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The trill /r/

In Standard Afrikaans /r/ is a typical alveolar trill. In some varieties of Afrikaans it may also be a uvular trill, a uvular approximant, or a velar fricative ((Van Wyk 1977); (Le Roux and Pienaar 1927)). A typical feature specification of the standard variety might be +sonorant, +coronal, +anterior, +voice, +trill. Together with /l/ it forms the group of liquids.

[+] Phonotactic behaviour

/r/ can occur as singleton onset (1)(a) and as second consonant, following both voiced and voiceless obstruents (plosives in (1)(b)) , voiced fricative /v/ and voiceless fricatives /f/, /x/ in (1)(c).

Example 1

a. raak touch
b. prag beauty ; tree step ; krag strength ; bring bring drag dress ;
c. vrag load ; wreed cruel ; graag gladly ;

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

In the latter case /r/ may be followed by voiceless obstruents. (2)(d) /rm/ is phonetically realised as [rəm], due to schwa-insertion in sonorant clusters.

Note that onset and coda clusters are mirror images of each other.

Example 2

a. ver far
b. harp harp hark rake hart heart
c. eers first gerf sheaf ; erg serious
d. kern Kernel ; kerm moan

/r/ is possible as simple coda, as in (2)(a), as well as in complex codas, such as in (2)(b) - (d). (b) contains examples of /r/ + plosives, always voiceless consonants, and (c) of fricatives. (d) is a special case of schwa insertion between two adjacent sononant consonants. This is also found with respect to codas /lm/, as in filmfilm, thus ['f ə.ləm]

An interesting development in Afrikaans concerning codas with prefinal consonant /r/ and final /n/ is visible in forms like koringcorn; wheatand doringthorn, originated from Dutch koorncorn; wheatand doornthorn . In Afrikaans place names like Doornfonteinrn is still present.

/r/ often appears intervocalically, as in (3):

Example 3

a. bêre pack away ;
b. warrel whirl ; Sarel proper name

Afrikaans words with intervocalic /r/ preceeded by a diphthong do not exist.

[+] Articulatory information

Afrikaans /r/ is a trillsonorantconsonant; its primary place of articulation is alveolar. In some southern regions of South Africa, notably in the Boland, a uvular /r/ is heard. (MacKAy 1987)(Kent 1992)(Rietveld 1997)

  • Alveolar speech sounds are produced at the alveolar place of articulation, i.e. by a constriction between the corona of the tongue and the alveolar ridge. See the human speech organs.
  • Uvularspeech sounds are produced at the very back of the velum, close to or at the uvula. These sounds may include vibration of the uvula. See human speech organs.

[+] Phonological behaviour

Most short vowels are optionallly lengthened when followed by /r/ as coda, notably in words with a high frequency. (4)(a) shows the most common cases, viz. lengthening of /i/, /u/, /y/. In quite a number of instances, as illustrated in (4)(b) and (4)(c), the mid-high short vowels /ɛ/ and /ɔ/ are also notably elongated.

Example 4

a. bier beer ; boer farmer ; uur hour
b. ver far ; perd horse ; tert tart
c. snor moustache ; dors thirsty more tomorrow

The long /ɔ/ in more may be ascribed to lengthening in an open syllable, followed by the deletion of /x/ in the original morgen.

Lengthened vowels in pre-/r/ context sometimes trigger semantic differences, for example:

Example 5

a. pers purple (with a long /ɛ:/ ) vs. pers press (with a short /ɛ:/ )

Especially in the pronunciation of young, white Afrikaans-speakers, /s/ is frequently palatalised to [ʃ] when preceded by /r/ in the coda cluster /rs/. This happens in other contexts where /r/ is involved, notably across syllable and word boundaries.

Especially in high-frequency function words , in word ((1)(a)) or syllable ((1)(b)) final positions, /r/ is regularly deleted, the more so in rapid speech:

Example 6

a. hier here ; waar where ; sommer just
b. verbaas surprised ; byvoorbeeld for example

Less common examples are those in (7)

Example 7

a. probeer try ; werk work

See De Villiers and Ponelis ((De Villiers and Ponelis 1992)) for more details.

[+] Articulatory information

/r/ in Afrikaans is predominantly articulated as an alveolar rhotic liquid, generally called a trill. It is produced at the very back of the velum, close to or at the uvula. The articulation may include vibration of the uvula (in trills and fricatives).

Figure 1: The human speech organs

[click image to enlarge]

[+] Acoustic properties

In the example below the most important acoustic properties of /r/are shown. For purposes of comparison the other member of the liquids, /l/ in /lalalalal/ is included.

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

  1. The vowel of the second syllable of rararar is long; the rest are short [ɑ].
  2. The trill character of /r/ is clearly observable in the bundles of pulses; the first [r] consists of seven pulses, while the third exemplar only has one.
  3. Such bundles of pulses correspond to every trill or tap of the tongue against the alveolum.
  4. More energy than in /l/ is spread over a spectrum ranging from 4kHz to 10kHz.
  5. Two spectral valleys are visible, the lowest around 5000 Hz, the highest about 8000 Hz.

  • 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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