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Regressive Place Assimilation (Nasal Assimilation)

Regressive assimilation comes in two types, viz. regressive place assimilation (RPA) and regressive voice assimilation (RVA). Since it only targets the coronal nasal /n/, RPA is also called nasal assimilation. An example is found in yn Parys /in paris/ in Paris, where the coronal /n/ of yn is realized as bilabial [m], due to the bilabial /p/ of Parys: [im paris]. RPA is the subject of this topic.


Regressive Place Assimilation (RPA) implies that the coronal nasal consonant /n/ adopts the place specification of a following non-continuant segment, through which they become an organic whole. Examples are given in the following two tables:

Examples of RPA, induced by a labial non-continuant

Table 1
oanpasse [mp] to fit on; to adapt (to)
yn Parys [mp] in Paris
ûn persoanlik [mp] impersonal
yn barre [mb] to collect, to receive money
oan barrels (slaan) [mb] (smash) to smithereens
ûnbeskamsum [mb] impudent, shameless
fan moal [m] of flour
oanmeitsje [m] to produce; to make haste
ûnmooglik [m] impossible

Examples of RPA, induced by a velar non-continuant

Table 2
ynkeap [ŋk] purchase, purchasing
in wein keapje [ŋk] to buy a car
ûnkunde [ŋk] ignorance
oangrize [ŋɡ] to horrify, to disgust, to upset
oan lân gean [ŋɡ] to go ashore
ûngelyk [ŋɡ] unequal; different (from); uneven

For the sake of the generality of the process, the coronal non-continuants − /t/, /d/, and /n/ − are assumed to also induce RPA, although they have the same place specification as /n/. This then is an instance of so-called vacuous assimilation.

Assimilation of /n/ to /m/ yields the cluster [mm], which is subject to degemination, so that a single [m] remains. The same holds for the vacuous assimilation of /n/ to /n/, which results in a single [n].

In oanpasse to fit on; to adapt (to), oan barrels (slaan) (to smash) to smithereens, in wein keapje to buy a car, oangrize to horrify, to disgust, to upset, and oan lân gean to go ashore, the words oan on (in oanpasse and oangrize), wein car (in in wein keapje), and lân land (in oan lân gean) show up as [o.əm] (oanpasse) or [o.əŋ] (oangrize), [va.jŋ] and [lɔ:ŋ]. In the underlying representation of morphemes, the centring diphthong /oə/ can only be followed by coronal consonants, whereas the velar nasal /ŋ/ can only be preceded by short vowels (see word-final single consonants). From a phonotactic point of view, then, the above forms are peculiar. RPA, however, does not seem to bother about this or, put differently, it is not held back from applying. It is said to operate in a 'non-structure preserving way' here.


In simplex words, final nasal-plosive sequences are homorganic in the great majority of cases (see word-final sequences of a nasal and an obstruent), a pattern with which Regressive Place Assimilation links up.


As to the processes of Regressive Place Assimilation and vowel nasalization, /n/ stands in a complementary distribution with respect to continuants and non-continuants: it undergoes assimilation when followed by a non-continunant and it takes part in vowel nasalization when followed by a continuant. The coronal nasal appears to be very prone to adapting itself to its phonological surroundings.


Regressive Place Assimilation is also met with in those acronyms of which each letter is pronounced separately (see Visser (2013)). Acronyms like FNP /ɛfɛnpe:/ name of a Frisian political party (i.e. de Fryske Nasjonale Partij 'the Frisian National Party) and ING /iɛnɡe:/ name of a Dutch banking company (i.e. de Internationale Nederlanden Groep 'the International Netherlands Group are realized as [ɛvɛmˈpe:] and [iʔɛŋˈɡe:], so with (bilabial) [m] and (velar) [ŋ], respectively. Phonologically speaking then such acronyms consist of as many words as the the full names they derive from. They invariably have main stress on the final syllable, which suggests that they count as phonological phrases.

  • Visser, Willem2013Acronyms in Modern West FrisianTwenty-Nine Smiles for Alastair; Freundesgabe für Dr. Alastair G.H. Walker zu seinem Abschied von der Nordfriesischen Wörterbuchstelle der Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel am 4. Juli 2013Nordfriesischen Wörterbuchstelle der Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
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