Afrikaans phonology

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Afrikaans has a similar phonology or pronunciation to other West Germanic languages, especially Dutch.


Afrikaans has an extensive vowel inventory consisting of 17 monophthong phonemes (including 7 marginal ones) and 7 diphthong phonemes.


Monophthong phonemes of Afrikaans[1]
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded
short long short long short long short long
Close i () y ɨ (ɨː) u ()
Mid ɛ ɛː œ (œː) ɔ (ɔː)
Open (æ) (æː) ɐ ɑː


  • As phonemes, /iː/ and /uː/ occur only in the words spieël /spiːl/ 'mirror' and koeël /kuːl/ 'bullet', which used to be pronounced with sequences /i.ə/ and /u.ə/, respectively. In other cases, they occur as allophones of /i/ and /u/ before /r/.[2]
  • /ɨ, ɨː/ (phonetically [ɨ̞, ɨ̞ː])[3] are higher than the unstressed [ə] allophone of /ɨ/ and /ɛ/. Donaldson (1993) transcribes them as /ɪ̈, ɪ̈ː/, but this article uses /ɨ, ɨː/ for simplicity. Many scholars transcribe them as /ə, əː/.[4]
  • /ɨː/ occurs only in the word wîe /ˈvɨːɛ/ 'wedges'.[5]
  • /y/ tends to be merged with /i/ into [i].[6]
  • /y/ is lengthened to [yː] before /r/.[7]
  • /u/ is weakly rounded, and could be more narrowly transcribed as [u̜] or [ɯ̹]. For this reason, it is sometimes transcribed /ɯ/.[6]


  • /ɛ/ contrasts with /ɛː/ only in the minimal pair pers /pɛrs/ 'press' – pers /pɛːrs/ 'purple'.[8]
  • Before the sequences /rt, rd, rs/, the /ɛ–ɛː/ and /ɔ–ɔː/ contrasts are neutralized in favour of the long variants /ɛː/ and /ɔː/, respectively.[5]
  • The schwa [ə] occurs as an allophone of unstressed /ɨ/ and /ɛ/. In some words, such as vanaand /fɐˈnɑːnt/ 'this morning', /ɐ/ is also realized as schwa [ə].[4]
  • Many speakers merge /œ/ with /ɨ/ into [ɨ̞].[6]
  • /œː, ɔː/ occur only in a few words.[5]


  • As a phoneme, /æ/ occurs only in some loanwords from English, such as pêl /pæl/ 'pal', as well as in some words such as vertrek /fərˈtræk/ 'departure'.[9] It also occurs as a dialectal allophone of /ɛ/ before /k, χ, l, r/, most commonly in the former Transvaal and Free State provinces.[9]
  • As a phoneme, /æː/ occurs only in some loanwords from English (such as grênd [græːnt] 'grand'), as well as before /k/ in some words.[8] It also occurs as an allophone of /ɛː/ before /r/ and the sequences /rs, rt, rd/.[9]
  • /ɐ, ɑː/ are sometimes transcribed with simpler symbols /a, aː/,[10] but the former set of symbols is phonetically correct.[11]
  • In the former Transvaal province, /ɑː/ is realized as rounded [ɒː]. In extreme cases, this sound may be as high as [ɔː].[12][Does the [ɔː] realization of /ɑː/ merge with /ɔː/?]
  • In some words, such as hamer, short /ɐ/ is in free variation with long /ɑː/, despite the fact that the spelling suggests the latter vowel. In some words, such as laat, the pronunciation with short /ɐ/ occurs only in the colloquial language. In some other words, such as aambeeld /ˈɐmbeəlt/ 'anvil', the pronunciation with short /ɐ/ is already a part of the standard language.[13]

Nasalized vowels[edit]

In some instances of the sequence /Vns/ (where V stands for 'vowel'), /n/ is realized as nasalization (and lengthening, if the vowel is short) of the preceding vowel. This nasalization is stronger in some speakers than others, but there also are speakers that retain the [n] and keep the original length of the preceding vowel.[14]

  • The sequence /ɐns/ in words such as dans is realized as [ɑ̃ːs]. In monosyllabic words, this realization is the norm.[8]
  • The sequence /ɑːns/ in more common words (such as Afrikaans) is realized as either [ɑ̃ːs] or [ɑːns]. In less common words (such as Italiaans) [ɑːns] is the usual pronunciation.[8]
  • The sequence /ɛns/ in words such as mens is realized as [ɛ̃ːs].[8]
  • The sequence /œns/ in words such as guns is more often realized as [œns] than [œ̃ːs].[6] For speakers with the /œ–ɨ/ merger, these transcriptions are to be read as [ɨ̞ns] and [ɨ̞̃ːs], respectively.
  • The sequence /ɔns/ in words such as spons is realized as [ɔ̃ːs].[6]

