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Pre-/r/ lengthening of vowels
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The most well-known case of length variation of vowels when they are followed by /r/ in Afrikaans is that of the short high vowels /i/, /u/ and /y/; other instances of such variation are also present, especially of the short mid-high, non-central vowels, viz. /ɛ/ and /ɔ/. The three short vowels /ɛ/, /ɔ/ and /ɑ/ sporadically lengthen before /n/ as well; so do /ɔ/ when followed by /l/. Here we concentrate on the influence of /r/ only.

De Villiers and Ponelis (1987) write the following regarding long vowels when followed by sonorant consonants: Die fonologiese interpretasie van lang vokale in hierdie posisie stel die navorser voor een van die ingewikkeldste probleme in die Afrikaanse fonologie. Daar is 'n wye spektrum van lengteverskynsels, van leksikaal vas (fonemies) tot hoogs variabel en selfs grillig; wisselings in vokaallengte kan dus nie almal oor dieselfde kan geskeer en sonder uitsondering met die fonologiese proses vokaalrekking beskryf word nie.Paraphrased: The phonological interpretation of long vowels is an extremely complicated phenomenon. There is a whole range of lengthening phenomena, ranging from the stable (and phonemic) to the highly variable. Alternations in vowel length cannot therefore all be treated in the same manner, nor does the phonological rule of vowel-lengthening apply exceptionlessly to all cases. The description of the influence of /r/ on preceding vowel length should be approached with these provisos in mind.

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[+] Lengthening of /i/ and /u/

Le Roux and Pienaar (1927), Combrink and De Stadler (1987), and De Villiers and Ponelis (1987) provide some examples of the process whereby /i/, /u/, /y/ lengthen when followed by tautosyllabic /r/. These are provided in the Table below, in both monosyllabic and multisyllabic words. De Villiers and Ponelis (1987) do not mention the possible role of syllable structure or stress position. The same applies to Le Roux and Pienaar (1927) as well as Combrink and De Stadler (1987). As will be pointed out below, in the Note, stress does have an effect, albeit to a limited degree.

Table 1: Vowel lengthen with tautosyllabic /r/
Monosyllabic /i/ /y/ /u/
bier buur boer
dier duur broer
gier gluur doer
hier guur hoer
Ier huur loer
klier muur moer
pier puur roer
spier skuur snoer
vier stuur stoer
suur toer
tuur vloer
uur voer
vuur
Multisyllabic banier partikulier apparatuur sensuur kontoer
bankier passasier argitektuur signatuur ontroer
dossier pionier avontuur statuur ontvoer
griffier plesier bestuur struktuur oproer
premier borduur tekstuur politoer
kanselier rivier katuur verduur troebadoer
kassier skarnier figuur uitvoer
klavier skolier fraktuur vervoer
koerier summier kultuur
kruidenier tuinier literatuur
kwartier versier miniatuur
manier visier natuur
offisier winkelier postuur
papier sekuur

  1. In most cases these vowels are lexically long, and are thus to be considered phonemic. They are, nevertheless, under the influence of following /r/.
  2. Almost all monosyllabic nouns have as plural morpheme ə, e.g biere, bure, boere, causing the nucleus vowels to appear in open syllables. Yet they still are lengthened, as in the singular forms in closed syllables. This is clear evidence that syllable structure does not effect this process' application.
  3. The same remark goes for multisyllabic words when appearing in the plural form, e.g. baniere, apparature, kontoere. Lengthening also applies in words with -s as plural morpheme, as in winkeliers, troebadoers.
  4. The phoneme /i/ is always long in the suffix -ier, e.g. in herbergier < herberg, skolier < skool, tesourier < tesourie, vlieënier < vlieg. These cases are rather scarce, though.
  5. Ier Irish (n) is a special case. The nucleus vowel /i/ is indeed (almost always) long here (thus [i:]), but varies in the derived form Ierse Irish (adj) between long and short. In the RSG-dataset it was short for seven out of eight cases. In the place name Ierland the /i/ tends to be long only, despite Le Roux and Pienaar's transcription in their Uitspraakwoordeboek Pronunciation DictionaryLe Roux and Pienaar (1971), which indicates it as long only. This is a clear example of the fact that vowel lengthening is not a hard and fast phenomenon in Afrikaans.
  6. Le Roux and Pienaar (1927) only mention hierie, kierie and liries as having a short /i/ in the first syllable. De Villiers and Ponelis (1987) contend that items with short /i/ ( [i]) are highly exceptional. They mention Ier as well as pier, skierlik, sliert, gierig and nuuskierig.
  7. toer in toernooi tournament is unstressed and its vowel is short (15 out of 17 cases in the RSG-dataset). In thetwo cases where it was long the stress was placed on the first syllable (toer), and (perhaps consequently) its vowel was pronounced as long.
  8. In Skiereiland peninsula, a case similar to toernooi, /i/ is only long according to Le Roux and Pienaar (1971), but is in fact predominantly short in the RSG-dataset (11 / 18; RAP = 0.61).
  9. In a number of words where the relevant syllable occurs in an unstressed, open syllable the vowel is not elongated as in (1) and (2) above: boerin; boerdery; dierasie; murasie; toeris.
  10. De Villiers and Ponelis (1987) mention quite a number of counterexamples to the process of vowel lengthening before /r/: Coert, halssnoer, hoer, karkoer, koer, koers, mampoer, oer- (as in oerwoud, ploert, poer, toernooi, Verwoerd, voert, voertsek, woer, woerts). According to them doer, kontoer, sloer and toer may be either short or long.

