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The approximants /ɦ/, /j/ and /ʋ/
quickinfo
Afrikaans possesses the three segments that are difficult to define. Some of them function as true consonants or as approximants (also called semi-vowels or glides) /ɦ/ and /j/, while [ʋ] may either be an approximant or an allophone of /v/.

Table 1: Approximant features
Consonant Place Manner Feature specification
/ɦ/ glottal fricative -sonorant+glottal+voice+continuant+back
/j/ palatal -sonorant+glottal-voice
/ʋ/ labial -sonorant

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The Afrikaans phonemes /ɦ/, /j/ and /ʋ/ are primarily approximants, also called semi-vowels and glides. Afrikaans /j/ is sometimes called a fricative too, for example by Van Wyk (1977) and Le Roux and Pienaar (1927). Minimal pairs across the approximants exist, such as jaar year: haar hair. The phonemes /ɦ/ and /j/ are considered to be true consonants, while /ʋ/ is an allophone of the fricative /v/ in onset consonant clusters as /kʋ/ (from /kv/) and /tʋ/ (from /tv/), such as in kweek or kwaal, twee or twaalf, respectively.

These three segments also function as intervocalic glides, as for example in the case of /j/ in [mɑrijɑ] (proper name /Maria/).

For details on the phonological behaviour of these consonants, see Wissing (1978).

[+]Examples with the approximants

(1a) to (1c) provide examples of phonetic realizations where /ɦ/, /j/ and /ʋ/ are intervocalic glides. Note that /ɦ/ appears in all intervocalic phonetic contexts, but that /j/ and /ʋ/ are in mutually exclusive environments. Read De Villiers and Ponelis (1992), and Wissing (1978) for a detailed description.

Example 1

a. dae day   (sing. dag  ): [daɦə]   (also [triɦə]  , but [*triʋə]  )
b. eyes  : (sing. oog  ): [u:ʋə ]   (also [u:ʋə ]  , but [*ujə]  )
c. treë steps   (sing. tree  ): [triɦə]   (also [trijə]  , but [*triʋə]  )
[+] Articulatory information

Approximants are produced by means of gradual articulatory motions, during which the vocal tract is distinctly narrowed, but not closed. Insofar as they serve as full consonants, specifically fricatives, some constriction of the vocal tract is present. /ɦ/ and /j/ are voiced. The former is a glottal sound; the latter is palatal. (MacKay 1987, Kent 1992, Rietveld and Van Heuven 1997).

[+]Acoustic information

Soundwaves (upper window) and spectrogram (lower window) of the nonsense words ʋaʋaʋaʋ, jajajaj and ɦaɦaɦaɦ.

Table 2
Sound Sound waves and spectrogram

Figure 1

[click image to enlarge]

  1. Three wave objects in the same phonetic context CVCVCV (V = /a/ or /ɑ/) are presented in the waveforms (Window A) and spectrograms (Window B). Listen to the accompanying audio file.
  2. The glides /ʋ/ /j/ and /ɦ/ are indicated by coloured rectangles; the uncoloured portions correspond to the vowel.
  3. In accordance with their name semi vowels, (i.e. glides) are not as prominent as the vowels themselves.
  4. Vowel-like formants are visible, though, especially in the case of /ɦ/, while F2 is clearly present intervocalically.
  5. In [ɦaɦaɦaɦ] the coarticulatory nature of /ɦ/ is prominent – as such, /ɦ/ might be called the neutral glide, in that it takes on the acoustic features of any surrounding vowels.
  6. Diffuse energy is visible in all cases of these three segments.
  7. The fricative nature of the sounds is not visible in this context.

References:
  • De Villiers, M. & Ponelis, F.A1992Afrikaanse klankleer.Tafelberg
  • Kent, Ray D. and Charles Read1992The acoustics analysis of speechSingular Publishing Group
  • Le Roux, T.H. & Pienaar, P. de V1927Afrikaanse fonetiek.Juta
  • MacKay, Ian R.I1987Phonetics: the science of speech productionCollege-Hill
  • Rietveld, Antonius C.M. & Heuven, Vincent J. van1997Algemene FonetiekUitgeverij Coutinho
  • Van Wyk, E.B1977Praktiese fonetiek vir taalstudente: 'n inleiding.Butterworth
  • Wissing, D.P1978Oor die fonologie van 'h' en 'j' en 'w' in Afrikaans.Koers4374-95
  • Wissing, D.P1978Oor die fonologie van 'h' en 'j' en 'w' in Afrikaans.Koers4374-95
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