they are decomposed: ⟨áà, àá⟩ etc. The high tone mark is used for contrastive stress in languages that do not have tone.

Germanic a-mutation

A-mutation is a metaphonic process supposed to have taken place in late Proto-Germanic (c. 200).

Gurmukhi

Gurmukhī (IPA: ['ɡʊɾmʊkʰiː]; Gurmukhī: ਗੁਰਮੁਖੀ) is a Sikh script modified, standardized and used by the second Sikh Guru, Guru Angad (1504–1552). Gurmukhi is used in the state of Punjab as the official script of the Punjabi language, a language that is also written in Perso-Arabic Shahmukhi script.The primary scripture of Sikhism, Guru Granth Sahib is written in Gurmukhī, in various dialects often subsumed under the generic title Sant Bhasha, or saint language.

Modern Gurmukhī has thirty-five original letters plus six additional consonants, nine vowel diacritics, two diacritics for nasal sounds, one diacritic that geminates consonants, and three subscript characters.

Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law

In historical linguistics, the Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law (also called the Anglo-Frisian or North Sea Germanic nasal spirant law) is a description of a phonological development that occurred in the Ingvaeonic dialects of the West Germanic languages. This includes Old English, Old Frisian, and Old Saxon, and to a lesser degree Old Dutch (Old Low Franconian).

Mani (letter)

Mani (asomtavruli Ⴋ, nuskhuri ⴋ, mkhedruli მ) is the 13th letter of the three Georgian scripts.In the system of Georgian numerals it has a value of 40.Mani commonly represents the bilabial nasal consonant /m/, like the pronunciation of ⟨m⟩ in "mine".

Meridional French

Meridional French (French: français méridional), also referred to as Francitan, is a regional variant of the French language. Widely spoken in Occitania, it is strongly influenced by Occitan.

There are speakers of Meridional French in all generations; however, the accent is most marked among the elderly, who often speak Occitan as their first language.

Nari (letter)

Nari (asomtavruli Ⴌ, nuskhuri ⴌ, mkhedruli ნ) is the 14th letter of the three Georgian scripts.In the system of Georgian numerals it has a value of 50.Nari commonly represents the alveolar nasal consonant /n/, like the pronunciation of ⟨n⟩ in "nose".

Nasal infix

The nasal infix is a reconstructed nasal consonant or syllable *⟨n(é)⟩ that was inserted (infixed) into the stem or root of a word in the Proto-Indo-European language. It has reflexes in several ancient and modern Indo-European languages. It is one of the affixes that marks the present tense.

Nasal sound

In linguistics, a nasal sound is a sound produced with nasalization and can be

a nasal consonant or

a nasal vowel

a nasal voice

Nasal vowel

A nasal vowel is a vowel that is produced with a lowering of the soft palate (or velum) so that the air flow escapes through the nose and the mouth simultaneously, as in the French vowel /ɑ̃/ or Amoy [ɛ̃]. By contrast, oral vowels are produced without nasalization. In a stricter sense, nasal vowels shall not be confused with nasalised vowels.

Nasalised vowels are vowels under the influence of neighbouring sounds. For instance, the [æ] of the word hand is affected by the following nasal consonant. In most languages, vowels adjacent to nasal consonants are produced partially or fully with a lowered velum in a natural process of assimilation and are therefore technically nasal, but few speakers would notice. That is the case in English: vowels preceding nasal consonants are nasalized, but there is no phonemic distinction between nasal and oral vowels (and all vowels are considered phonemically oral).

However, the words "huh?" and "uh-huh" are pronounced with a nasal vowel, as is the negative "unh-unh".The nasality of nasal vowels, however, is a distinctive feature of certain languages. In other words, a language may contrast oral vowels and nasalised vowels phonemically. Linguists make use of minimal pairs to decide whether or not the nasality is of linguistic importance. In French, for instance, nasal vowels are distinct from oral vowels, and words can differ by this vowel quality. The words beau /bo/ "beautiful" and bon /bõ/ "good" are a minimal pair that contrasts primarily the vowel nasalization, even if the /õ/ from bon is slightly more open.

Portuguese behaves similarly with minimal pairs as vim /vĩ/ "I came" and vi /vi/ "I saw", except /ĩ/ and /i/ are of same vowel height. Portuguese also allows nasal diphthongs that contrast with their oral counterparts, like the minimal pair sem /sẽj̃/ "without" and sei /sej/ "I know".

Although there are French loanwords into English with nasal vowels like croissant [ˈkɹwɑːsɒ̃], there is no expectation that an English speaker would nasalize the vowels to the same extent that French or Portuguese speakers do. Likewise, pronunciation keys in English dictionaries do not always indicate nasalization of French loanwords.

Old Gujarati

Old Gujarātī (જૂની ગુજરાતી; also called ગુજરાતી ભાખા Gujarātī bhākhā or ગુર્જર અપભ્રંશ Gurjar apabhraṃśa, 1000 CE–1500 CE), the ancestor of modern Gujarati and Rajasthani, was spoken by the Gurjars, who were residing and ruling in Gujarat, Punjab, Rajputana and central India. The language was used as literary language as early as the 12th century. Texts of this era display characteristic Gujarati features such as direct/oblique noun forms, postpositions, and auxiliary verbs. It had three genders, as Gujarati does today, and by around the time of 1300 CE, a fairly standardized form of this language emerged. While generally known as Old Gujarati, some scholars prefer the name of Old Western Rajasthani, based on the argument that Gujarati and Rajasthani were not yet distinct. Factoring into this preference was the belief that modern Rajasthani sporadically expressed a neuter gender, based on the incorrect conclusion that the [ũ] that came to be pronounced in some areas for masculine [o] after a nasal consonant was analogous to Gujarati's neuter [ũ]. A formal grammar of the precursor to this language, Prakrita Vyakarana, was written by Jain monk and eminent scholar Hemachandra Suri in the reign of Chaulukya king Jayasimha Siddharaja of Anhilwara (Patan).

