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The lateral liquid /l/

The phoneme /l/ is an alveolarsonorantconsonant in Afrikaans. Together with /r/ it forms the group of liquids (Le Roux and Pienaar 1927;Van Wyk 1977).

Table 1
Consonant Place Manner Feature specification
/l/ lateral liquid +sonorant, + anterior, -coronal, +lateral
[+]Phonotactic behaviour

The /l/ can occur as singleton onset as in (1a) and as second consonant, following either initial non-coronals /k/, /p/ and /b/ as in (1b). In (1c) the phoneme /l/ is preceded by voicelessfricatives i.e. the /s/, /f/ and /x/.

Example 1

a. lamp lamp
b. klant   ; client  ; ploeg to plow  ; bly to stay
c. slaan to hit  ; vlag flag  ; glad smooth

The phoneme /l/ can occur in simple codas, as in (2a), as well as in complex codas, such as in (2b) and (2c). In the former case /l/ may be followed by voiceless fricatives /s/, /f/ and /x/, and in the latter instance by plosives /p/, /d/ (phonetically realised as [t]), and /k/. In (2d) /lm/ is phonetically realised as [ləm], due to schwa insertion in sonorant clusters.

Note that onset and coda clusters are mirror images of each other, except that an onset member /*tl-/ does not exist as equivalent for /-lt/.

Example 2

a. bel bell
b. hals neck  ; half half walg to disgust
c. help to help  ; held hero  ; kelk chalice
d. kalm calm

The lateral liquid /l/ often appears intervocalically, as in (3):

Example 3

a. palet palette
b. balie tub  ; ballet ballet  ; veilig safe
[+]Acoustic properties

In the example below, the most important acoustic properties of /l/ are shown. For purposes of comparison, the other member of the liquid group, /r/ in [ rararar], is included.

Table 2
Sound Sound waves and spectrogram
[click image to enlarge]

  1. Afrikaans /l/ is a typical lateral, which in general is characterised by a high F3 (around 3000 Hz), which is, in turn, far apart from the F2 (around 1000 Hz), (Stevens 1998).
  2. Two spectral valleys are visible, the lowest around 5000 Hz, the highest about 8000 Hz.

  • Le Roux, T.H. & Pienaar, P. de V1927Afrikaanse fonetiek.Juta
  • Stevens, K. N1998Acoustic phoneticsCambridge MAMIT Press
  • Van Wyk, E.B1977Praktiese fonetiek vir taalstudente: 'n inleiding.Butterworth
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