ng as in Inger & Young Shin

sceplog_inger_youngshinAmong all the first and last names of our SCEP tutors this year, only two feature the velar nasal /ŋ/, and these belong to our visitors from overseas, Inger Mees and Young Shin Kim.

Inger comes to us from Denmark, and tells me that in Danish her name is phonemicized as /ˈeŋə/. The first vowel in Danish sounds rather like the English KIT vowel /ɪ/, which is handy as that’s the vowel English speakers will readily choose on the basis of the spelling:

(The final -r is unpronounced in Denmark, just as in England; see SCEPLog 5.)

Young Shin (영신) comes from Korea; the first syllable of her name, which can also be spelled Yeong, sounds in Korean rather like English young, /jʌŋ/:

(English shin /ʃɪn/ is a less close match for the second syllable in Korean.)

In English as in Danish and Korean, /ŋ/ is a fully-fledged phoneme which can appear without a following /k/ or /g/. This can be tricky for some non-natives to pronounce, especially when a vowel follows, as in lo/ŋ/ago or goi/ŋ/out.

There’s a general rule in English that /ŋ/ doesn’t appear before a vowel which is in the same morpheme (word-part). So finger, a single morpheme, is /ˈfɪŋgə/, while singer, made up of two morphemes, sing + er, is /ˈsɪŋə/. However, there are exceptions like hangar which is commonly pronounced /ˈhæŋə/ despite being a single morpheme. So a name like Inger might go either way. In my recording above, I said /ˈɪŋə/, approximating Inger’s own pronunciation.

Note that if we say Young Shin’s full name, Young Shin Kim, the /n/ of Shin may assimilate to the /k/ of Kim, giving Young Shi/ŋ/Kim:

3 replies
  1. Mitko
    Mitko says:

    Thanks for this post, the velar nasal is indeed quite tricky for may non-native speakers.

    Although LPD has /ˈhæŋə, ˈhæŋɡə/ for hangar, and further says “usually = hanger”, in EPD /ˈhæŋɡə/ comes first for BrE, and OALD also lists both. Would it be safe to conclude that the /-ŋɡ-/ variant, which seems to bring the word in line with same-morpheme rule, is also reasonably common?

    On a side note, I find Cumberbatch’s penguins very curious, not only for what’s obviously hilarious (his final nasal and the /w/), but also because he never has a /-ŋɡ-/ cluster in the middle of the word in this video: only a simple /-ŋ-/. I’ve asked a few British speakers what they think about /ˈpɛŋwɪn/ and none thinks it’s weird or wrong (admittedly not the best way to get acceptability judgments). So I’ve been wondering if that could be an extension/generalisation of the /t, d/-deletion process, (though I’m not sure how productive that is in the /-ndw-/ cluster at all: it works (if optionally) for sandwich but do you readily lose the /d/ in bandwidth or landward, for example? Language also seems to optionally lose the /ɡ/ after the velar nasal (though that’s “non-RP” in LPD).

    • Mitko
      Mitko says:

      To take the question a bit further, /ŋɡ/-cluster reduction also appears to be possible before /l/, at least in ‘English’ and ‘England’, but not before the other approximants, /r, j/ (angry, singular).

    • Geoff Lindsey
      Geoff Lindsey says:

      Hello Mitko. I think the /ˈhæŋɡə/ pronunciation is ‘reasonably common’, and have amended the text of the post to avoid the implication that it isn’t. However, you may recall that you’ve hit a weak spot of mine! As I would have mentioned in the post had I not been conscious of length, my native Merseyside accent lacks phonemic /ŋ/, and so I can’t rely on my own intuitions regarding the inconsistent cases like hangar, dinghy and longer, not to mention Inger! I’ll consult the ever-vigilant Paul Carley.

      It seems to me that Cumberbatch was pronouncing penguin as if it had a morpheme boundary, peng-wing (cf other birds like the lapwing), hence no /g/. As for sandwich and bandwidth, I suspect a frequency effect: people who talk about bandwidth a lot probably lose the /d/ quite easily.

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