The KIT-Split in South African English: A critical review

  • Ian Bekker


This article provides a thorough critical review of the literature on the so-called ‘KIT-Split’ in South African English (SAfE). The main result of this review is to show how the use and understanding of this term has undergone change. It was originally coined by Wells (1982) and used by him to explicitly refer to a phonemic split originating in SAfE. This use appears to have arisen on the basis of a selective appropriation of earlier work by Lanham and Traill (1962) and Lanham (1967) who, in their turn, had also identified a separate (marginal) phonemic split of the KIT vowel in Received Pronunciation (RP), as well as certain RP-based varieties of SAfE, while at the same time postulating, for SAfE more generally, a greater degree of complementation for the various qualities of KIT, as well as their greater polarisation in phonetic space. While the lack of full complementation and the presence of some minimal pairs in SAfE KIT was confirmed by and continued to attract the attention of some later commentators (e.g., Lass and Wright 1985, Taylor 1991), the meaning of the term ‘KIT-Split’ has, in the meantime, been tacitly reformulated to refer solely to the polarisation of allophones mentioned above. The literature on the nature and extent of this polarisation is thus also subject to review, one result of which is to show that the ‘split’ is not as ubiquitous in SAfE as is occasionally assumed.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2014, 32(1): 113–131

Author Biography

Ian Bekker
School of Languages, North-West University, Private Bag X6001, Potchefstroom, 2520

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614