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The short vowels of Afrikaans

The Afrikaans vowels /ɛ, ɔ, ɑ, œ, ə, i, u, y/ are generally taken to be short, contrary to the long vowels a, e, o, ø and diphthongs. Note that this is contrary to the general position in the case of Dutch in two ways: we count schwa, /ə/, as a full vowel in Afrikaans, and, , /i, u, y/ are regarded as short . See also the following topics on individual short vowels:

The following articles should be taken into account as important background information:

  • Concerning the criteria for classifying words as monomorphemes: Background to primary stress of Afrikaans monomorphemes.
  • Concerning the general stress pattern of Afrikaans monomorphemes: Overview of main stress.
  • By way of orientation with respect to all topics concerning stress placement in Afrikaans monomorphemes, the following reference list should be consulted:

    (De Stadler, L.G. 1981); (Combrink, J.G.H.; De Stadler, L.G. 1987); (De Stadler, L.G. 1991); (De Villiers, M. 1965); (De Villiers, M.; Ponelis, F.A. 1992); (Lee, A.S. 1963); (Le Roux, J.J. 1936); (Le Roux, T.H.; Pienaar, P. de V. 1927); (Lubbe, H.J. 1993); (Lubbe, H.J. 1993); (Lubbe, H.J. 1993); (Lubbe, H.J. 1993); (Wissing, D.P. 1971); (Wissing, D. 1987); (Wissing, D.P. 1988); (Wissing, D.P. 1988); (Wissing, D. 1989); (Wissing, D.P. 1989); (Wissing, D. 1991); (Wissing, D. 2014)

[+] Schwa

As mentioned above, schwa /ə/ is generally acknowledged as a full vowel phoneme in Afrikaans ((Le Roux and Pienaar 1927), (De Villiers 1949), (Wissing 1971), (Coetzee, A.E. 1981), (Combrink and De Stadler 1987)). In this regard, it is worth comparing minimal pairs such as pit /pət/do. and put /pœt/well, or dit /dət/it and dut /dœt/sleep. Although not in monomorphemic words, it is notable that schwa also carries main stress in derivations with the affix in : kelnerin /kɛl.nə.'rən/waitress, and in is: pianis /pi.ɑ.'nəs/pianist. Schwa also frequently functions as the plural morpheme, as in boek-e book-s as well as the predicative adjectival morpheme e.g. in groen-e green.

A schwa may occur in all syllable nuclei positions, unstressed as well as stressed, in open as well as closed syllables. It occurs frequently in word-end position, whereit is always unstressed.

Compare the following examples of schwa and short /ɑ/:

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Figure 1

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  1. Forms in slashes are phonemic; the relevant vowels are underlined; stressed vowels are indicated by a ', and syllable boundaries by a dot.
  2. Word final /d/ in beneweld devoices to [t]/ in word-final context.

The short Afrikaans vowels, /i, y, u, ɛ, ɔ, ɑ, œ, ə/ are all, unlike in Dutch, permitted to be stressed in open syllables in word-internal position . Compare the examples in the Extra below:

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Figure 2

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Although all short vowels may occur in open syllables in word-final position, in which case they are always unstressed, this is especially frequent in the case of /ə, ɑ, i, u/, as in the following representative examples:

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Figure 3

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  1. For the pronunciation of written <o> as [u] in open syllables word-finally, such as in foto, photo and in saldo do., see the discussion beneath.
  2. Only in a few cases is written <o> in this position long, and as such is pronounced as [uə] e.g. in buro, Karoo, tablo. 3. The short vowels /ɛ, ɔ/ only occur in a very small number of words, frequently monosyllabic exclamations such as resp. , but recently also in quite a number of persons' and place names adopted from indigenous languages.
  3. /y/ is restricted in this position too, e.g. in skadu.

[+] /i/ and /u/ as special cases of short Afrikaans vowels

Should /i/ and /u/ be regarded as long vowels, represented in a syllable tree by two slots, XX, a problem would be created for the analysis of both pure and unpure diphthongs. The pure diphthong (/œu/), written as <ou>, ends in /u/, which if analyzed as having a s XX structure, would render the nucleus of the diphthong /œu/ as X X X, which is, of course, not allowed in view of the phonotactic constraint of nuclei existing of maximally two slots. The same problem is to be found in the case of unpure diphthongs, such as /aai, ooi, eeu/ and even ui. All of these would have X X X structures if /i/ and /u/ were regarded as long. A similar situation is pointed out by Visser in the case of Frisian.

Unlike the way in which Dutch vowels are treated, Afrikaans has numerous normal words ending in unstressed, short /i/ and /u/ vowels, e.g. balie, bietjie, boelie, kielie, mielie, lelie, resp. boegoe, ghoeroe, koedoe, Zoeloe, that is, with orthograpical <oe>, but also in most words ending with <o>, such as avokado, bruto, fiasko, kommando, transito, video (see Short -oe in monomorphemes.

Afrikaans is characterised by an extremely productive morphophonemic process of diminutive suffixation, with all allomorphs ending in short /i/, viz, ie, pie, kie, tjie, etjie. Strikingly etjieis normally pronounced with two short /i/'s: [iki], or [ici]. These allomorphs have as equivalent the Dutch allomorphs je, pje, kje, tje etje>, all with final schwa (Booij, 1995).

Cases where /i/ and /u/ as stem vowels behave like undisputed short vowels are in the formation of diminutives with <-tjie>. Examples are poel - poeletjie, smoel - smoeletjie, gevoel - gevoeletjie, karakoel - karakoeletjie; in these examples they behave exactly like other short vowels, for example bal - balletjie, pen - pennetjie, kol - kolletjie, pil - pilletjie. Further evidence comes from the different effects of the two diminutive morphemes /-etjie/ and /-pie/. The former suffix requires a preceding short vowel plus final /m/ such as in kammetjie. Thus long vowels do not occur in this context, thus raam - raampie (*rametjie); boom - boompie (*bometjie); probleem - probleempie (*problemetjie). The same applies to /u/ which of course s argues against /u/ belonging to the class of long vowels. Similar, though less compelling cases, relating to /i/ include , for example /kiem - kiemetjie (*kiempie); siel - sieletjie; wiel - wieletjie (*wieltjie)/

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