[+] Lengthening of /ɛ/ before /r/

While there are a number of words in which these vowels are long before /r/, they do mostly vary with short vowels in the same word. De Villiers and Ponelis (1987) summarise the situation as follows (somewhat rearranged, but with their examples):

  1. /ɛ/ > /æ/:
    1. When followed by /r/ in the same syllable:
      1. Long only: blêr, derde, -êr (komplimentêr, miljoenêr, rewolusionêr, Joubert, skêr).
      2. Long or short: kersie the fruit
      3. Short: (te) berde (bring), er- (erken and ervaar), er (letternaam), erde- (erdewerk), ertjies, Ferdinand, Gerber, her- (herverdeling), Persië, Van der Merwe, werskaf. In letter pronunciation personeel, ter dood veroordeel.
    2. When followed by /rt/, /rk/ or /rs/ in the same syllable:
      1. Long: koevert, konsert, perd, stert, tert; kers, kombers, pers (adj.), vers verse.
      2. Short (sometimes long): -rt: werd; -rk: kerk, klerk, De Klerk, sterk; Kers(fees).
      3. Short: Bert, Gert, snert, vuurherd, blikners, kners, pers (verb), Pers.
    3. When followed by /r/ in open syllables:
      1. Long: bêre; Bêrend; êrens; Ferreira; kêrel; rêrig; wêreld, stêre.
      2. Long and short: flerrie; merrie; nagmerrie.
      3. Short: erns; ferm; kern; kerm; kerrie; skerm; swerm; verre.

    Otherwise this vowel is short: bederf; erf; gerf; kerf; berg; skerp; serp; werp; erts; skerts (In all these contexts /ɛ/ is followed by at least one non-sonorant consonant).

[+] Lengthening of /ɔ/ before /r/

De Villiers and Ponelis (1987) mention the following categories in which /ɔ/ is long before /r/:

  1. In closed syllables: only borsel is cited as only long (short in dor, dorsaal, humor, knor, mor, rektor, sensor, tjor, vermorsel). The vowel of nor, kort and stort may be either long or short.
  2. When followed by -rt /ɔ/ becomes long in bord, Ford, port (-wyn), sport, word, but stays short in fort, gord, gort, sport (of a ladder), vort.
  3. When followed by -rs /ɔ/ becomes long in bors, dors, Jors, kors and wors, but stays short in fors, mors, nors, skors and vors.
  4. In dorp the vowel is short, but long in borg, morg, sorg, korf and snork.

Note that these lists are not complete. Also some degree of variation within some of the words is probable.

In conclusion: no hard and fast rules are present regarding the length of vowels before /r/, especially /ɛ/ and /ɔ/, though to a lesser degree, this also holds for the more well-known instances of /i/, /u/ and /y/ when followed by /r/. Furthermore, syllable structure (open or closed) and even stress do not always play a role.

References:
  • Combrink, J.G.H. & De Stadler, L.G1987Afrikaanse fonologie.Macmillan
  • Combrink, J.G.H. & De Stadler, L.G1987Afrikaanse fonologie.Macmillan
  • De Villiers, M. & Ponelis, F.A1987Afrikaanse klankleer.Tafelberg
  • De Villiers, M. & Ponelis, F.A1987Afrikaanse klankleer.Tafelberg
  • De Villiers, M. & Ponelis, F.A1987Afrikaanse klankleer.Tafelberg
  • De Villiers, M. & Ponelis, F.A1987Afrikaanse klankleer.Tafelberg
  • De Villiers, M. & Ponelis, F.A1987Afrikaanse klankleer.Tafelberg
  • De Villiers, M. & Ponelis, F.A1987Afrikaanse klankleer.Tafelberg
  • De Villiers, M. & Ponelis, F.A1987Afrikaanse klankleer.Tafelberg
  • Le Roux, T.H. & Pienaar, P. de V1971Uitspraakwoordeboek van Afrikaans.Van Schaik
  • Le Roux, T.H. & Pienaar, P. de V1971Uitspraakwoordeboek van Afrikaans.Van Schaik
  • Le Roux, T.H. & Pienaar, P. de V1927Afrikaanse fonetiek.Juta
  • Le Roux, T.H. & Pienaar, P. de V1927Afrikaanse fonetiek.Juta
  • Le Roux, T.H. & Pienaar, P. de V1927Afrikaanse fonetiek.Juta
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