Collins & Mees (2003) analyze the pre-/s/ sequences /ɐn, ɛn, ɔn/ as phonemic short vowels /ɑ̃, ɛ̃, ɔ̃/.[15]


Diphthong phonemes[16]
Starting point Ending point
Front Central Back
Mid Unrounded əi
Rounded œi, ɔi øə, oə œu
Open Unrounded ɐi
  • The scholar Daan Wissing argues that /əi/ is not a phonetically correct transcription, and that /æɛ/ is more accurate.[17] In his analysis, he found that [æɛ] makes for 65% of the realizations, while the other 35% of realizations were monophthongal, namely [ə], [æ] and [ɛ].[17]
  • /eə, oə/ may be realized in four ways:
    • Falling diphthongs [eə̯, oə̯]. Sometimes the first element is somewhat lengthened: [eˑə̯, oˑə̯].[18]
    • Rising diphthongs [e̯ə, o̯ə]. These variants don't seem to appear word-finally. The sequence /ɦoə/ is commonly realized as [ɦo̯ə] or, more often [o̯̤ə̤], with /ɦ/ realized as breathy voice on the diphthong.[18]
    • Indeterminate diphthongs [eə, oə], which may occur in all environments.[18]
    • Monophthongs, either short [e, o] or somewhat lengthened [eˑ, oˑ]. The monophthongal realizations occur in less stressed words, as well as in stressed syllables in words that have more than one syllable. In the latter case, they are in free variation with all of the three diphthongal realizations. In case of /oə/, the monophthongal [o] also appears in unstressed word-final syllables.[18]
    • The diphthongal realizations may have a close onset: [iə, uə].[19]
  • There is not a complete agreement about the dialectal realization of /eə, oə/ in the Boland area:
  • There is not a complete agreement about the realization of /øə/ in standard language:
    • According to Donaldson (1993), it is realized as [øə]. Its onset is sometimes unrounded, which can cause it to merge with /eə/.[22]
    • According to Lass (1987), /øə/ is realized as either rising [ë̯ø] or falling [ëø̯], with the former realization being the most common. The monophthongal realization [ø] is very rare or doesn't occur at all.[23]
  • Most often, /œi/ has an unrounded offset. For some speakers, the onset is also unrounded. That can cause /œi/ to merge with /əi/, which is considered non-standard.[24]
  • /ɔi, ɐi/ occur mainly in loanwords.[24]

Long diphthongs[edit]

The long diphthongs (or 'double vowels') are phonemically sequences of a free vowel and a non-syllabic equivalent of /i/ or /u/. They are [ɑːi̯, oːi̯, ui̯, (eu̯), iu̯]. [eu̯] tends to merge with [iu̯], but they are always spelled differently: the former as eeu, the latter as ieu.[25]

'False' diphthongs[edit]

In diminutives of monosyllabic nouns ending in /ki/, the vowels /ɐ, ɑː, ɛ, eə, ɨ, ɔ, oə, u, œ/ (but not when /ɑː/ is followed by /t/) are realized as closing diphthongs [ɐi̯, ɑːi̯, ɛi̯, ɨi̯, ɔi̯, oi̯, ui̯, œi̯]. In the same environment, the sequences /ɐn, ɛn, ɨn, ɔn, œn/ are realized as [ɐi̯ɲ, ɛi̯ɲ, ɨi̯ɲ, ɔi̯ɲ, œi̯ɲ], i.e. as closing diphthongs followed by palatal nasal.[26] Note that the diphthong [ɨi̯] in practice is realized the same as the phonemic diphthong /əi/.[27]


Consonant phonemes
Labial Alveolar Dorsal/
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k t͡ʃ
voiced b d d͡ʒ
Fricative voiceless f s χ ʃ
voiced v z ɦ ʒ
Approximant l j
Rhotic r


