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Quality alternation of front vowels

Some long vowels systematically alternate with short ones when stress placement is shifted to another part of a word. This is especially to be observed in the case of the long, mid-high vowels /o/ and also /e/. Here the focus is on the latter vowel. Depending on the phonetic context, /e/ may be realised as either [iə], [i], [ɛ] (or even [ə]).


    As in the case of the long mid-high back vowel /o/ – for a description see Quality alternation of back vowels /e/ too is normally treated phonologically as a monophthong, despite the fact that it is mostly realised as a diphthong i.e. [iə] (Le Roux and Pienaar 1927;Posthumus 1969; Wissing 1982; Combrink and De Stadler 1987; De Villiers and Ponelis 1987; Coetzee 1992; Klopper 1987), however, proposes that this vowel be a diphthong phonologically, viz. /iə/, similar to his proposal for /uə/. The level of abstractness of underlying phonemic representations of these vowels is a matter that still has to be attended to in the case of Afrikaans. In Standard Dutch as spoken in the Netherlands too (see this topic on The unrounded high-mid front vowel /e/), where this vowel is given as /e/, despite its being most commonly realised as a narrow closing diphthong  [ei] (their transcription).

    In connection with this state of affairs, read the exposition offered with reference to the three mid-high Afrikaans vowels in general: Quality alternation of back vowels.

    Figure 1 provides a graphic display of the various common allophones of /e/. In this section the specific phonological rules will be handled in more detail.

    Figure 1: A mapping of phoneme /e/ to its allophones

    [click image to enlarge]

    The following are informal rules that capture strong tendencies in terms of the allophonic realizations of /o/. Note the central role of stress position:

    1. Stressed /e/ is realised phonetically as the diphthongised [iə].
    2. When immediately followed by a stressed syllable, /e/'s allophone is [i].
    3. When followed by an unstressed syllable + a stressed syllable, /e/'s allophone is [ɛ].
    4. When flanked by secondary and primary stressed syllables /e/ becomes schwa ( [ə]).
    Examples of these vowel alternation rules:
    1. /e/ > [iə]: sambreel /sɑmbrel / [səm'briəl] umbrella
    2. /e/ > [i]: etiek /etik/ [i'tik] ethics.
    3. /e/ > [ɛ]: ekonomie /ekonomie/ [ɛkənu'mi] economy.
    4. /e/ > [ə]: problematies /problematies / [prubləmatis] problematic.

    RULE 1 (Stressed /e/ is realised phonetically as the diphthongised [iə]): In closed syllables this vowel is written as ee within a word, or in a small number of words in open syllables when at word-end position and stressed, and is pronounced according to Rule 1 as [iə] (e.g. kafee /kɑfe/ [kɑ'fiə]. A few representative examples of ee in closed syllables, all stressed, are as follows: atmosfeer; bestee; deeglik; eenheid; finaliseer; gemeenskap; idee; komitee; leerder; meerderheid; ongeveer; personeel; reageer; studeer; toeneem; voorbeeld; waarmee. In some derivations this vowel is spelled with only a single e in open syllables, as in atmosferies < atmosfeer, finalisering < finaliseer, reagerend < reageer, studerende < studeer and toenemend < toeneem.

    RULE 2 (When immediately followed by a stressed syllable, /e/'s allophone is [i]): Unstressed /e/ in open syllables tends to be pronounced as [i], as in e.g. magn[i]tiseer < magneet. More compelling are the following examples:

