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The alveolar nasal /n/

/n/ is an alveolar nasal sonorant consonant, with the possible feature specification of  +sonorant, +anterior, +coronal, +voice, +nasal(Le Roux and Pienaar 1927)(Van Wyk 1977)

[+] Phonotactic behaviour

/n/ can occur as singleton onset (1)(a) and as second consonant, following either initial /s/ or /k/, as in (1)(b).

Example 1

a. neem take
b. snel quick ; knoop button

Except for /s/ and /k/ as initial consonant, the voiceless fricatives /x/ (in gnoom ) and /f/ (in fnuik) are extremely rare possibilities in Afrikaans.

Furthermore, it can occur in simple codas (2)(a), and in complex codas, such as in (2)(b).

Example 2

a. been leg
b. hond dog ; ons ounce
c. kern kernal

The underlying coda cluster /rn/ becomes [rən] due to schwa insertion.

/n/ regularly appears intervocalically, as in (3):

Example 3

a. gene genes ; tonnel tunnel ; byna nearly
[+] Sensitivity to place assimilation

/n/ tends to assimilate to the place of articulation of the following consonant (called homorganic nasal assimilation). The strength of this tendency depends on the morphosyntactic ‘distance’ of the following consonant. Across word boundaries, like in combinations of first and last names, as in the examples under (4), especially in casual or rapid speech, homorganic nasal assimilation is ordinary.

Example 4

a. Jan Pieters [mp]
b. Jan Botha [mb]
c. Jan Jacobs [ɲ]
d. Jan Kruger [ŋk]
e. Jan Nel [n(n)]
f. Jan Malan [m]
[+] Articulatory information

Afrikaans /n/ is a voicedalveolarnasal. Nasal assimilation is a common process in which /n/ changes into the homorganic counterpart of a following consonant (see (4) above). (MacKAy 1987)(Kent 1992)(Rietveld 1997)

Speech sounds are produced at the alveolar place of articulation, between the dental, palatal and palato-alveolar sounds See the human speech organs.

Speech sounds are produced with a simultaneous oral closure and a lowered velum, allowing air to escape through the nose. See the the human speech organs.

Figure 1: The human speech organs

[click image to enlarge]

[+] Acoustic properties of /n/

In the example below the most important acoustic properties of /n/are shown. For purposes of comparison /mamamam/ and /ŋaŋaŋaŋ/ are shown on the left and right hand side of /nananan/.

Table 1
Sound Sound waves and spectrogram
[click image to enlarge]

  1. Diffuse energy is visible in the blue rectangles isolating all four of the /n/ segments. This diffuseness is to be observed in the low-amplitudes of the wave form as well as in the diffuse energy spread in the spectrogram (Window B).
  2. Weakly defined traces of formants are visible in all [n] exemplars, especially in the two intervocalic positions.
  3. Intervocalic second and third [n] (100 ms) are shorter than the other two.

  • Hoekstra, Eric2000Grammaticale functies van -E en -EN in het Westfries en het Fries en taalcontactgestuurde veranderingenTaal en Tongval52136-149
  • Rietveld, Antonius C.M. & Heuven, Vincent J. van1997Algemene FonetiekUitgeverij Coutinho
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