Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics Plus

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Palatalisation of /s/ in Afrikaans

Daan Wissing, Wikus Pienaar, Daniel van Niekerk


This article reports on the investigation of the acoustic characteristics of the Afrikaans voiceless alveolar fricative /s/2. As yet, a palatal [ʃ] for /s/ has been reported only in a limited case, namely where /s/ is followed by palatal /j/, for example in the phrase is jy (“are you”), pronounced as [ə-ʃəi]. This seems to be an instance of regressive coarticulation, resulting in coalescence of basic /s/ and /j/. The present study revealed that, especially in the pronunciation of young, white Afrikaans-speakers, /s/ is also palatalised progressively when preceded by /r/ in the coda cluster /rs/, and, to a lesser extent, also in other contexts where /r/ is involved, for example across syllable and word boundaries. Only a slight presence of palatalisation was detected in the production of /s/ in the speech of the white, older speakers of the present study. This finding might be indicative of a definite change in the Afrikaans consonant system. A post hoc reflection is offered here on the possible presence of /s/-fronting, especially in the speech of the younger females. Such pronunciation could very well be a prestige marker for affluent speakers of Afrikaans.

Keywords: Afrikaans, Acoustic features, Centre of Gravity, Palatalisation, /s/-fronting, Voiceless sibilant fricatives
AJOL African Journals Online