    1. Regressive vowel-to-vowel coarticulation between the diminutive DIM morphemes -tjie /ki/ [ci] (the same applies to its plural -tjies) in word-end position and the vowel of the preceding syllable i.e. /e/, realised as [i]. A prototypical example of this phenomenon with /e/ in an open syllable is: fee /fe/ [fiə] fairy (Sing.); feetjie /feki/ ['fiəci] > DIM: [fici]. (For /k/ > [c] see Palatalisation). In the case of closed syllables, the coda is mostly confined to /n/, as in been /ben/ [biən] bone / leg (Sing.); beentjie /benki/ ['biənci] > [biɲci]. More examples are: ateljee; kafee; komitee; see; senuwee; skaduwee; skree; slee; tee; twee; *deun, Leen (person's name), *leuen, reën, seun, steen. (The underlying vowel of the words marked with * often get derounded to [iə] (read Vowel derounding). In some instances such vowel-to-vowel coarticulation also happens in words not ending on /n/ like eend and gevreet. For most of these examples see (De Villiers, and Ponelis, 1987).
    2. A number of words with a high frequency of usage, and commonly found in the readings of news bulletins, thus multiply occurring in the RSG-database, exhibits the quality change of /e/, [iə] to [i]. Some examples, with number of possible occurrences + RAP values, are:
      1. algemene /ɑlxəmenə/ [ɑlxəmiənə] > [ɑlxəminə] general (10 / 17; RAP = 0.59); rest pronounced as [iə].
      2. seker / sekere /sekər(ə)/ [siəkər(ə)] > [sikər(ə)] surely / some (17 / 35; RAP = 0.49)
      3. ekonoom- (and in related like forms ekonoom, ekonome, ekonomies and ekonomie): /ekonom-/ [ekonom-] > [ikə'num-] econom- (44 / 98; RAP = 0.45).
      4. meeste /mestə/ [miəstə] > [mistə] most (7 / 39; RAP = 0.18)
      5. elektri- (the base of forms such as elektries, elektriese and elektrisiteit) /elɛktri / [i'lɛktri] (7 / 17; RAP = 0.59); rest produced as [ɛ].
      6. elisabeth (in the place name Port Elisabeth) /elisabɛt/ [e'lisɑbɛt] > [i'lisəbɛt] Elisabeth (15 / 32; RAP = 0.47). The initial vowel was deleted three times; for the rest of the cases this vowel is schwa ( [ə]).
      7. teen /ten/ [tiən] > [tin] against (103 / 425; RAP = 0.24).
      8. teenoor /tenor/ [tiən'uər] > [tin'uər] opposed to (17 / 33; RAP = 0.52).
      9. twee /twe/ [tʋiə] > [tʋi] two (63 / 161; RAP = 0.39).

    RULE 3 (When followed by a unstressed syllable + a stressed syllable, /e/'s allophone is [ɛ]):

    Except for the example of /e/ > [ɛ] in elektr- above, only a small number of rather dubious instances exsist. Although Le Roux and Pienaar's dictionary only gives schwa as the vowel of the first syllable of sekretaris secretary and related words (e.g. sekretariaat secretariat), viz. /səkrətɑriat /, a number of cases in the RSG-database have the low-mid [ɛ], rendering [sɛkrətɑri'jat] ( 10 / 27; RAP = 0.37). Note the resemblance here with the pattern conditioning /o/ > [ɔ] (see Quality alternation of back vowels). In both cases, the vowels shift to a mid-low position when followed by an unstressed syllable + a stressed syllable (secondary stress in the case of sekretariaat).

    RULE 4 (When flanked by secondary and primary stressed syllables /e/ becomes schwa ( [ə]):

    Unlike with the case of /o/ > [ə] (Quality alternation of back vowels)), /e/ > [ə] is not that uncommon a phenomenon in Afrikaans. Examples are: atl[e]t ~ atl[ə]tiek; fon[e]ties ~ fon[ə]tiek; juw[e]l ~ juw[ə]lier; pol[e]mies ~ pol[ə]miek; prof[e]t ~ prof[ə]eteer; r[e]de ~ rede[ə]neer; sist[e]m ~ sist[ə]maties.

    Notewothly is that in some nonstandard varieties of Afrikaans – for example in Cape Afrikaans – forms like [xi] (gee give) are lexicalised, and thus do not alternate with any other form (see De Villiers and Ponelis 1987); these forms reflect an earlier pronunciation which was later diphthongised, as currently to be observed in Standard Afrikaans.

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    • Combrink, J.G.H. & De Stadler, L.G1987Afrikaanse fonologie.Macmillan
    • De Villiers, M. & Ponelis, F.A1987Afrikaanse klankleer.Tafelberg
    • De Villiers, M. & Ponelis, F.A1987Afrikaanse klankleer.Tafelberg
    • De Villiers, M. & Ponelis, F.A1987Afrikaanse klankleer.Tafelberg
    • Klopper, R.M1987Oor diftonge en monoftonge in Afrikaans.South African Journal of Linguistics = Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif vir Taalkunde568-99,
    • Le Roux, T.H. & Pienaar, P. de V1927Afrikaanse fonetiek.Juta
    • Posthumus, M.J1969Fonologie.
    • Wissing, D.P1982Algemene en Afrikaanse generatiewe fonologie.Macmillan
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