The weak vowels of South African English: A critical review and comparative acoustic analysis

  • Ian Bekker


This article firstly provides a thorough critical review of the existing literature on the status of the weak vowels of South African English (SAfE), both within the context of developments within SAfE as well as within the context of other relevant accents of English. This review of the literature is accompanied by the presentation of new acoustic data, specifically in the form of a comparative acoustic analysis of the General SAfE lettER, commA and happY vowels, as well as weak-vowels in non-final position. This analysis draws on contemporary data from both SAfE and comparable data collected by Fleming and Johnson (2007) for American varieties. The results of the combined review and acoustic analysis indicate that happY has the same phonetic quality as FLEECE (via happY-Tensing); that the Weak Vowel Merger is characteristic of SAfE (although at a higher-thanschwa quality); and that the prototypical value for commA and lettER in SAfE is ‘low schwa’, i.e., [ɜ]. The article ends with some speculation concerning the possible historical origins of these various features of SAfE.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2014, 32(1): 133–147

Author Biography

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

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614