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Overview of the Main Stress Rule of Afrikaans

Here a review of stress-placement in Afrikaans, in the form of examples of the Main Stress Rule (MSR) of Afrikaans monomorphemes, is presented.

Primary stress lies on 1) the penultimate syllable of monomorphemic words ending on an unstressable syllable, or 2) on the antepenultimate syllable when followed by more than one unstressable syllables, except 3) when other factors dictate final stress.

A possible rephrasing of this rule is: Primary stress lies on the final syllable of a monomorpheme, unless such syllable is unstressable, when penultimate or antepenultimate stress is required.

See Primary stress in monomorphemes ending on Type-I schwa and Primary stress in monomorphemes ending on Type-II schwa for the notion unstressable.

A small number of exceptions to this rule exists; see Exceptions to the MSR.

Apart from sound files for each word, links are provided to the pages where the specific topics are outlined in detail. The MSR basically states that either the final or else the penultimate syllable of monomorphemes carries primary stress (Primary stress of monomorphemic words in Afrikaans). While Afrikaans is a Germanic language, some phonologists describe Afrikaans as an initial stress language, like Ancient Germanic (notably Lee 1963 and De Villiers 1965). Combrink and De Stadler (1987) recognise the diverse character of the stress pattern of Afrikaans by calling it a language with free stress distribution. However, their stress rules operate from the beginning of a word backwards.

As an orientation with respect to all topics concerning the stress placement in Afrikaans monomorphemes, the following reference list should be consulted:

(De Stadler 1981; Combrink and De Stadler 1987; De Stadler 1991; De Villiers 1965; De Villiers and Ponelis 1992; Lee 1963; Le Roux 1936; Le Roux and Pienaar 1927; Lubbe 1993; Wissing 1971; Wissing 1987; Wissing 1988; Wissing 1989; Wissing 1991; Wissing 2017)


In the following four sections, the main stress-placement patterns are given per syllable type, the latter relating to the type of nucleus, or the structure of the syllable (open or closed). The position of the syllable in the word (final, penultimate or antepenultimate, as stated by the MSR) is of course also crucial.

By clicking on the accompanying sound file names below, one can listen to the specific pronunciation of each word. In the lists of examples in the relevant Extras, the main types of syllable (open or closed) are indicated by the capital letters A (open) and B (closed). Note that some cells are empty, which means that there are no examples of the type in question. We refer to specific rows by # plus the number in the column immediately to the right of each example.

As is to be expected, in almost all cases there are exceptions to the specific pattern. Some of them may be treated in terms of subcategories, while others are simply unexplainable in terms of a general principle. In the Note below each Extra, the most important exceptions to these general patterns are elucidated. For a separate treatment of exceptions to the MSR in Afrikaans, see Exceptions to the Main Stress Rules.

Take note that, in all lists of examples, the normal orthographic spelling is used, as phonemic or phonetic transcriptions would not add any value to the argumentation; on the contrary, it would most probably only complicate matters.

[+]Short vowels in open syllables in word-final position

As should be clear from the examples below, short vowels are generally unstressed in this position. In a subclass of words, mostly of French origin, /i/ is stressed, e.g. in anatomie, artillerie, energie, fantasie, harmonie, hiërargie, industrie, ironie, jaloesie, kategorie, melodie, profesie and religie – see Short -ie in word-final position in monomorphemes. In some frameworks, /i/ in words such as these is classified as being a long vowel, especially in the Dutch literature (see the topic on the unrounded high front vowel /i/).