  • All obstruents at the ends of words are devoiced (a final /d/ becomes /t/).[28]
  • /p, t, k, tʃ/ are unaspirated.[29]
  • According to some authors,[30] /v/ is actually an approximant [ʋ].[31]
  • /k/ may be somewhat more front before front vowels; the fronted allophone of /k/ also occurs in diminutives ending in -djie and -tjie.[32]
  • /dʒ, z/ occur only in loanwords.
  • /χ/ is most often uvular, either a fricative, [χ] or a voiceless trill [ʀ̥] - the latter especially in initial position before a stressed vowel.[31][33][34] Many speakers of White South African English realize the marginal English phoneme /x/ as uvular [χ].[34] In Afrikaans, velar [x] may be used in a few "hyper-posh" varieties, and it may also rarely occur as an allophone before front vowels in speakers with otherwise uvular /χ/.[33]
  • /χ/ is realized as a voiced velar stop [ɡ] in some environments.[35]


  • /m/ and /n/ assimilate their articulation to a following obstruent in many cases:
    • Both become [m] before /p, b/, and [ɱ] before /f, v/.
    • /n/ merges into /ŋ/ before dorsals (/k, χ/). It is realized as velar [ŋ] before /k/ and the [ɡ] allophone of /χ/,[can [ɡ] occur after [ŋ]?] and as uvular [ɴ] before /χ/.
  • /l/ is velarized [ɫ] in all positions. This is especially noticeable non-prevocalically.[32]
  • /r/ is most commonly realized as the alveolar trill [r], but voiced uvular fricative [ʁ] and the uvular trill [ʀ] may occur instead in some southern dialects.[32] Trilled versions may be pronounced with single contact: [ɾ], [ʀ̆].
Afrikaans consonants with example words
Symbol Example
IPA IPA Orthography Gloss
p pɔt pot 'pot'
b bɛt bed 'bed'
t ˈtɑːfəl tafel 'table'
d dɐk dak 'roof'
ˈtʃɛχis Tsjeggies 'Czech'
ˈbɐdʒi budjie 'budgerigar'
k kɐt kat 'cat'
ɡ ˈsɔrɡə sorge 'cares'
m mɐn man 'man'
n noːi nooi 'invite'
ŋ sɪ̈ŋ sing 'to sing'
f fits fiets 'bicycle'
v ˈvɑːtər water 'water'
s søən seun 'son'
z ˈzulu Zoeloe 'Zulu'
ʃ ˈʃinɐ Sjina 'China'
ʒ viʒyːˈeəl visueel 'visually'
χ χut goed 'good'
r roːi rooi 'red'
ɦ ɦœis huis 'house'
j ˈjiːsœs Jesus 'Jesus'
l lif lief 'dear'

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 2–7.
  2. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 4–6.
  3. ^ Donaldson (1993), p. 4.
  4. ^ a b Donaldson (1993), pp. 4 and 6.
  5. ^ a b c Donaldson (1993), p. 7.
  6. ^ a b c d e Donaldson (1993), p. 5.
  7. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 5–6.
  8. ^ a b c d e Donaldson (1993), p. 3.
  9. ^ a b c Donaldson (1993), pp. 3 and 7.
  10. ^ For example by Donaldson (1993).
  11. ^ Lass (1984), pp. 76, 93–94 and 105.
  12. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 6–7.
  13. ^ Donaldson (1993), p. 6.
  14. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 3 and 5.
  15. ^ Collins & Mees (2003), p. 71.
  16. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 2 and 8–10.
  17. ^ a b Wissing (2009), p. 333.
  18. ^ a b c d Lass (1987), pp. 117–119.
  19. ^ a b Donaldson (1993), p. 8.
  20. ^ a b Cited in Lass (1987:117–118). The preview on Google Books makes it unclear whether De Villiers' book is "Afrikaanse klankleer. Fonetiek, fonologie en woordbou" or "Nederlands en Afrikaans", as both are cited at the end of Lass's chapter.
  21. ^ Lass (1987), p. 118.
  22. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 8–9.
  23. ^ Lass (1987), p. 117.
  24. ^ a b Donaldson (1993), p. 10.
  25. ^ Donaldson (1993), p. 12.
  26. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 10–11.
  27. ^ Donaldson (1993), p. 11.
  28. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 13–15.
  29. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 14–16.
  30. ^ For example Den Besten (2012).
  31. ^ a b Den Besten (2012).
  32. ^ a b c Donaldson (1993), p. 15.
  33. ^ a b "John Wells's phonetic blog: velar or uvular?". 5 December 2011. Retrieved 12 February 2015.  Only this source mentions the trilled realization.
  34. ^ a b Bowerman (2004:939): "White South African English is one of very few varieties to have a velar fricative phoneme /x/ (see Lass (2002:120)), but this is only in words borrowed from Afrikaans (...) and Khoisan (...). Many speakers use the Afrikaans uvular fricative [χ] rather than the velar."
  35. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 13–14.


Further reading[edit]