4

Plenty of English words have an "ny" sound (/nj/) in the middle, like onion and canyon.

Are there any American English words that start with this sound?

My native-speaker intuition tells me this is probably allowed in English phonotactics, but I can't think of any examples.

closed as too broad by curiousdannii, NVZ, tchrist, vickyace, Scott Jun 9 '16 at 4:38

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  • 4
    Nyet, comrade.. – Dan Bron Jun 6 '16 at 1:30
  • 4
    I think there are a lot of it. one would be nuke – Archie Azares Jun 6 '16 at 1:43
  • 2
    nuke is /njuːk/ – Archie Azares Jun 6 '16 at 1:53
  • 7
    What about gnocchi? I know, it's Italian, but it's used in English, and some people will pronounce it with "ny". – dangph Jun 6 '16 at 2:26
  • 3
    Some variants of AmE (and most, if not all, of BrE) pronounce words like "news" this way. MW It's very clear if you listen to the Beatles' A Day in the Life: "I heard the news today oh boy..." Also see english.stackexchange.com/questions/25108/… – Mike Harris Jun 6 '16 at 19:46
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Nyah, defined by Oxford Dictionaries

Used to express the speaker’s feeling of superiority or contempt for another: ‘I won the gold and she didn’t. Nyah, nyah, nyah’

  • 2
    Yeah, take away nyah and you eliminate half the dialog in the Three Stooges movies. – Hot Licks Jun 6 '16 at 1:45
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    I thought they said nyuk. – Scott Jun 6 '16 at 2:02
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    @Scott - Yeah, I guess you're right, but then you can add nyuk to the list. – Hot Licks Jun 6 '16 at 11:33
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It seems there are some, but the examples are few and often obscure—at least if you're looking for words whose primary pronunciation in standard American English start with the ny- sound. (See yod-dropping.)

Searching the CMU Pronouncing Dictionary for words beginning with the N consonant followed by the Y semi-vowel returns the following results:

KNEW(1)  N Y UW1
NEURAL(1)  N Y UH1 R AH0 L
NEUROPATHY(2)  N Y UH1 R OW0 P AE2 TH IY0
NEUROSCIENCE  N Y UH1 R OW0 S AY2 AH0 N S
NEUROSCIENTIST  N Y UH1 R OW0 S AY2 AH0 N T IH0 S T
NEUROSCIENTIST(1)  N Y UH1 R OW0 S AY2 AH0 N IH0 S T
NEW(1)  N Y UW1
NEWARK(1)  N Y UW1 ER0 K
NEWARK'S  N Y UW1 ER0 K S
NEWS(1)  N Y UW1 Z
NEW_ORLEANS(1)  N Y UW1 AO1 R L IY0 N Z
NUBIAN  N Y UW1 B IY0 AH0 N
NUPENG  N Y UW1 P EH0 NG
NUTE  N Y UW1 T
NYET  N Y EH1 T

Searching Moby Pronunciator for words starting with n/y or n/j produces a larger set:

Gnavi 'n/j//A/v/i/
Nemunas 'n/j//E/m/U/,n/A/s
Neuchatel n/y//S//A/'t/E/l
Neuilly n/y/'/j//i/
Neuilly-sur-Seine n/y//j//i/_SYR_'s/E/n
neuk n/j//u/k
neural 'n/j//U//@/r/@/l
neuralgia n/j//U//@/'r/&/l/dZ//@/
neuropteran n/j//U//@/'r/A/pt/@/r/@/n
neurotransmitter 'n/j//U//@/r/oU/tr/&/ns,m/I/t/@/r
neutralism 'n/j//u/tr/@/,l/I/z/@/m
newfangled n/j//u/'f/&//N//@/ld
newfound 'n/ju/'f/&//U/nd
newly 'n/j//u/l/i/
newness 'n/ju/n/@/s
newsagent 'n/j//u/z,/eI//dZ//@/nt
newsbrief 'n/j//u/zbr/i/f
newscaster 'n/j//u/z,k/A/st/@/r
newsflash 'n/j//u/zfl/&//S/
newsgirl 'n/j//u/zg/[@]/rl
newsmonger 'n/j//u/z,m/@//N//@/r
Newspeak 'n/j//u/sp/i/k
Newtonian n/j//u/'t/oU/n/i//@/n
New_Zealander n/ju/'z/i/l/@/nd/@/r
Niepce n/j//E/ps
Njord n/j//O/rd
Njorth n/j//O/r/T/
nucleic_acid n/j//U/,kl/i//I/k
nucleotide 'n/j//u/kl/i//@/,t/aI/d
nuclide 'n/j//u/kl/aI/d
nuclidic n/j//u/'kl/I/d/I/k
nudist 'n/j//u/d/I/st
nudum_pactum 'n/j//u/d/@/m_'p/&/kt/@/m
numerable 'n/j//u/m/@/r/@/b/@/l
numerator 'n/j//u/m/@/,r/eI/t/@/r
nutant 'n/j//u/t/@/nt
nutation n/j//u/'t/eI//S//@/n
nutria 'n/j//u/tr/i//@/
nyala 'n/j//A/l/@/
Nyasaland 'n/j//A/s/A/,l/&/nd
Nyaya 'n/j//A//j//@/
Nyeman 'n/j//I/R/E/d/j//-/'h/A/z/A/
pneumatics n/j//u/'m/&/t/I/ks
pneumonic n/j//u/'m/A/n/I/k

