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The bilabial plosives /p/ and /b/

Afrikaans /p/ is a voiceless bilabial plosive; its voiced counterpart is /b/ . (Van Wyk 1977)(Le Roux and Pienaar 1927)(Kent 1992)(MacKAy 1987)A possible feature specification of /p/ is -sonorant, -voice, +labial, -coronal, +anterior, - continuant; that of /b/-sonorant, +voice, +labial, -coronal, +anterior, - continuant. /p/ counts among the most frequent phonemes of Afrikaans; /b/ has a more restricted distribution, inter alia due to the phonological process of final devoicing.


Phonotactic behaviour of /p/
/p/ can occur as singleton consonant in onset position (1)(a), or in clusters of two or three consonants, such as in (1)(b) - (1)(c):

Example 1

a. paar pair
b. praat speak ; plaat plate
c. spreek speak ; splas splash

/p/ combines regularly with the alveolar, nonnasal sonorants, /r/ and /l/ (as in (b) and (c)). In some loan words /p/ occurs as first consonant in the clusters /pn/ (pneumaties) or /ps/ (psige). In these cases the first consonant, as in English, is deleted.

Furthermore, it can function as sole consonant in coda position (2)(a), as well as in double or triple clusters, as in (2)(b), resp. (2)(c):

Example 2

a. hap bite ;
b. lamp lamp ; skerp sharp ; help help
c. herfs autumn ; arts doctor

In complex codas, /p/ is commonly preceeded by sonorant consonants, viz. the homorganic bilabial nasal /m/ and by the liquids /l/ and /r/ (2)(b).

Finally, /p/ regularly appears intervocalically, as in (3) - preceeded by all kinds of vowel segments.

Example 3

a. hapel falters ; druppel drop ; sypel seeps

Phonotactic behaviour of /b/
The occurrence of voiced plosive /b/ is more restricted phonotactically than that of its voiceless counterpart /p/. In onset position it functions only as singleton consonant (4)(a), or, in combination with a second, alveolar nonnasal sonorant consonant (4)(b). Thus a complex onset bCC- is not allowed:

Example 4

a. baar bear
b. bruin brown ; blaar leaf

Because of final devoicing, [b] does not occur syllable-finally, , including word-finally. Consequently, /b/ turns into [p] in rare words such as rib and skub, as well as in proper names like Namib.

[+] Alternation of /p/ and /b/

/b/ regularly appears intervocalically, as in (5) - preceeded by all kinds of vowel segments.

Example 5

a. kabel cable ; dubbel double ; bybel bible

Except for cases of final devoicing in which /b/ becomes [p], these two plosives alternate in the case of voicing assimilation, where /p/ becomes [b], as in op+deel o[bd]eel subdivide, or op+werk o[bv]erk work up.

Variation of /b/ with /v/

Le Roux and Pienaar (Le Roux and Pienaar 1927) mention a number of cases where /b/ is replaced by /v/ in unstressed syllables, such as troebel > troewel. This frequently happens in proper names, like Kobus > Kowus. The output of the voicing assimilation of /p/, into [b], can thus in turn trigger a change into [v]

[+] More detail
[+] The human speech organs

Afrikaans /p/ is a voicelessbilabialplosive and /b/ is a voicedbilabialplosive.

Speech sounds that are produced at a bilabial place of articulation (at the lips). See the human speech organs.

A consonant produced involving complete closure of the articulators, a raised velum, followed by a rapid releaseof air-pressure.

The bilabial plosives do not exhibit any meaningful variation in terms of place of articulation.

Figure 1: The human speech organs

[click image to enlarge]

Sound waves (upper window) and spectrogram (lower window) of the nonsense words papapap and bababab.

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

Figure 2: Sound wave forms (upper window) and spectrograms (lower window) of the voiceless bilabial plosive /p/ (in the nonsense word papapap) and the voiced bilabial plosive/b/ (in the nonsense word bababab).

  1. The sounds are labelled using phonetic transcription; thus [p]. Note that the vowels written as a are all short [ɑ].
  2. The final /b/ of bababab is devoiced to phonetically voiceless [p], due to the phonological process of final devoicing .
  3. The voiceless plosives of [pɑ'pɑpɑp] are indicated with green rectangles; while the voiced plosives of [bɑ'bɑbɑp] are indicated with blue rectangles, except the final devoiced /b/ > [p], which is marked with purple.
  4. The release bursts of the onset plosive portion of both consonants, [p] and [b], are not clearly visible in these examples.
  5. The intervocalic silence gapsof voiceless[p] in papapap are visible as green rectangles (cf. 3); no positive voice onset time (VOT) is present between the release burst and the start of the vowel, indicative of an absence of aspiration in Afrikaans [p].
  6. Negative voice onset time ( -VOT , -prevoicing/ voicing lead,) is clearly visible in the form of the harmonic waveforms of [b] in Window A, and black bars at the bottom of Window B, i.e. quasiperiodic modulation of the noise by glottal pulses in the case of voiced consonants.
  7. If plosives are released in word-final position, a plosive burst is visible (marked in dark blue).

[show extra information]

Voicing feature in [b]
In the case of the voiced stop [b], a negative VOT (prevoicing or voicing lead) is in most cases present in Afrikaans. This feature is variable across speakers: some speakers always realise [b] (and other voiced plosives) as prevoiced, while others do so only half the time, or even not at all (Coetzee, A. W., Patrice S. Beddor and Daan P. Wissing).

  • Hoekstra, Eric2000Grammaticale functies van -E en -EN in het Westfries en het Fries en taalcontactgestuurde veranderingenTaal en Tongval52136-149
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