A denasal voice sounds less nasal than a normal voice and is often associated with a head cold. A person who is denasal might say, “I have a cold id by dose,” when they are speaking instead of “in my nose.”
American English has three sounds that are supposed to have a nasal production. These are the nasal consonants “m,” “n,” and “ing.” (If you’d like to see these in action, click here and select “Nasal,” then a letter on the left, and “Play.”)
With denasality these nasal sounds are prevented from entering the nasal cavity. Try this: hold your nose closed and try saying an “m” sound. Doesn’t work, does it. That’s because that sound and the other two are supposed to come out the nose.
Constant denasality is usually a structural problem that requires medical attention. It results from nasopharyngeal blockage that prevents sound from entering the nose. This might be a deviated septum or a growth in the nasal cavity. An ear, nose, and throat specialist can usually remove a blockage and follow-up speech therapy will generally eliminate the denasality.
Allergies can also cause blockage in the nose due to swelling and secretions. And, of course, all of us occasionally suffer from head colds that change our voices (see my post on dealing with a cold for help with that).
If denasality is not caused from blockage or a cold, it may be a learned behavior. Exercises to feel the soft palate movement will aid in correcting the problem.
For a simple exercise to feel the soft palate opening and closing the nasal passage, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. In the back of your mouth, you’ll feel the little trap door that is the soft palate opening or dropping down to touch the back of your tongue when you inhale and rising up as you exhale. This is the movement that creates a denasal voice when the soft palate doesn’t move downward when it should to allow for the nasal sounds in our language.