It's worth noting that these readily available and easily searchable pronunciation dictionaries are far from complete and likely contain errors. The CMU dictionary contains about 135,000 words, and the Moby dictionary contains about 175,000. In reality, more ny- words exist in English than are present in these dictionaries, and some words reported as ny- words in these dictionaries may not be legitimate ny- words.

Many of these results seem like false positives to me—either because they're not the sort of English words I'm looking for (e.g., acronyms, foreign place names, etc.) or because the words typically are not pronounced with the ny- sound in the English I'm used to. These are American dictionaries, though, and Merriam-Webster backs up some of the pronunciations but often lists the yod-dropped version first.

If you don't want to sort through the lists yourself, here are a few examples:

  • words beginning with neuro-, e.g., neuropathy: Indeed, Merriam-Webster seems to list the ny- pronunciations as valid alternates.
  • numerous, numerator, and related: Same concept as the neuro- words. I don't pronounce them that way personally, but apparently it does happen.
  • nutant: drooping (apparently only in M-W's unabridged dictionary)
  • nyala: an African antelope
  • pneumatics: a branch of mechanics that deals with the mechanical properties of gases
  • There's really nothing special about "neuro-" that I know of; anyone who pronounces that with /nj/ will almost certainly also use /nj/ in other words starting with "nuCV" or "neu." Are there really so few of these? Others you don't seem to list are nutrition, numerous, nude, nubile, neuter. – sumelic Jun 6 '16 at 20:30
  • The list at the bottom isn't meant to be exhaustive. Interestingly, the Moby project lists, for example, nudist but not nude, numerator but not numerous, etc. These pronunciation dictionaries are definitely incomplete and probably not entirely accurate. I should add a caveat to my answer. – Jonathan S. Jun 6 '16 at 20:35
  • I don't think the original poster is looking for words like "neuropathy," "nutant" or "pneumatics" give that he left a comment stating "thanks, I had no idea British people pronounced ['nuke' as /njuːk/]. I'll update the question." – sumelic Jun 6 '16 at 20:39
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    Fair enough. I'm merely reporting what I found in the pronunciation dictionaries that I could find, which happen to be created by American sources. It may be the case that some of these ny- pronunciations are chiefly British or are representative of something other than the stereotypical American dialect (whatever that means), but they do appear in American dictionaries. Again, to my ears, most of these words are not ny- words, but I can only speak for myself and my region. – Jonathan S. Jun 6 '16 at 20:51
  • Yeah, that's fair. I don't think this is a bad answer in and of itself, and only the original poster can say if it is useful to him or not. – sumelic Jun 6 '16 at 20:53
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Allow me to introduce Nyaff, defined in Chambers as 'a small or worthless person or thing'. OED

  • Sounds like a useful word. Can you give the link? – ab2 Jun 6 '16 at 19:32
  • Not easily, my Chambers is in a phone app, I've found an Oxford link though. I'll add that. – Spagirl Jun 6 '16 at 19:35
1

Perhaps you would accept "neanderthal."

The faster you say it, the closer it gets.

I might be exposing my Midwest accent a little too much here.

1

Nyan cat

It may have originally come from Japanese onomatopoeia, but now it's just an English word.

  • 2
    I'm a cat lover, and I'd like to see the link. – ab2 Jun 6 '16 at 19:31
  • @ab2 search for it on YouTube and you'll get about 10,000 hits. – Mike Harris Jun 6 '16 at 19:41
  • Why is anyone downvoting this? Do you deny that it has the ny sound?? – curiousdannii Jun 7 '16 at 0:18
  • @curiousdannii I didn't downvote it, but I did gently suggest that a link be provided, as per the norms on this site. I had never heard of Nyan cat, the term was totally new to me, and I'm supposed to take your word for it? :) – ab2 Jun 7 '16 at 22:39

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