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The phonotactics of Afrikaans

This section provides a general introduction into the phonotactics of Afrikaans. Phonotactics deals with the question as to whether a particular syllable is well-formed in a given language.


    Phonotactics is the branch of phonology which deals with the distribution of segments within prosodic-phonological and morpho-syntactic domains (e.g.syllable, foot, phonological word, stem,root,affix) and which, in general, seeks to define and explain in which phonological positions (initial, medial, final) individual phonemes may or may not occur. It, furthermore, studies the restrictions on combinations of consonants, vowels and consonant-vowel sequences in such positions, both in a particular language and cross-linguistically.

    The description of the phonotactics of Afrikaans provided in the following topics relies predominantly on the concept of the syllable (σ). The current description will be confined to the syllable level, therefore the phonotactics of the word level will not be dealt with.

    The syllable is assumed to consist of the hierarchically ordered constituents, shown in (1) (Booij 1995; Kager and Zonneveld 1986; Lubbe 1985; Trommelen 1984; Visser 1997). As the syllable plays an important role in the phonological structuring of language, it will be used as the main descriptive and explanatory tool in the treatment of the phonotactics of Afrikaans (van Oostendorp 2000).

    Another central concept that will be referred to throughout the description and where possible explanation of phonotactic matters is that of sonority, and, associated with that, sonority scale (Clements 1992; Selkirk 1982), or, among others, sonority sequency constraint. Of these, the most important is the universally accepted Maximum Onset Principle in the case of onset restrictions (Booij 1995; Lubbe 1991). Van Oostendorp contributed in various writings, e.g. (Van Oostendorp 2000; Van Oostendorp 1995).

    The syllable is assumed to consist of the following, hierarchically ordered constituents, shown in Figure 1.

    Figure 1
    [click image to enlarge]

    According to this structure, the nucleus and the coda are phonological units.

    The occurrence of vowels, consonants and consonant clusters in Afrikaans, as in other languages, is dependent on a variety of factors: many configurations only appear in specific contexts while they are prohibited in others. For example, the consonant cluster /kt/ is allowed in syllable-final, coda position, as in the word pakt /pɑkt/ pact but it is prohibited in syllable-onset position: accordingly, the hypothetical sequence /*ktɑm/ is not a possible Afrikaans word.

    The best part of phonological generalisations can be expressed by making reference to the syllable and its constituents; there are, however, other factors that influence phonotactics, such as prosodic factors. The syllable is a projection of the nucleus, that is, it is the head of the syllable, and therefore it is the constituent which is obligatorily present in every syllable. The same goes for the rhyme, which is the intermediate nucleus projection. The onset and the coda, on the other hand, are optional constituents. This is indicated by the use of parentheses in Figure (1). Syllables, thus, come in different types.The unmarked syllable has a simplex nucleus, a simplex onset, and no coda. This equals the universal CV syllable. Afrikaans allows for all marked options, like in the case of Dutch and Frisian, onsetless syllables, onsets or complex onsets, nuclei or complex nuclei, and codas or complex codas. By implication, it allows for the unmarked options as well. Onsetless syllables are only recognised when the glottal stop is not allowed as consonant.

    Prosodic factors relate to the position of a syllable in a word (for instance, word-final syllables are generally longer than other syllables), stressed vs. unstressed syllables, the ambisyllabicity of consonants – should this construct be recognised in a particular phonology, or in the phonotactics on word-level, the relation between a coda and the onset of a following syllable i.e. syllable contact. As will become clear, the notion of ambisyllabicity is not accepted in the phonotactics of Afrikaans. Furthermore, also on word-level, there may be pansyllabic constraints in syllables that do not belong to the same syllable constituents, such as constraints on the occurrence of the same / similar segments in onsets and codas. The morphological class of a word (lexical morphemes vs. function morphemes) can influence phonotactics as well. Finally, some combinations of segments never occur in Afrikaans, as for instance the consonant onset cluster /pk/ – we will refer to such restrictions as sequential constraints.

    For an overview of the phonotactics of Afrikaans, see the following topics:

    1. Onset
      1. Onsetless syllables
      2. Onset: singleton consonants
      3. Onset CC
      4. Onset CCC
        1. Onset: sequences of two consonants
    2. Rhyme
      1. Rhyme restrictions
      2. Nucleus
      3. Coda
      4. Nucleus + Coda
      5. Co-occurrence restrictions in rhymes
    3. Coda
    4. Below, we provide an overview of the factors playing a role in phonotactics. In the topics on Afrikaans phonotactics we focus on the syllable level.
      • Phonotactics at the syllable level: this part focuses on phonotactic restrictions
        • within syllable constituents:
          • Onset. Afrikaans syllables can start with either a vowel, a consonant, or with consonant clusters of two or three consonants. The occurrence of consonants in clusters of two or more consonants is restricted; it interacts with several factors, such as the position of the consonant in a given cluster, which in turn depends on whether the cluster contains two or three consonants.
          • Rhyme. The rhyme is an obligatory syllable constituent in Afrikaans. It contains the nucleus and an (optional) coda. Restrictions on the co-occurrence of certain vowels and coda consonants apply.
          • Nucleus. The nucleus position of a syllable in Standard Afrikaans is usually occupied by a vowel. Any Afrikaans lexical word has to contain minimally one vowel. This can either be a short vowel, a long vowel, a diphthong, or a loan vowel.
          • Coda. Codas are optional syllable constituents in Afrikaans. All consonants of Afrikaans, except for /h/, can occur in coda position. Furthermore, Afrikaans also allows for coda consonant clusters, albeit more restrictively. Word-medially, codas may contain consonant clusters of two consonants, whereas word-finally up to three consonants are allowed.
        • across syllable constituents (will not form part of the division Phonotactics of Afrikaans):
          • Ambisyllabicity: It has been claimed that Dutch has ambisyllabic consonants, i.e. intervocalic consonants that belong simultaneously to two syllables. In the current description of Afrikaans phonotactics, the notion of ambisyllabic consonants, and consequently also ambisyllabicity, is rejected. See Ambisyllabicity for detailed motivation.
          • Pansyllabic constraints. Pansyllabic constraints refer to phonotactic restrictions of segment co-occurrences or segment sequences whose elements belong to different constituents within a syllable.
          • Phonotactics at the word level: this part focuses on phonotactic restrictions within words consisting of more than one syllable, in which conditions on syllable contact play a role.
    • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
    • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
    • Clements, George N1992The sonority cycle and syllable organizationDressler, Wolfgang Ulrich (ed.)Phonologica 1988 : proceedings of the 6th International Phonology MeetingCambridge63-76
    • Kager, René & Zonneveld, Wim1986Schwa, Syllables and Extrametricality in DutchThe Linguistic Review5197-221
    • Oostendorp, Marc van1995Vowel Quality and Phonological ProjectionTilburg UniversityThesis
    • Oostendorp, Marc van2000Phonological ProjectionNiemeyer
    • Oostendorp, Marc van2000Phonological ProjectionNiemeyer
    • Selkirk, Elisabeth1982The syllableThe structure of phonological representations2337-383
    • Trommelen, Mieke1984The Syllable in DutchDordrechtForis
    • Visser, Willem1997The Syllable in FrisianVrije Universiteit AmsterdamThesis
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