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The alveolar fricative /s/
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The consonant /s/ is a voicelessalveolarfricative, that, as a result of regressive voicing assimilation, frequently surfaces as its voiced allophonic counterpart [z], and sometimes also as a palatalallophone [ʃ]. In a few loanwords /z/ is present, as in Zulu /zulu/ id.. See also (Le Roux and Pienaar 1927 and Van Wyk 1977).

Table 1
Consonant Place Manner Feature specification
/s/ alveolar fricative -sonorant; -voice; -labial; +coronal; -velar; +continuant
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[+]The phonological analysis of /s/

Phonotactic behaviour
As a prototypical voiceless alveolar, /s/ can occur as a singleton consonant in onset position as in (1a), or as first member C1 in cluster of two initial consonants (C1C2), and the only consonant that can occupy the first position in a cluster of three syllable (C1 in C1C2C3). Due to the phenomenon of mirror imaging of consonant clusters /s/, occupies the final position in coda position, thus C1 in -C2 C1 and in C3C2 C1. See examples in (1) and (2). The examples in (3) demonstrates that /s/ frequently occurs intervocalically as well.

Example 1

Onset
a. sak bag
b. smal narrow
c. spring to jump
Example 2

Coda
a. kas kist
b. soms sometimes
c. herfs autumn
Example 3

Intervocalically
a. besem broom
b. wyse method
c. gister yesterday
[+]Alternation with [ʃ] and [z]

[ʃ] is the product of the process of palatalization, while [z] is that of regressive voice assimilation. For the former topic, see , and for the latter see . An example for palatalization is vars /fars/ [farʃ] fresh, and for regressive voice assimilation wasbak /vasbak/ [vazbak] sink. Furthermore, /s/ tends to be voiced to [z] in intervocalic position, as in the words posisie position (first s), also opposisie opposition, positief positive and president idem.


Figure 1: Soundwaves and spectrograms of [s] compared to [z] and [ʃ]

[click image to enlarge]

The alveolar voiceless fricative [s] is clearly distinguished regarding its spectral chracteristics compared to that of its voiced counterpart [z] as well as that of the palatal voiceless [ʃ] . The centre of gravity of the alveolar [s], as well as that of [z] is much higher than that of [ʃ]. The main difference of voiceless [s] compared to voiced [z] is observable in the absence respectively presence of striations, the latter especially to be seen in the second and third [z].

References:
  • Le Roux, T.H. & Pienaar, P. de V1927Afrikaanse fonetiek.Juta
  • Van Wyk, E.B1977Praktiese fonetiek vir taalstudente: 'n inleiding.Butterworth
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