Oral consonant

An oral consonant is a consonant sound in speech that is made by allowing air to escape from the mouth, as opposed to the nose, as in a nasal consonant. To create an intended oral consonant sound, the entire mouth plays a role in modifying the air's passageway. This rapid modification of the air passageway using the tongue and lips makes changes to the waveform of the sound by compressing and expanding the air. In addition to the nose and mouth, the vocal cords and lungs also make a contribution to producing speech by controlling the volume (amplitude) and pitch (frequency) of the sound. The use of the vocal cords will also determine whether the consonant is voiced or voiceless. The vast majority of consonants are oral, such as, for example [p], [w], [v] and [x]. The others are nasal, such as the nasal occlusives [m] or [ɲ].

Before there appeared the consonantal opposition nasal/oral, consonant was distinguished from vowel as closed tract from open tract. Once the nasal consonant has been opposed to the oral as presence to absence of the open tract, the contrast consonant/vowel is revalued as presence vs. absence of a closed tract.

Pre-stopped consonant

In linguistics, pre-stopping, also known as pre-occlusion or pre-plosion, is a phonological process involving the historical or allophonic insertion of a very short stop consonant before a sonorant, such as a short [d] before a nasal [n] or a lateral [l]. The resulting sounds ([ᵈn, ᵈl]) are called pre-stopped consonants, or sometimes pre-ploded or (in Celtic linguistics) pre-occluded consonants, although technically [n] may be considered an occlusive/stop without the pre-occlusion.

A pre-stopped consonant behaves phonologically as a single consonant. That is, like affricates and trilled affricates, the reasons for considering these sequences to be single consonants lies primarily in their behavior. Phonetically they are similar or equivalent to stops with a nasal or lateral release.

Unpacking

In historical linguistics and language contact, unpacking is the separation of the features of a segment into distinct segments.

Perhaps the most common example of unpacking is the separation of nasal vowels into vowel plus nasal consonant when borrowed into languages which don't have nasal vowels. This can be seen in English borrowings of French and Portuguese words, such as monsoon [mɒnˈsuːn] from Portuguese monção [mõsɐ̃ũ], but occurs widely, as in Lingala [balansi] from French [balɑ̃s] "balance". Here the nasality of the vowel is separated out as a nasal consonant. If this did not happen, the nasality would be lost.

Unpacking occurs not just in borrowings, but within a language over time. Sanskrit syllabic ऋ [r̩] has become [ɾɪ] in Hindi, which has no syllabic consonants; the rhoticity is maintained by the [ɾ], while the syllabic feature is separated out as a vowel.

Uvular nasal

The uvular nasal is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ɴ⟩, a small capital version of the Latin letter n; the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is N\.

The uvular nasal is a rare sound cross-lingually, presumably due to the relative difficulty involved in articulating it. To produce it, the uvula takes part in two quite distinct gestures, one in which the nasal passage is opened up to allow air to escape through the nose, the other in which the oral passage is closed through contact made by the back of the tongue against the uvula. This articulatory complexity can be said to account for the marked rarity of this sound among the world's languages.The uvular nasal most commonly occurs as a conditioned allophone of other sounds in specific environments, for example as an allophone of /n/ before a uvular consonant as in Quechua, or as an allophone of /q/ before another nasal consonant as in Selkup. However, it has been reported to exist as an independent phoneme in a small number of languages. Examples include the Klallam language, the Tawellemmet and Ayr varieties of Tuareg Berber, the Pwo Karen languages, the Rangakha dialect of Khams Tibetan, at least two dialects of the Bai language, and the Papuan language Mapos Buang. In Mapos Buang, there is a three-way dorsal distinction between a palatal nasal, a velar nasal, and a uvular nasal.There is also the pre-uvular nasal in some languages such as Yanyuwa, which is articulated slightly more front compared with the place of articulation of the prototypical uvular nasal, though not as front as the prototypical velar nasal. The International Phonetic Alphabet does not have a separate symbol for that sound, though it can be transcribed as ⟨ɴ̟⟩ (advanced ⟨ɴ⟩), ⟨ŋ̠⟩ or ⟨ŋ˗⟩ (both symbols denote a retracted ⟨ŋ⟩). The equivalent X-SAMPA symbols are N\_+ and N_-, respectively.

Wu (surname)

Wu is the pinyin transliteration of the Chinese surname 吳 (Traditional Chinese), 吴 (Simplified Chinese), which is the tenth most common surname in Mainland China. Wu (吳) is the sixth name listed in the Song Dynasty classic Hundred Family Surnames.The Cantonese and Hakka transliteration of 吳 is Ng, a syllable made entirely of a nasal consonant while the Min Nan transliteration of 吳 is Goh, Go, Gouw, depending on the regional variations in Min Nan pronunciation.

吳 is also one of the most common surnames in Korea. It is spelled 오 in Hangul and romanized O by the three major romanization systems, but more commonly spelled Oh in South Korea. It is also related far back in Chinese history with the name "Zhou (周)" and "Ji (姬)". The Vietnamese equivalent of the surname is Ngô.

Several other, less common Chinese surnames with different pronunciations are also transliterated into English as "Wu": 武, 伍, 仵, 烏, 鄔 and 巫. Wu' (or Woo or Wou) is also the Cantonese transliteration of the different Chinese surname 胡 (see Hu), used in Hong Kong, and by overseas Chinese of Cantonese-speaking areas of Guangdong, Guangxi, and/or Hong Kong/Macau origin.

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