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Table 1
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  1. Here the demonstration of stress on the penultimate syllable is limited to words containing maximally three syllables. Penultimate stress is also dominant in monomorphemes longer than three syllables, thus irrespective of length. Words ending on /ɑ/ may serve as a good demonstration: in jakaranda; koekemekranka; abrakadabra. Stress invariably lies on the penultimate syllable. This is also valid for long place and person names adopted from indigeous languages, e.g. Bophuthatswana and Phalaborwa resp. Madonsela and Ramaphosa, and many more. For more examples of words ending on the other short vowels, see references in The short vowels of Afrikaans.
  2. Examples of monomorphemes ending on /ə/, /i/, /u/ and /ɑ/ (#1-8) are numerous; written o in final position is mostly pronounced as [u] – e.g. in foto ['fo.tu] ['fuə.tu] (Short -oe in monomorphemes). Consult the following topics for more examples of the other three vowels Primary stress in monomorphemes ending on Type-I schwa; Short -ie in monomorphemes; Short -a in monomorphemes.
  3. A large number of words of the form -isie exist, also with penultimate stress. This type of word is taken to be exceptional by Dutch linguists (cf. Neijt & Zonneveld 1982). In this later topic other types of /-iCVC/ and /-iCV/ words are also attended to.
  4. The phoneme /y/ as final vowel is extremely scarce, possibly nonexistent in words of more than two syllables.
  5. The phonemes /ɛ/ and /ɔ/ are found more frequently in place and personal names of Nguni and Sesotho origin (Background to primary stress of Afrikaans monomorphemes; Short /ɛ/ in monomorphemes ; Short /ɔ/ in monomorphemes). goggô insect (#13) is of Khoi origin; sometimes gogga.
  6. The o in #14 frequently varies with /u/ in Afrikaans pronunciation – see Note 2.

[+]Short vowels in closed syllables in word final position

Stress is generally on the final syllable, as is the case with long vowels and diphthongs in similar position.

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Table 2

Figure 2

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  1. Examples of monomorphemes of type #1 and #2 (ending on /ə/) written with i, are rather scarce: examples include bisyllabic geskil and verskil with pseudo-suffixes ge and ver as well as multisyllabic affodil, krokodil and a few others (Primary stress in monomorphemes ending on Type-I schwa.
  2. The phoneme /ɛ/ is practically without exception stressed in word-final position in closed syllables (such words are almost always of French origin (adopted via Dutch) Short /ɛ/ in monomorphemes . In this position, the /ɛ/ in words amen, eksamen and tentamen is unstressed; almost always pronounced as schwa.
  3. The stressed pseudo-suffix -ment is also to be found quite frequently, e.g. in argument, dokument, eksperiment, sentiment and temperamentShort /ɛ/ in monomorphemes . In general, syllables with double consonant codas are taken to be heavy and, as such, are strong attractors of stress (Booij 1995).
  4. The phonemes /i/ and /u/ also to a high degree carry stress in this context Short -ie in word-final position in monomorphemes; Short -oe in monomorphemes. The words ending on -ies form an exception to this: basies, fieterjasies, fiemies, fisies, krities, medies and prakties, all with stress on the penult, are but a few.
  5. (#7, #8; #13, #14) – with final /ɑ/ or /ɔ/ as vowels – are less categorical with respect to stress placement; in several cases such words carry penultimate stress too, cf. Short -a in monomorphemes; Short /ɔ/ in monomorphemes .

[+]Long vowels in open (A) and closed (B) syllables in word-final position

Long vowels, like diphthongs, are somewhat seldomly found in open syllables in word final position; in closed syllables the situation is otherwise.

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Table 3

Figure 3

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Figure 4

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  1. Generally words ending on open syllables (A) are relatively scarce; #3 is an exception to this Long vowels in monomorphemes.
  2. Except for #7 and #8, B (closed syllable) cases are more frequently observed Long vowels in monomorphemes.
  3. A number of fossilised compounds, or pseudo-compounds, form an important subcategory of exceptions to the B category. While seemingly being monomorphemes, they still exhibit the normal compound stress pattern, viz. with stress on the first component. Examples are, with stress on the first syllable: eekhoring; hooikoors; luiperd; ooievaar; sintuig; weeluis. Long vowels in monomorphemes.

[+]Diphthongs in open (A) and closed (B) syllables in word-final position
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Table 4

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Figure 6

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  1. Generally examples in both A and B are limited, even absent in various instances (#3, #4; #10, #12).
  2. Words like kwaliteit are frequently pronounced with stress on the initial syllable, especially in informal Afrikaans.
  3. As in the case of the long vowels, a small number of pseudo-compounds exhibit normal compound stress pattern, viz. with stress on the first component, e.g. aalwyn and skeurbuik. (See Exceptions to the MSR)

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